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The economics of a temporary VAT cut

Author

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  • Thomas Crossley

    () (Institute for Fiscal Studies and Institute for Fiscal Studies, University of Essex)

  • Hamish Low

    () (Institute for Fiscal Studies and Trinity College, Cambridge)

  • Matthew Wakefield

    () (Institute for Fiscal Studies and University of Bologna)

Abstract

1. The rate of VAT has been cut temporarily to 15%, with a return to 17.5% in place for the end of 2009. The government has predicted that this will increase consumer spending by about 0.5%. Much of the analysis of this tax cut has been critical of the policy and concluded that the government's estimates of the impact on spending are over-optimistic. The source of this criticism is a misunderstanding of the mechanism through which the tax cut will have an impact. In fact, we believe the government's estimates are overly-pessimistic. 2. There are two mechanisms through which the temporary VAT cut might affect spending: first, it will increase spending power, making households feel as if they have more income. This mechanism is likely to be small partly because the tax cut increases income only for one year, and so the increase in total lifetime resources is very small, and partly because the lost revenue will have to be paid back. 3. However, the second (often ignored) mechanism is likely to be much more important. This second mechanism is the effect that the tax cut will have through changing the price of goods bought in 2009 compared to 2010: the cost of goods bought in 2009 has fallen compared to goods bought in 2010 and this change in prices gives an incentive to bring forward consumer spending to this year, rather than waiting until next. 4. Economic evidence on households' willingness to move spending from one year into an earlier (or later) year suggests that a 1% fall in the price today will translate into a 1% increase in spending. Since roughly only half of goods purchased are subject to VAT, the cut in the rate by 2.5% is like a cut in prices today by 1.25% and we would expect this to boost spending by about 1.25% over what it would otherwise be. 5. Of course, this issue of what the spending would otherwise be is crucial: we will not now know what spending in 2009 would have been without the cut in VAT and even with the VAT cut, spending is likely to decline. Our point is simply that economic analysis shows that the cut in VAT will make the situation significantly less bad than it might otherwise have been. 6. A natural comparison to the fiscal stimulus of a cut in VAT is a monetary stimulus through a cut in the interest rate: both make the price of spending today low compared to next year - an interest rate cut makes saving less attractive than current spending, as does the cut in VAT. The 1.25% fall in prices due to the cut in VAT reduces the price of spending today by more than a 1% point cut in the interest rate. It is surprising that some commentators have labeled the former as "small", while the latter would typically be considered a large cut. 7. There is however a difference between cutting interest rates and cutting VAT: a cut in interest rates penalises savers, whose spending power falls, and rewards borrowers. By contrast, the cut in VAT increases the spending power of savers (as well as borrowers) and this seems a fairer way to stimulate the economy.

Suggested Citation

  • Thomas Crossley & Hamish Low & Matthew Wakefield, 2009. "The economics of a temporary VAT cut," IFS Working Papers W09/02, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
  • Handle: RePEc:ifs:ifsewp:09/02
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    Cited by:

    1. James Foreman-Peck, 2014. "Great recessions compared," Investigaciones de Historia Económica (IHE) Journal of the Spanish Economic History Association, Asociacion Espa–ola de Historia Economica, vol. 10(02), pages 92-103.
    2. Sule Alan & Kadir Atalay & Thomas F. Crossley, 2012. "Euler Equation Estimation on Micro Data," Koç University-TUSIAD Economic Research Forum Working Papers 1221, Koc University-TUSIAD Economic Research Forum.
    3. David CASHIN & UNAYAMA Takashi, 2012. "Short-run Distributional Effects of VAT Rate Change: Evidence from a consumption tax rate increase in Japan," Discussion papers 12029, Research Institute of Economy, Trade and Industry (RIETI).
    4. Alexandre Porsse & Felipe Madruga, 2015. "Vertical versus Horizontal Tax Incentives Policies in Brazil: Assessing the Impacts Using a Computable General Equilibrium Model," ERSA conference papers ersa15p839, European Regional Science Association.
    5. Gonzalo Fernandez-de-Cordoba & Jose L Torres, 2011. "The Transitory VAT Cut in the UK: A Dynamic General Equilibrium Analysis," Economic Issues Journal Articles, Economic Issues, vol. 16(1), pages 1-18, March.
    6. Büttner, Thiess & Madzharova, Boryana, 2017. "The Effects of Pre-announced Consumption Tax Reforms on the Sales and Prices of Consumer Durables," Annual Conference 2017 (Vienna): Alternative Structures for Money and Banking 168201, Verein für Socialpolitik / German Economic Association.
    7. Ray Barrell & Martin Weale, 2009. "The Economics of a Reduction in VAT," Fiscal Studies, Institute for Fiscal Studies, vol. 30(1), pages 17-30, March.
    8. Nadia Belhaj Hassine-Belghith, 2007. "Exporting , Productive Efficiency and Product Quality: An Empirical Analysis Of the Agricultural Sector in the Mediterranean Countries," Working Papers 711, Economic Research Forum, revised 01 Jan 2007.

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