The Moorish Wanderer

Tax Cuts. Yes, It Works, too

Posted in Dismal Economics, Flash News, Moroccan Politics & Economics, Morocco, Read & Heard by Zouhair ABH on December 27, 2012

I was led to believe backing specific policies out of deliberate investigation was not about politics. Tax cuts are not particularly popular with those of my political persuasion down here in Morocco.

There is a lot to be discussed about the cognitive dissonance in electoral manifestos: low taxes, big social programs, no deficits, no debt, high growth, etc. and these are routinely enumerated regardless of ideological loyalties, with some nuances and priorities. You know how the alternate argument goes: electoral manifestos are window-dressing, there is a ‘permanent manifesto’ no one votes for, impervious to the weathercock of partisan politics, and based on solid McKinsey-made PowerPoint presentations. Yet even this perpetual grand design boast performing miracles at low costs, present, future, sunk, hidden or otherwise.

Tax Credit for investment do not have the same impact, but they are more persistent

Tax Credit for investment do not have the same impact on growth, but they are more persistent.

So what is new with tax cuts, and why would they be a better budget policy? First, because the stimulus effect delivered by a tax cut generates on average 8 times more growth than similar amounts engaged in a deficit-spending program; This is not a case against government spending, it is a reliable evidence that points to the inefficiencies of a one-sided stimulus program, which is usually favoured by the people I mentioned before. Targeted programs with prerequisite random experiments, smart regulation and rationality-based policies are the way to go (by the way, I have yet to read the results from testing programs launched under Mr Baraka when he was at MAGG, or Mr Boulif’s agenda)

And this leads me to the salient result from tax cut programs: not all tax cuts are created equal: Investment Tax Credits are by far the most effective policy, and the effect of a generic tax credit to investment produces on the long run a more persistent and net positive impact than any other exogenous shocks that boost productivity.

A caveat however: not all investment projects have these virtuous effects on growth. Expanding physical capital has some positive externalities, but not all physical capital generates it: building a research facility yes, banking on real estate development to create growth, not so much.

A quick look at the budget documents show tax credits allocated to the building sector amount to around 3Bn dirhams, and increased 4% in quarterly rate between 2011 and 2012 – so on the basis of these predictions, the expanded tax credit should have generated an additional .15 point to annual growth – a figure to compare with the sector’s growth, the lowest in positive sector growth. Of course, a rational explanation would state my model is not working. Another would assert tax credit are wasted on the building sector.


Tax Cut Design versus Deficit Spending

Posted in Dismal Economics, Flash News, Moroccan Politics & Economics, Morocco by Zouhair ABH on December 13, 2012

The following is a small model designed to simulate the effect of a tax cut targeted on middle classes. The idea is to review the respective effects of each tax cut category (on VAT, Income, etc…) and weigh it on versus an increase in government expenditure. Over the (very) long run, both policies are fundamentally the same, but one needs to keep in mind government expenditure is potentially infinite, while taxes are constrained by the existing resources.

The idea is to compare the effect of a government expenditure increase versus tax cuts on growth and the subsequent created welfare. And the results are clear-cut: tax cuts stimulate GDP a lot more than increased expenditure. On average, a 1% tax cut would deliver on average of .85% in additional growth, while a 1% deficit would contribute only .06% to growth. Investment tax credit (fiscal incentives to investment) contribute a lot more to growth – a 2.16% additional growth for a 1% increase in investment tax credit. These results are compared for a 1% change in government budgetary policy, and then extended over a couple of quarters.

The argument behind this can be summed up in the following ‘policy transition functions’:

y = 1.91 + .028 k_{t-1} - .038 r_{t-1} + .7 z_{t-1} - .006 \tau_{k_{t-1}} \pm .029 def - .0047 \tau_{w_t} - .041 \tau_c + .003 \tau_k + .028 \tau_i + 2.55 \epsilon_t


g = .076 + .004 k_{t-1} + 1.29 r_{t-1} - .026 z_{t-1} + .19 \tau_{k_{t-1}} \pm def+.16 \tau_{w_t} + 1.37 \tau_{c_t} - .0005 \tau_{k_t} - .47 \tau_{i_t} - .0972 \epsilon_t

It is worth pointing out these policy transition functions are not the product of usual computations, i.e. these are not structural models estimated afterwards, but they are rather the end result of a more complex set of equations and assumptions. They (among other policy functions) provide policy recommendations that can be further expanded to account for specific fiscal policies, my particular insterest for instance, tax breaks and cuts for the middle class, has some useful applications.

It shows for instance that unfunded government expenditure (deficit-spending) contributes weakly to GDP growth, not as much as a single or aggregate tax cut, or indeed one tax credit scheme. This is not to say any spending-based stimulus is useless: there is evidence of counter-cyclical budgetary policy -detrended budget and output are negatively correlated- but it is not as persistent as output, and cannot provide optimal cycle smoothing: ‘unpredictable elements’, the technological shocks captured by z_t and \epsilon_t exhibits excessive diturbances deficit spending cannot bridge when these are negative exogenous shocks (a factor of 22:1 against deficit spending). On the other hand, a relatively modest increase in investment tax credit (which acts as a tax cut) can immediately make up for a negative shock and deliver a .19% boost to GDP growth, ceteris paribus. Obviously, there are some repercussions as to a fiscal policy geared toward investment tax credit, as it results in lower domestic consumption, regardless of any accrued consumption tax cut.

I am posting the code I have used to generate those results (applicable via the Dynare Matlab/Add-in) and will elaborate on this in the next couple of posts. I am very excited about these results because they have confirmed some of the policy recommendations conveyed in the Capdéma Budget Draft, with quantitative interpretations to specific policies. It also confirms some measure of fiscal consolidation and debt-deflation are needed not only to maintain the 2016 3% deficit ceiling, but also put growth back on track.

(For detailed description of the proposed model, have a look at Ljungqvist & Sargent’s “Recursive Macroeconomic Theory”)

// endogeneous variables: debt, government budget,
// consumption capital, output, labour, investment, wages, interest rates and technological change
var b g c k y h x w r z;
// taxes and deficit are considered to be exogenous
 varexo def tauw tauc tauk taui e;

parameters zig, alpha,delta,beta,theta,rho,sigmaw,sigmac,sigmak,sigmai,sigmad;

alpha = .335966;
 theta = 1/3;
 delta = .02909;
 beta = .9895569177;
 rho = .2742;
 zig = .0037;
 sigmaw =.007;
 sigmac =.0671;
 sigmak =.219;
 sigmai =.209;
 sigmad =.005671;

// The model depicts optimality conditions for all agents
// Simple FOC

 z = rho*z(-1)+e;
 y = c+g+x;
 y = exp(z)*k^alpha*h^(1-alpha);
 k = (1-delta)*k(-1)+(1+taui)*x;
 w =(1-tauw)*(1-alpha)*y/k(-1);
 r =(1-tauk(-1)+delta)*alpha*y/k(-1);
 (1-alpha)*y/c = theta*h/((1-theta)*(1-h));

 y = 0.7976304742;
 k = 9.7353698337;
 c = 0.5367196072;
 h = 0.3079168146;
 x = 0.2832019085;
 b = .51;
 z = 0;
 e = 0;
 g = .192;
 def = .03;
 tauk =0;
 tauc =0;
 tauw =0;
 taui =0;


 var e; stderr zig;
 var tauw; stderr sigmaw;
 var tauc; stderr sigmac;
 var tauk; stderr sigmak;
 var taui; stderr sigmai;
 var def; stderr sigmad;
 var tauw, tauc = 0;
 var tauw, taui = 0;
 var tauw, tauk = 0;
 var tauw, def = 0;
 var tauk, def = 0;
 var tauc, def = 0;
 var taui, def = 0;

stoch_simul(order=1, periods=224, hp_filter=1600,nograph);

Fiscal Policy? What Fiscal Policy?

Posted in Dismal Economics, Moroccan Politics & Economics, Morocco, Tiny bit of Politics by Zouhair ABH on July 3, 2011

Sometimes, reading the budget from top to bottom does not tell much about the policy the government of the day is set on pursuing. So other documents come in handy, like the fiscal expenses report attached to the budget law; It shows how articulate government policy is in its effort to stir the economic variables deemed to be important in a certain direction, so as to achieve a certain policy objective. It might be interesting to have a look to these figures, because it is a cause of concern for me: it seems the Finance Ministry cannot make up their mind on the proper policies, especially on fiscal policies, and end up every year squeezing its receipts, and not in a good way.

Caring Government.

Assuming that the broad ideological objective is to relieve Moroccan taxpayers (households and businesses alike) from the burden of excessive taxation, and that such policy is bound to increase welfare among the communities and the economy as whole, the least Finance Minister Salahedine Mezouar and his staff can do is to make sure there would be some sort of equitable effect across classes and sources of revenues. Though the supply-side economics can be beneficial -up to a point- these policies have unfortunately been damaging, rather than healing income dispersion and discrepancies. It seems budget policy -at least since 2003- is to hope for high growth figures, so as to reduce income inequality. The 2007 tax cuts are an even more obvious faith in an economic growth robust and long enough so as to reduce poverty and income dispersion, indeed, HCP study “La croissance est-elle pro-pauvres au Maroc ?” (2009) reports:

“Il en résulte un indice de croissance pro-pauvres inférieur à l’unité (0,930) et un taux de croissance d’équivalent pauvreté de 44,7% inférieur, de son côté, au taux de croissance observé (48,0%). Rappelons que lorsque l’indice de croissance pro-pauvres est compris entre 0 et 1, les riches bénéficient plus que proportionnellement de la croissance que les pauvres. C’est exactement ce qui s’est passé entre 1985 et 2007″. (p.2)

Suffice to say that what holds for extreme levels of poverty is particularly true when it comes to the difficulty, for the real middle class in Morocco (and the lower, working classes too) to benefit this growth. That supply-side economics of his makes the 2002 and 2007 governments more pro-Business than ever, but with no obvious positive effects on the vast majority of ordinary Moroccans.

The 2011 Budget bill has passed a deficit of MAD 12.13 Bn, a rather modest figure when compared to earlier deficits (but already topped by the unexpected increases in expenses, mainly on subsidies and wages) though it hides some policy decisions that do not seem to be very sound, or if they were, are quite ideological and socially very divisive. Among others, there were MAD 4.2 Bn income tax cuts in 2010 (and an effective MAD 7.6 Bn) only half of which benefited to middle and lower-class households; These cuts are not economically beneficial to the majority, especially when those economic sectors that benefit from these tax cuts (whether on income tax or others) are not productive: over the last couple of years, certain fiscal measures have been taken to boost real estate in Morocco. In 2010, real estate tax deduction amounted to MAD 4.438 Bn that is 15% of all the MAD 29.8 Bn tax cuts plan in 2010 (scheduled for the 2011 Budget) The 39 measures that enabled these cuts benefited only up to MAD 1.3 Bn in social housing (while other cuts benefit to the well-off) while the rest goes in the pockets of property and real estate developers, large housing owners and corporations. The problem does not reside in these categories benefiting from these tax cuts, the real problem is the hypocrisy surrounding the social housing project. This is but one instance of the amateurish at best -if not outright carelessness on the government’s behalf- in assessing the effects of implemented policies.

Jobs for the boys. An annual MAD 10Bn goes into rich pockets

On average from 2003 to 2011, tax cuts and loopholes amounted to MAD 21.75 Bn; Real Estate and Agriculture get an average share of 30% of these measures, while education gets at most MAD 100 Million while the financial sector receives on average a Billion a year. The trend of this concentrated distribution increases markedly with 2007.

As for Agriculture, it is understood the sector employs a large workforce -thus requiring a particular social policy designed to insure the balances in this potentially volatile part of Morocco are left untouched (a left-wing government would try to improve them in favour of the peasants against the cambradores) governments since 2006 have been cutting taxes on agriculture at increasingly higher paces, from a MAD 1Bn exemption in 2003 to MAD 4 Bn.

But then again, doesn’t this square with the idea that government taxation should not fall on this fragile sector? Of course it does, unless these measures were actually helping the affluent farmers, those who can afford dozens of thousands acres of land, mechanized techniques and large markets, both abroad and domestically. As for the small peasant with a few dozens of acres, these tax breaks mean nothing. On the other hand, tax breaks can also be applied, so as to improve the domestic purchasing power (at least, that’s the official argument behind these cuts) it seems that the Finance Ministry has fully assimilated the supply-side economics, since their tax policy also believes in a trickle-down economy, whereby a decrease in costs (and in this particular case, VAT taxes) can generate a lower price for consumers. While this argument might hold -when buttressed with some serious econometric computations, we in Morocco do not observe this, and the starkest example is that of subsidies: indeed, edible oil, sugar, milk and other strategic commodities are subsidised, and yet manufacturing companies are recording high levels of profit, and prices are not always low.

Consider the 32 measures targeting Agriculture and Fishery sectors:

Exonération à l’intérieur et à l’importation d’engins et filets de pêche destinés aux professionnels de la pêche maritime. Art.92 (I-3°);123

Exonération à l’intérieur et à l’importation des engrais. Art.92 (I-4°);123

Exonération à l’intérieur et à l’importation de matériels destinés à usage exclusivement agricole. Art.92(I- 5°);123

Exonération des ventes aux compagnies de navigation, aux pêcheurs professionnels et aux armateurs de la pêche de produits destinés à être incorporés dans les bâtiments de mer. Art.92(I-34°)

Application du taux réduit de 7% avec droit à déduction sur les aliments destinés à l’alimentation du bétail et des animaux de basse-cour. Art.99(1°); 121

Exonération à l’importation des bateaux de tout tonnage servant à la pêche maritime, les engins et filets de pêche, les rogues de morues et appâts destinés aux bateaux pêcheurs ainsi que les appareils aéronautiques destinés aux armateurs et aux professionnels de la pêche en haute mer et utilisés exclusivement pour le repérage des bancs de poissons. Art.123(9°)

Exonération à l’importation des Animaux vivants de race pure des espèces équidés, bovine et ovine ainsi que les caprins, les camélidés, les autruches et les oeufs à couver des autruches. Art.123(12°)

And the list goes on. It seems these tax breaks are very much subsidizing imports of specific items the vast majority of farmers and fishermen cannot afford. Of course, there are some commendable measures to be recorded, like those:

Exonération de la vente des dattes conditionnées produites au Maroc ainsi que les raisins secs et les figues sèches. Art.91(I-A-4°)

Exonération de l’huile d’olive et des sousproduits de la trituration des olives fabriqués par des unités artisanales. Art.91(I-A-7°)

Application du taux de 14% sur le beurre à l’exclusion du beurre de fabrication artisanale. Art.99(3-a°);121

But that’s about it. And these amount to very little in terms of fiscal expenses, compared to the potential gains when imports taxes are applied to the item delineated above. The same can be said of the fiat exemption until 2014 of the whole Agricultural output from any taxation; such a measure, while seemingly populist and caring, benefits mainly to the wealthy farmers, and adds up to the double-exemption this population benefits from: tax exemption when importing these items the Budget bill considers vital for farming, tax exemption on exports -their main market- and finally, tax exemption on income they derive from these businesses.

Bumpy road ahead: Morocco's CDS is taking up a few dozen bps

The list of strange and unjust exemption is long; suffice to say that this unsound fiscal policy, added to the debt the Moroccan government is taking on to defuse social discontentment, do not allow for optimistic outlook. On financial markets, the Kingdom’s CDS Debt -a good measurement has climbed some 50 basis points up since the beginning of 2011, and is now at the same level it was during the 2009, while it almost doubled over one year. It is also worth mentioning that the fundamentals of Moroccan debt are not the ones to worry about, nor the current level of CDS (compared to other countries like Greece or Ireland) but rather the discrepancies between terms: while all maturities move across time in the same direction, the shorter maturities seem to be more sensitive than the longer ones. It does vindicate the idea that somehow, fiscal and debt policies do not seem to be motivated by any kind of long-term strategy, but the one to prevail, even at the price of abysmal budgeting and subsequent austerity plans.

Best of luck to the next Finance Minister. Oualalou’s and Mezouar’s respective legacies are a tribute to a pro-wealthy policies… and to the present potential mess lurking in the shadows and ready to burst off. Great show Ministers, you have done very well.