Jun

1

 Regarding the Swedish tax situation, it is encouraging that we now have a government that aims to lower taxes. At over 50% of GDP we are highest in the world. I am sure that it will be very beneficial long-term as huge amounts of money currently are held outside the country to avoid taxes, and this outflow will be lessened and money and companies will instead grow here. It will be a triumph for the optimists.

While companies and high net individuals try to lower taxes by either going abroad or at least keeping their capital abroad, ordinary citizens gravitate towards using the underground economy and paying Polish guest workers outside the tax system for help with cleaning, house renovation and such. Even a few ministers in the government did that, and had to leave their posts once discovered. But this excerpt from the earlier mentioned pdf, is too funny by far, showing that even the tax authority tries to avoid the sky high taxes here.

"Even the Swedish tax authority tries to avoid Swedish taxes. As noted by the Wall Street Journal, 'When it comes to paying taxes itself, the Swedish Tax Authority, responsible for collecting some of the highest in the world, would just as soon keep them as low as possible. It's saving a bundle on the production of slick TV spots that encourage Swedes to file online by producing them in the neighboring free-market, low-tax haven of Estonia'. _Spokesman Björn Tharnstrom told us, "We decided to do it in Tallinn because the costs are lower. One of those costs is taxes, of course." 

Victor Niederhoffer asks: 

Do you see any opportunities for Swedish equities with new tax rates?

Henrik Andersson comments:

It might come as a surprise that despite the highest tax rates in the world, the Swedish stock market is one of the global winners during the past 100 years or so. Of course it has to do with the state of the country 100 years ago not high taxes.

The earnings yield differential for the Swedish equity market is currently 2.0%.

Kim Zussman adds:

Point at figure analysis suggests high correlation between national tax rates and risk-return profiles of the indigenous female. Like Sweden, Russia has exorbitant nominal tax rates commensurate with 100% non-compliance.

Any comments about reduction in US tax rates relating to immigration patterns or legislated anti-social Darwinism are bifurcative.

From Jan-Petter Janssen:

My macroeconomics teacher told an anecdote about the Norwegian tax system (Norway's tax system is very similar to neighboring Sweden's.) An American professor came visiting him while he was building a sauna. The American just couldn't understand why he was making it himself. Did the Norwegian professors really get paid so badly he couldn't afford a carpenter? Well, the answer was both yes and no. No, the wages were quite good. Yes, even quite high wages could not buy much labor. The Norwegian came up with a calculation that stated this problem. After income taxes, VAT and the employer's tax, a gross $4 has to be made in order to leave the carpenter with $1.

However, while the economic policy makes labor-intensive services ridiculously expensive, the stock market is flying high. The economy is excellent in supplying our natural resources to a demanding world. In February 2003 the benchmark was playing with sub 100 levels. This Friday it passed the 500 mark for the first time. 

Thomas Bjurlof writes:

I left Sweden some 25 years ago a never returned (except for visits) partly for reasons related to the tax regime and the monolithic political culture. There were other reasons more related to opportunity.

When my father died in 1992 I spent a couple of months in Sweden and I then invested in a number of smaller tech companies. You can imagine the results having timed the bottom of the 1992 crisis and the beginning of the Internet boom (by luck, since in those days I had no idea what a banking crisis was).

The event that tipped my decision to invest was that someone offered gold as payment for some items I sold! I don't know whether this event was representative, but it certainly hinted at a shortage of liquidity in the markets.

I have recently noticed that GaveKal is very upbeat about the Swedish market, so Martin's positive statements about taxation intrigue me. What if tax rates decline say an average of 10%? Is there any research that quantifies the effect of taxation on the market? I understand the direction a change will cause, but what about the quantity?

My question is what reason is there to believe that there will be significant sustainable change to the system this time? Should we start believing in a Thatcherite change emerging in Western Europe? Is there a new "Swedish Model"?

Since there has been a cultural connection between France and Sweden for a long time, might the election of Sarkozy be a first hint of a tipping point? 

Martin Lindkvist responds:

Indeed, Thomas hits the nail on the head as we had a "new start" also in 1991 when a right wing government started to lower taxes only to be voted out of power three years later and taxes once again ware raised. And I don't know how good our chances are for a lower tax environment for the long term, although my gut tells me that it's less than a 50% chance (if that sounds pessimistic, it should be said that I still think we have a better chance now then ever, not least because of international development).

The problem you see is that to lower the tax rates, the costs must of course be lowered, and the obvious and most important cost savings can be made in the redistribution area. And then there are always groups that gets their benefits lowered and are an easy target for the socialists in the next election.

In a sense it is a miracle that the right wing won the election at all. Ha ha, they had to rebrand themselves as "the new labor party." This was true because one of the most important changes has been to start to lower taxes on work and at the same time lower unemployment benefits. Thus it should pay to work. They did get that logic across, but it has been harder for them to get across why it is important to take away taxes like the wealth tax and realty tax. And that might be why they would fall way short of winning the election were it be held again today.

It is amazing but the average Swede has no clue how much he or she pay in taxes. If you ask, you might get an answer like 31%, which is the typical tax for a worker up to about SEK25k a month. If you ask one that is paid more, you might get an answer of 55%, which is the highest marginal tax rate. They are both wrong of course since you have to add a lot to get the full picture. Social costs are paid by the employer but they lower the room for paying the worker.

Then you have value added tax on most things bought, and special taxes on things like liquor, gas, cigarettes, etc. Realty tax of course also raises the rent for those that don't actually own their own house. And more. The Swedish taxpayers association estimates the real tax for a low paid worker to be 65% for a person earning SEK 132k (that is less than USD 20k for crying out loud!), and 69% if you are at a "lofty" SEK 397k (and it does not stop there of course but goes much higher the more you earn).

The real irony is that since the person earning more sees more tax being withheld on the paycheck, percentage wise, he is more likely to vote for the right wing than the poor guy not earning much. But the taxation is almost as high on the latter.

It is a shame that Swedish people have been brainwashed to the extent that they don't even understand what monster they have created in the Swedish tax system. And this is where the rubber meets the road. If things are to change for real this time, then people will have to wake up and understand that if they are paying between 65-80% of their real earnings in tax then they are not free. The day they wake up and want to be free we can expect lasting change

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