The Moorish Wanderer

The Economic Chronicles of the Kingdom, 1955-2011 Part.4

Posted in Dismal Economics, Moroccan Politics & Economics, Morocco, Read & Heard by Zouhair ABH on July 23, 2012

The Hauser Rule exists and it is verified in Morocco. Over a long period of time, almost 60 years in our case, the percentage of main tax receipts to GDP has remained constant, or at least did not rise above an upper bound, in our case, it is a little below 19.4% of GDP, except four years (and in good reason, as we shall see later on)

[…] En réponse à Horani, Akesbi précise que la pression fiscale ne représente que 22 à 25% au Maroc (il n’a pas décliné sa méthode de calcul) et que à ce titre, il est hors propos de demander des baisses d’impôt.

My Hauser boundary would at first glance contradict official figures from say, Bank Al Maghrib or the MINEFI. It would also contradict a statement from Prof. Akesbi, who puts his figure for fiscal pressure around 22-25% of GDP, which is probably true for the last three or four years, if all receipts except new borrowings are taken into account. It seems Bank Al Maghrib in the predictions laid in their 2010 annual report have made a similar assumption that public finances have been at their best in 2008 (a historical surplus in the Budget is indeed a plus) and the 24.2% should, if I am not mistaken, point to the total receipts (barring borrowings) relative to GDP. Unfortunately, both Prof. Akesbi and the BKAM team have missed the point of genuine fiscal pressure; the percentage is supposed to measure the treasury’s extraction of resources relative to wealth creation.

I do not buy into their argument for two reasons: first, the percentage itself provides little explanation as to its individual component, chief of which the contribution of taxes on Capital and Labour, and second, it gives disproportionate importance to various sources of treasury income with no immediate link to government and budget policy. The economic argument, the fiscal pressure should be computed so as to discuss the effects of distortionary taxes, and only then look at other lump-sum type of taxes, but certainly not pay too much attention to the miscellaneous receipts the treasury cashes in from the government’s portfolio, privatization or other minor sources of income.

Hauser said back in 1993:

The historical record is quite simple, if surprising. Not matter what the tax rates have been, in postwar America tax revenues have remained at about 19.5% of GDP. This is a lesson Congress should remember as it considers President Clinton’s proposed tax hikes. If history is any guide, higher taxes will not increase the government’s take as a percentage of the economy.

In relative size, the last decade has seen Morocco’s effective, “Hauser” fiscal pressure hover around 18.2%, the lowest effective rate since the days of fiscal conservatism and austerity of the Structural Adjustment Plan of 1983-1992.

Distortionary vs Lump-Sump: VAT is a distortionary tax, and so is Income tax. stamp duties and local government taxes, more likely to be lump sum taxes. The difference is two-fold: first, lump-sump taxes do not affect economic decision-making. Because economic agents are assumed to behave in a rational fashion, their optimized decision equate marginal effects, which means constants such as the lump-sum tax do not enter into account. This is perhaps why economists prefer them. On the other hand, these taxes are very unfair to the poorest and less-endowed economic agents. Proportional or quasi-proportional taxes are said to be ‘fairer’, but at the same time, they alter, or distort, economic calculations. In size as well as in importance, distortionary taxes are worth the study, while lump-sum taxes are a secondary element that need not be involved in the way described above.

the Hauser boundary evolves around 19.2% and 19.4% of GDP. This means fiscal policy has little impact on government’s fiscal pressure over the economy.

Some of the computations I present the reader with are built on a very strong assumption, almost a dishonest one: the only available data time series I could put together involved government expenditure, and not taxation. What you see really is government expenditure relative to GDP. My assumption postulates the primary balance is stationary around zero, i.e. government expenditure is almost fully funded by tax receipts. It is a strong assumption indeed, but some results from empirical data tend to vindicate yet again that assumption.

The years 1976-1979 stand out as a bit odd, because there was a primary deficit back then for obvious, historic reasons: huge transfers to the newly recovered Southern provinces, and a rapid expansion of Morocco’s military capacities have put a strain on its public finances. Besides, even though Morocco’s GDP grew at very high rates, it was not economic activity that pulled it off, and that might explain why it did not translate into additional tax receipts. Barring these 3-4 years, government expenditure and main tax receipts are not statistically significant, when one takes into account for instance the GDP deflator. For reference, I compare my expenditure-turned-tax receipts against the World Bank’s nomenclature GC.TAX.GSRV.CN and GC.TAX.YPKG.CN.

The assumption about the primary budget balance is one of long-term consequences: no country can afford a deficit in its primary balance, i.e. not fund its daily expenditure with taxation over a long period of time. This is particularly true for the past decade, where a primary surplus of 0.1% relative to GDP, on average, has been observed – this figure is merely the difference between distortionary taxes and government expenditure relative to GDP, and shows the long-term behaviour of public finances: primary taxation funds entirely government expenditure.

How should distortionary taxes have been levied? First off, we need to take a look at the long-term breakdown of production per input: if we restrict ourselves to capital and labour, total receipts from primary taxes should encompass the same proportions -captured by \alpha and \beta in Y = A K^{\alpha} H^{\beta} in order to neutralize the effect of exogenous technological process (captured by A) we assume \beta = 1 - \alpha. In this respect, growth gains and the respective contributions of inputs are distributed such: \ln(Y) = \alpha \ln(K) + \beta \ln(H)

In the realm of public finances, and with no loss of detail, labour taxes are levied on income, consumption-oriented goods and services (typically, VAT) while taxes on Capital are usually centred around corporate tax (a tax on profit or in accounting terms, operating margin). When one considers fiscal receipts from the last 20 years however, this does not seem to be the case: Capital is over-taxed, and Labour under-taxed.

the spendthrift late 1970s have ransacked the fiscal house, and impaired its stability for the next decade, and deflect it away from a 50-years mean of 15.6%

There are many ways to explain these discrepancies, both at the aggregate and input levels: first, fiscal policy in Morocco does not seem to take into account the repercussions of its implementation, meaning that the various tax breaks, deductions and even the new fiscal measures fail to anticipate the behaviour of agents subject to these fiscal regulations.

This is not a new phenomena, really: if indeed the Hauser boundary is verified, fiscal policy, translated into fiscal receipts, appears to exhibit higher levels of volatility -almost twice as much as GDP’s, though the trend observed since the mid-1990 points to a stabilization close to GDP fluctuations. The second point about these discrepancies is policy-making: the figures in this post fail to account for the differences in fiscal regulations, especially those pertaining to agricultural output, whose tax system has been frozen in effect since the mid-1980s. The same fiscal regulations miss out on the upper income bound due to the standard income tax, whose marginal rate actually falls when it comes to the top decile income earners.

In policy terms, income rates have been too low, or inadequate. The same can be said of consumption-based taxes, such as VAT. As for corporate taxes, though the effective tax rate is comparatively low, the receipts are not up to scratch, in terms of Laffer Curve, corporate taxes are not efficient, and need to be cut accordingly. To make up for the shortfall and to balance the fiscal ratio up, wealth tax and the agricultural tax need to be levied at some point.

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