Let’s (not) talk about tax.
Let’s talk about yoga stuff.
As part of her assessment for yoga teacher training your correspondent has had to read B K S Iyengar’s Light on Life and write 500 words on something that ‘spoke to me’. As 500 words is blog length and we have now all handed in our essays I thought I’d post it as a bit of ‘light’ relief after all the tax stuff.
Think of it – dear readers – as the blog equivalent of alternate nostril breathing which is supposed to balance out the hemispheres of your brain. Although that exercise after a couple of rounds doesn’t so much balance out your left brained correspondent as make her want to run screaming from the room. So like all yoga; work with your comfort levels and rest or stop when you need to. Listen to your body.
But first a bit of background. Yoga is not actually what non-yogis think it is. Non-yogis think of it in terms of contortionist poses – that they are like far too stiff or inflexible to do. And this isn’t helped by the whole instayogi thing. Beautiful fit young people doing postures average people can’t do on beaches or tropical islands that average people can’t afford to go to.
There are 8 limbs of yoga: the postures or asanas are but one of them. And that not to under rate them. As an ex runner I would say: come for the flexibility; stay for the brain calming and inner peace.
I had hoped to work in the ideas of Marianne Elliott social activist and yoga teacher. In particular her framework for progressive social change which I have paraphrased (and adjusted slightly) as involving:
- The official rules laws and structures we live by;
- How we treat each other; and
- How we treat ourselves.
And it is in the latter that yoga is referenced. But the essay I have to write is very short and I didn’t start soon enough to do a decent job with both Marianne’s and Iyengar’s ideas. For people who are interested in this combination I would suggest reading direct from Marianne’s work and skipping the rest of this post.
And yes this will be the last non-tax post for a while. Yes it is a tax blog and I will return to tax stuff in a couple of weeks after my teacher training is over.
“We have been asked to read Iyengar’s Light on Life and write about what spoke to us. It is fair to say that yoga has changed my life. But not in a way that is particularly obvious from the outside.
My family has REALLY BAD GENES meaning living as long as I would like may not be possible. So I have organised my life to ‘do something different’ when I turned 50. That ‘something different’ broadly is working for progressive social change.
So this was in my head reading Light of Life. To be fair while I struggled with the book; there were a few things that really did resonate with me:
Role of asana
Iyengar says that asana is the physical process that relaxes the mind which in turn allows pranayama – breathing – to unlock the prana – energy – blockages in the body. Which in turn calms and focuses the mind.(Page 14)
This is absolutely my experience. In the time leading up to my fiftieth birthday I had many competing ideas and emotions. Normally would rush to decisions that may or may not be the right ones for me and those around me.
Now it was my physical yoga practice that I kept coming back to. It might have sorted out my posture but more importantly it kept my mind clear and proceeding with calmness and focus.
I am a little nervous though of his concept of right pain as a tool for growth (page 49). As what I had thought to be ‘right pain’ in chaturanga has lead to a shoulder I am still trying to fix a year later.
Asteya and Aparigahaha
Non-stealing and non-covetousness like non-violence ahimsa, are tenets that are blindingly obvious ones for any philosophy. Iyengar, however, takes them further than I have seen before.
Non-stealing includes not taking more than you need. When combined with non-covetousness this means that taking more than you need could mean deprivation for others. And to Iyengar wealth being tied up in a few hands is also theft or covetousness.
To be faithful to these yamas wealth – as energy – must circulate otherwise ‘it will stagnate and poison us’. ‘Energy needs to flow or its source withers.’ (Page 245) This particularly resonated with me given according to Oxfam 8 men have as much wealth as half the world.
What I am increasingly seeing in New Zealand – through our out-of-whack property market – is wealth being captured through those that own property from those that don’t. And so by capturing all the wealth we are poisoning our children’s potential to live the lives we have lead.
But here’s the thing. Those who have the most won’t let that happen to their children. So opportunity and material comfort will only be available to the children of families that already have it. The exact social ill that families such as mine were escaping 100 years ago by coming to New Zealand.
So although Iyengar’s primary message was of one of inner freedom – embedded in that was the other eternal truth – that the personal is political.”
Let’s talk about tax (havens).
After eight days on a yoga course the role of balance in postures and in life was a recurring theme. And upon finishing the course this was brought home to me quite starkly. As after eight days of sequencing Sun A and B without naming the poses, understanding my inner child and hugging people that were a week ago complete strangers – your correspondent spent the subsequent week talking about multinationals and tax havens.
Yin and yang. Perhaps not as it is traditionally known but defo in my life.
Now my views on multinationals are ‘on the record’ but I realised I haven’t ever properly discussed tax havens.
Putting aside for a moment that no country has ever owned up to being a tax haven. And so much like the term ‘fat’ – it is in the eye of the beholder.
There are a number of criteria floating around but really they can be summarised as:
- low or no tax and
So yeah for New Zealand and foreign trusts pre Shewan report probs more tax haveny than not and post Shewan less tax haveny than not.
In the campaigns against them, tax havens are often swept up with the ‘multinationals – bad’ messaging. And the story goes something like this:
Multinationals strip profits from developing countries to tax havens. No tax paid in developing country or tax haven. Profits then not sent home coz they don’t want to pay tax on them. Double non-taxation – bad thing – everyone loses.
But in that story there are 2 quite distinct players:
- The developing country who is capital importing and
- the home country who is capital exporting.
The concerns of the developing or capital importing country – of which New Zealand is one – is to ensure that some tax is paid for the use of resources or on the location specific rents.
The concerns of the home or capital exporting country is to ensure that it receives some tax – after foreign tax is paid – for the capital invested.
Traditionally these two concerns have been reconciled through the OECD model for tax treaties. Broadly the approach is to let the source or capital importing country tax first but not too much. Then let the residence country also tax the income but give a tax credit for tax paid at the source country level.
Now that all works beautifully when structures are very simple and the person earning the money in the source country belongs to the capital exporting country. It becomes much more complicated when even simple entites like companies are in the mix. And it all starts to completely break down when tax paid in the capital importing country has no value as a tax credit to the ultimate owner of the capital.
Coming back to tax havens. For capital exporting countries where the multinationals are headquartered, tax havens then are a complete bugg@r. They potentially – will come back to this – put a block on the return on capital from the source country to them.
For capital importing countries like NZ the issue is not so clear. As IMHO isn’t the real concern returns leaving the country untaxed rather than where they go? Coz we have already seen with the use of hybrids it is quite possible for tax to be paid nowhere without a tax haven in sight. Also that income could also be directed to companies in the international group that were otherwise loss making – cross border loss refreshment. So really for capital importing countries, tax havens are just a tool in the mix rather than the definitive source of tax badness.
The story with tax havens being a blight on developing nations is also more nuanced than would first appear as they are often tax havens themselves. Vanuatu? Cooks? Admittedly more low rent – and therefore I would imagine more exploitable – than say Jersey or Bermuda but they still turn up on lists of potential havens.
Also capital exporting and importing countries are not as powerless against tax havens as it would first appear.
For capital exporting countries there is a 50 plus year old tool called the controlled foreign company rules that can be used against tax havens. The way it works is to say – you know if any foreign company is ultmately controlled by anyone in our country – well guess what we want to tax that income too. Trick can be knowing that income exists and so that is why the disclosure campaigns, TIEAs and automatic exchange of information are so useful. And if there continues to be non- disclosure this ups the ante with the tax administration to become potentially tax evasion and the spectre of the prison wall.
For capital importing countries its weapon of choice is the even more old school withholding taxes. Payments made to tax havens can have tax withheld at what ever rate you choose if you don’t have a tax treaty with that country. And if the treaty is a problem – it can strictly speaking be withdrawn.
The fact that these don’t happen really – IMHO – comes down to an international consensus to tax capital income more lightly than labour income. Aggravated by:
- The zero rate of tax borne by charities and pension funds;
- The active income exemption from the controlled foreign company rules;
- Classical taxation of dividends.
None of which provide any incentive to pay tax at the source country or even the home country.
Now tax havens can still be annoying to New Zealand to the extent our people have undisclosed money offshore – and the non- complying trust is worthy of its own future post – but as a country we are a net capital importer and so have much the same issues as the developing countries. And at times the label tax haven comes our way too – fairly or not.
Let’s talk about tax.
Or more particularly let’s talk about the tax free status of religion.
Your correspondent has just started the first stage of yoga teacher training (YTT). Three lots of 8 11 hour days spread over 6 months. It still surprises me as I have no desire to actually teach yoga. I do have a great desire to further learn the history and philosophy of a practice that has seriously helped me get my sh!t together. But not actually teach. Oh and anyone who is reading this who is doing it too and not already a teacher – totes non-deductible as it is a capital expense.
Now because I was about to get seriously busy I was planning to invoke the ‘except when there isn’t clause’ on my Monday posting commitment. But then as if we all hadn’t suffered enough with the earthquakes, floods, and closing of non-earthquake prone buildings – we got Brian Tamaki.
It’s the gays fault.
Strangely that pearl of post-truth wisdom from Bishop Brian has made some people so super mad that they have launched a petition to have Destiny Church’s tax free status removed. Interesting. Because of course the fact that they are a registered charity not only means they are tax exempt on any income but also that through the donations tax credit the government effectively gives them one dollar for every two given to them.
And now on my Facebook feed are coming questions – ‘so why is religion tax exempt?’. To which I’d reply ‘historic reasons‘. Advancement of religion is one of the four heads of charity. Alongside advancement of education, relief of poverty and other matters beneficial to the community.
Historically the churches were our welfare system. And even now a lot of social services are undertaken by church based groups. But that would still fit under the ‘relief of poverty’ head.
And religion and church going is beneficial to many people. In fact there is no additional ‘public benefit’ test for the religious head coz it is just presumed to be beneficial to the community.
Now I would argue I get similar benefits from my yoga practice. So yeah it does seem a tad anachronistic given the country is increasingly secular. And the gay thing is interesting too. As although the state has said marriage is between two consenting adults – that is a step too far for our churches.
But if advancement of religion were removed; churches would then have to make their case that what they did was a matter beneficial to the community and that it had a public benefit.
Perhaps not lead with Bishop Brian.
Let’s talk about tax (and tax rate alignment).
Your (foreign) correspondent is finishing up her ‘retirement cruise’ and gearing up to make that execrable journey home – also known as long distance economy class travel.
The yoga is going well too – thanks for asking – even without regular access to a studio. In large part to now knowing how alignment needs to work with my skeleton rather than that of a textbook Indian man.
So I have been thinking about this, how foreign tax systems are pretty much all misaligned, and that I promised to talk about the tail chasing stuff needed to make a higher top marginal tax rate work – or at least not not work. Because like misaligned bodies in yoga; misaligned tax systems also need props to work.
So today dear readers you get top personal tax rate alignment issues.
A couple of years ago while I was still a Treasury official I was at a social engagement and found myself talking to a Greens’ supporter. We were talking about the Christchurch earthquake and the rebuild and stuff – yes I do have all the fun – and the convo went something like this:
GS: You may remember that Russel proposed an earthquake levy as a means for the whole of the country to support Christchurch.
Me: yeah I remember that and on the face of it it did have merit – the problem is that whenever you increase the gap between the personal rates and the trust and company rate – you get people moving income into different forms. You may not collect all you think you will.
GS: [eye roll] you’re not one of those people are you? Other countries cope.
Well yeah I am ‘one of those people’. I really do like alignment and again not from a ‘purity of the tax system’ thing but because – like keeping R&D tax incentives out of the tax system – it serves us. It serves us because no matter how clever people want to get with their structuring – you always get the same result.
Alignment – like a capital gains tax is not a silver bullet and – doesn’t mean:
- everyone magically starts earning income in their own names or
- income that isn’t taxed magically starts becoming taxed
It just means that there is no incentive to start finding a bunch of non-tax commercial reasons that coincidently mean current taxable income is now earned in different lower taxed forms.
But next lefty government if you do want to raise the top rate for individuals – you are going to need some tax props to stop or reduce the tax injuries. That is how othe countries cope. Have a look at page 36 of IRD’s 2005 BIM.
First thing that is beyond key is the trust or trustee tax rate. This must be raised too as income taxed at the trustee rate can be then given to beneficiaries without any more tax to pay. Australia has. All the Penny and Hooper drama happened because the trustee rate wasn’t raised too.
However there are potentially some collateral damage issues from this – aka political risk:
- Will estates
- Trusts for the ‘handicapped child’ or the disabled relative
Australia deals with these respectively by taxing at the progressive tax scale and giving the Commissioner a discretion to alter the rate. In the last – and possibly both – cases face palm. Given our tax administration’s aging computer and business transformation programme – a better option would be treating them like widely held superannuation funds and giving them the company tax rate.
You could also do something like giving them a non-refundable tax credit to get the rate back down to 33%. That technology was used in cashing out R&D losses. But this is all second order design detail and nothing officials and/or your working group can’t sort out. No biggie. It might be a bit messy but nothing compared to the carnage involved with not aligning the trust rate.
Next issue is companies and that is a bit harder. I am assuming raising the company tax rate is off the agenda – yeah thought so.
Misalignment with the company rate – as we do now – is marginally less risky as distributions from companies – dividends – are taxed in the hands of the shareholders. And they use my personal favourite technology – the withholding tax. There is currently an additional withholding tax on dividends when they are paid bringing total tax up to 33%.
You could keep the additional withholding tax at 5% and make people file who need to pay more tax – as there was no withholding at all last time there was a 33% company rate and a 39% top rate. But there also wasn’t alignment with trusts and that went well.
Or you could raise the withholding tax to – say – 11c and people who need refunds would then need to file. Or possibly a progressive withholding system from say 5c to 11c. All technically possible. But all options will raise compliance costs on taxpayers and/or administration costs on IRD. And remember the aging computer thing?
The real issue is whether our dividend rules last properly looked at almost 25 years ago can stand the strain of say a 11c difference between the company rate and top personal rate. There are ultimately limits to how long people can pay themselves $70k salaries but have a $200k lifestyle. You need to make sure you get that extra 11c when they decide to sort out that gap.
Alternatively you may like to consider making the look through company rules compulsory for all closely held companies. This would mean the company wasn’t taxed and all the income went to shareholders personally.
Neither issue will need to be part of the first 100 days tax changing under urgency that is de rigeur for new governments. It can be sorted out with consulation and will be better for it. But you will need to be prepared to use these tax props if you don’t want the 2000 – 2009 mess again.
Think that’s it.
Hardest thing will be reprioritising the existing BT and BEPS work programme to get space for this and your new fairness working group stuff.
Let’s talk about tax (and yoga).
Now dear readers you may not realise but next to my family and friends there is nothing I love more than yoga. Well except maybe learning French, films, travel and … anyway you get the idea so work with me. And as this is a tax blog I thought I really should combine the two very early on.
A few years ago when I was both a runner and a Treasury official I was using yoga as a form of physical and mental carbon offset. One Sunday I was queuing up in a very calm mindful way to swipe my card. I was noticing my breathing and feeling very at one with the universe.
Ahead of me the yoga teacher for the class was checking us in. Now it seems to be a yoga studio thing for the teacher to do the pre class admin. I am coming around to this. On one level it is nice to be greeted by the teacher but at times it does seem like a lot for them to cope with. I guess that is part of why they are so special.
So here I am in the queue noticing but not really engaging with my surroundings as I was going internal. Until the teacher says to the person in front of me ‘here is your receipt as you’ll need it for your tax’.
Bong!! My left-brained self returned. What was that about? When I was a gym member no one ever said that. What is this ‘need it for your tax’ thing ?
Now dear readers who are also tax geeks you know where I am going with this. But a key piece of contextual information for non-yogis is that the yoga community is about the nicest kindest most peaceful community I have ever come across. They are definitely bottom of the triangle people.
For yogis who are not tax geeks I need also to provide some contextual information. In the tax system pretty much all forms of income are taxable: your yoga teaching; events you run for profit and your day job. Now that won’t be a surprise to anyone. The more difficult part is what you can claim as expenses. So it really does depend on whether or not you need that receipt for your tax.
Before I go on what I offer is my best advice which is wholly up to you whether you accept it. In the same way you tell me – from a place of your knowledge; experience ; and concern for my joint health – that I should micro bend my hyperextended joints and I don’t. I too offer this from a place of my knowledge; experience and concern that you could get to interact with my former colleagues outside your classes. Whether you follow it is completely up to you.
In the tax system, if you are not an employee, expenses related to the earning of that income are deductible if they are:
- Directly connected to the earning of the income or connected to the cost of running a business and
- not private or domestic expenses.
An example. I went back to work in 2000 as a junior official watching the winter of discontent when my boys were 5 and 2. I used pretty much all my post tax income to pay for a nanny without whom I could not go to work . But NONE – and I repeat NONE – of those costs were deductible as they were considered private or domestic expenses. Yes tax friends there is also the employment limitation but just let it flow – this is a yoga post after all.
Now all yogis know how life changing yoga is and not just for your joints so all yoga inherently has a private and domestic element to it. But then so does any occupation that has a personal or social benefit to it.
And here ‘occupation’ is key. If yoga teaching is ‘what you do’ then by definition you will have a dedicated home practice and so any classes you take or courses you go on will be personal development for your teaching and not your core personal practice. Therefore fully deductible for tax.
But part-time yoga teachers this is not you. If you have a day job and just teach a couple of classes a week, this does not mean that Wanderlust; that advanced training in Bali and your studio subscription is necessarily tax deductible. It will be tax deductible to the extent it isn’t a private expense.
Now sorting that out that deductible/non-deductible line in practice would be a total headfxxk. So I would suggest following the approach in Inland Revenue’s guidance on holiday houses before the Mixed Use Asset rules came in and claiming expenses up to the level of income earned from yoga teaching. There is no technical analysis on this point – strangely for the Office of the Chief Tax Counsel as they are all about the technical analysis – but to me they have applied the private limitation but not spelt that out as it is a headfxxk even for them.
So parttime yoga teachers – if it is personal development you can claim up to what you earn.
Oh and that other yoga special – Karma Cleaning. Barter is in the tax system. For the studio they are substituting taxable income for deductible cleaning costs so they net off. But for the cleaner it is taxable income paying for a non-deductible yoga class. So stick the value of each yoga class on your PTS and we’ll all be sweet.