Budget 2015 is, surprise, primarily a political document that extolls the government’s record and highlights tax cuts, but does almost nothing to deal with rising inequality or to shape the trajectory of the struggling economy.
As expected, annual contributions to Tax Free Savings Accounts are to be almost doubled to $10,000 per year, which will cost over $300 million in lost annual revenues within five years. The increase will eventually all but eliminate taxation of investment income, to the primary benefit of the very affluent earning more than $250,000 per year who collect almost half of all capital gains and dividends subject to tax.
The federal Budget to be introduced on April 21 should have one clear priority – to boost public and private investment so as to create jobs now and a more productive and sustainable economy tomorrow.
The slowing Canadian economy continues to be mainly driven by household borrowing fuelled by ultra low interest rates. With wages stagnant, families are still going deeper into and deeper into debt to spend more than they earn, setting the stage for a nasty housing crash and a rude shock to family finances down the road.
Which gives us a better picture of where the economy is headed -- near record low interest rates on government bonds or a stock market that is not far below record highs?
In Canada as well as the United States, bond yields are just above record lows. The interest rate on 10-year Government of Canada bonds is about 1.4%, meaning that investors are prepared to lock in their money for 10 years for a return well below the official 2% inflation rate target.
Economists love to talk about the theory of comparative advantage, which holds (somewhat counter intuitively) that two countries trading with each other will be better off if each specializes in what it does best, even if one country has an absolute competitive advantage in the production of all goods and services traded.
David Ricardo famously argued that it made sense for England to specialize in the production of cloth and Portugal that of wine, even though Portugal could produce both goods more cheaply.
Unfortunately, the theory has limited application to the real world, and can have pernicious policy consequences.
article originally appeared in the Globe and Mail's Economy Lab.
Photo: teegardin. Used under a Creative Commons license BY-SA-2.0
The Harper government claims to be paragons of fiscal virtue. They have pledged to balance the federal budget this year, notwithstanding a slowing economy, and are likely set to announce details of the balanced budget legislation promised in the 2013 Speech from the Throne.
The promised legislation will disallow annual deficits in “normal economic times” (whatever they are) and “set concrete targets for returning to balance in the event of an economic crisis.”
In the run-up to the delayed federal budget, there is a strange disconnect between fiscal policy and our changing economic circumstances. Balancing the budget seems to remain the key political priority, as if nothing had changed.
But the collapse of oil and other resource prices has changed a lot. Most notably, the Bank of Canada has, unexpectedly, cut interest rates to take out “insurance” against a serious slump in our resource-dependent economy. TD Economics forecast slow growth of just 2.0% this year, and have projected that unemployment will rise by 0.2 percentage points in the next few months.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said that he will not run a deficit unless and until Canada falls into an outright recession, something we would know only in hindsight.
The words “industrial policy” have been virtually banned from polite company, and should certainly never be uttered in the presence of small and impressionable children.
Many mainstream economists and conservative think-tanks believe that governments should seek only to create a favourable business climate through low taxes and light regulation, and should not intervene in the investment decisions of private corporations.
And yet, industrial policy (which should be called strategic economic policy) persists, and arguably has a greater impact on investment and jobs than broad framework policies like deep corporate tax cuts.
OTTAWA — B.C. experienced the worst income growth — in fact, incomes declined — of any province in Canada during the 2006-12 period, according to an analysis of Statistics Canada data by an Ottawa think-tank.