Income tax with tax deductibility invites cheating and corrupts honest people

Tax Fraud - TimeToday I heard of someone who in the process of defrauding the tax department. I won’t go into the details of it on this occasion.

We have all heard these tax evasion stories. It’s because the tax system invites fraud like that. I can remember sitting in the accountant’s office at tax time and noting the way the accountant asked his questions. My husband was a GP and we had both written books, so our expenses for our book writing were tax deductible. The accountant would say, “And this $480, was that for travel associated with your book?” It was in the days when you had printed bank statements posted to your homes and it was a matter of labelling each sale and matching it up with a cheque. There was no internet banking then, and it was easy to forget to record a cheque properly.

The time with the accountant was a cross between a conspiratorial plot and an open honest discussion. I know never felt comfortable any way. We usually ended up so that some expenses were declared correctly and some dishonestly. I got the impression that the accountant had to run a fine line between pleasing his clients and keeping a good reputation with the IRD, so the atmosphere was palpable.

Just imagine this occasion multiplied a few thousand times by couples all over the western world. Is it or isn’t this item tax deductible? Such a waste of time. So many hours spent by so many on tax avoidance. Why? Because we have income tax, a completely illogical tax. We should tax what we hold or take not what we do or make.

Apart from the occasional saint, we all have tendency to get away with what we can and the system just brings out the dishonesty in us. Accountants will be more familiar than I am with all the various ways people can cheat – by declaring family gifts as tax deductible capital items and other forms of false deductions, as well as having offshore bank accounts and making false invoices. Then there is the straight “cash job” indulged in by a range of tradespeople and others.

Just as a welfare system based on your relationship status invites you to cheat, so a tax system based on what you earn invites you to cheat. Cheating is an inevitable result of a wrongly targeted tax system and an outdated welfare system.

In contrast a land rental cannot be avoided. There are no tax deductions. You pay for what you use of the commons and that is that. You can’t take your land offshore and hide it in a tax haven. You can’t cheat. The tax is simple and cheap and hard to evade. Likewise if you use water commercially for irrigation or other purposes, you pay for the use of the water. Simple. No tax deductibility there either.

Banks culpable in Auckland housing crisis

The following letter was sent to the editor of the Listener but not published, so we publish it here.

Absent from the vigorous discussion of the Auckland housing crisis on The Vote (Sept 11, TV3) was mention of the role of banks in creating this crisis. They stand to gain billions not just from the rising price of houses but from the eventual crash.

In a January 2013 seminar IMF economist and former Barclays Bank manager Michael Kumhof makes it clear that the role of banks is not intermediation but to create credit and control its supply.

“The key function of banks is money creation not intermediation. What that means is that it becomes very easy for banks to start or lead a lending boom even though policy makers might not, because if they feel that the time is right, they simply expand the money supply. There is no third party involved, just the bank and the customer and I make the loan.”

Yes the banks have started a lending boom in Auckland, rewarding staff who issue more loans. Banks find it more profitable to row the economy between easy money and tight money then “laugh all the way to the bank when it finally collapses”. Loan to value restrictions will not help.

Alan Dudson, an Auckland accountant, says “In Auckland it is not uncommon for residential real estate investors to own five, 10, 20, 50, or even 100 houses.”

And all the while Government collaborates by making the interest, insurance, rates and maintenance tax deductible. So Dudson says there is hardly any tax to pay.

When we have a government and opposition both blind to the true role of banks, banks are almost in complete charge. A tax policy favouring property investment and making it easy to hold land without financial penalty will see to that.

The opposition solutions are little better. A capital gains tax doesn’t hold down prices when too weak and just keeps land off the market when it is strong.

It can only end in tears.

1. Michael Kumhof
2. Alan Dudson. NZ Herald Let’s stop subsidising property investors.

Deirdre Kent
Spokesperson New Economics Party