Institute for Research in Economic and Fiscal issues

IREF Europe - Institute for Research in Economic and Fiscal issues

Fiscal competition
and economic freedom

Online Articles

Italy and the need for a new industrial revolution

The Italian Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, has recently announced the intention of the government to invest 13 billion euros to help modernizing Italian manufacturing. Leaving aside reasonable doubts regarding how the government will manage to raise these funds, it appears evident that Mr Renzi (...)

Economic Growth without a Government?

Economic Growth without a Government?
Germany 2005, Belgium 2010-2011, USA 2013, Spain 2016: Even in well established democracies it can happen that governments lose a substantial part of their competencies or have to confine themselves to their representative tasks. There can be various (...)

A “poisoned” Apple for the EU?

The EU Commission’s investigation
After a three-year investigation, on the 30th of August 2016 the European Commission has concluded that Ireland should recover up to €13bn (£11bn) from Apple. The Commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, said that Ireland allowed Apple to pay substantially less than (...)

Capitalism and Democracy

Capitalism and Democracy: A recipe for Wealth and Freedom
Almost 90% of all Germans believe that democracy is the best political system, despite the slight decrease in approval ratings during the past few years. However, only a quarter of the population thinks the same way about capitalism, (...)

Brexit’s turmoil and UK commercial property funds

Commercial property sector in UK after the Brexit referendum The UK’s choice to leave the EU triggered great instability on the financial markets resulting in currency value shocks and asset volatility while both businesses and consumers’ confidence fell sharply. Commercial property has been amid (...)

Reform in the market for Higher Education in England

In May 2016, the Ministry for Universities and Science of the UK Government published the white paper “Success as a knowledge-economy”. The explicit intention of the document is to indicate a path of reform for higher education in the country. The proposal argues in favour of a series of (...)

The wind of Brexit on the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA)

The agreement
On the 5th of July, just a few days after the UK expressed its intention to regain trade negotiation autonomy with the Brexit referendum, the EU has found itself in a pivotal position. It had to take an important decision regarding the nature of the Comprehensive Economic and (...)

Italian Banks: Bail-In or Bail-Out

Something is rotten in Italy, namely Italian bank loans amounting to € 360 billion. For around one out of five loans payback is doubtful. Such an imbalance in the Italian banking sector is a reminder of the financial crisis in 2008. In response to the crisis the European Single Resolution (...)

Economic Freedom: Remedy against Corruption

During the next months the Olympic Games will take place in Brazil. As was already the case during the Football World Championships 2014, we will see many reports about the widespread corruption in this country. Unfortunately, far less attention will be paid to how underdeveloped economic (...)

The Serbian r(EU)volution passes through privatization and political stability

A difficult economic scenario
The Serbian economy needs a shock to take a path of recovery based on growth and modernization. The IMF recently argued that even if the country “continued to make important progress in fiscal consolidation… important challenges remain to ensure a durable fiscal (...)

New Policy Paper Available: Taxing corporations: why it is not only bad, but unjust
by Pierre Bessard and Fabio Cappelletti

Our latest Policy Paper is now available.
Taxing corporations: why it is not only bad, but unjust by Pierre Bessard and Fabio Cappelletti (Liberal Institute, Geneva, Switzerland).

The potential of sharing (the) economy

Some figures on the sharing economy
The sharing economy is a market system that requires peer-to-peer-based sharing of access to goods and services. The sharing is possible thanks to the use of digital platforms that allow peer-to peer transactions. The phenomenon (gross revenues were (...)

A report on the IREF Workshop in London (6th June 2016)

On Monday the 6th of June 2016 an IREF workshop in cooperation with St. Mary’s University took place in London. International academic presenters gave talks on their recent research articles, providing stimulating and interesting insights on issues that are at the centre of the IREF proposals. (...)

The reform of the BBC

The BBC Charter
The British Broadcasting Corporation, BBC, is the oldest and largest broadcasting corporation in the world. It is funded (partially) by annual licence fees charged to all households possessing any type of equipment to receive TV broadcasts. BBC shows, documentaries and TV (...)

Universal Credit and Cross Generation Inequality after the Welfare System Reform in the UK

In recent years, the Welfare System in the UK has undergone radical changes beginning with the design and implementation by the Government of the Universal Credit, a single payment streamlining six in-work benefits (including Jobseeker’s Allowance; Housing Benefit; Working Tax Credit; Child Tax (...)

(Br)Exit Strategy

In less than a month, UK voters will be asked to express their intention to leave the EU in a referendum. The UK Prime Minister David Cameroon has strongly argued in favour of staying. However there is disagreement among Conservative MPs, and a few Ministers of his Government have spoken in (...)

The sector of delivery services and the privatization of Royal Mail

2016 is going to be a crucial year for Royal Mail, RM, the 500 year old British postal operator whose privatization process (started in October 2013) was finally completed in October 2015. In a broad sense, it is a decisive time for the entire sector of delivery services in Great Britain. The (...)

The market for sex, human trafficking and the EU

Back in 2014, several European countries started including the revenues from drugs and prostitution into their national accounting systems. These two sectors have several characteristics in common. First, the consumption of drugs and paid sex is usually considered an immoral activity from a (...)

The Northern Powerhouse

An historic decentralization deal in England
There is historically in England a North/South division. In the South, trade and financial services have made London the target of international investments and the principal source of economic growth in the country. In the North, there is no city (...)

The Intellectual Property Rights Battle in the era of the Mass Customisation Revolution

Addictive Manufacturing (AM) is the name adopted in industries whose production is defined by the use of large scale 3D printing techniques. 3D printing is a technology which builds three-dimensional objects from a digital prototype. Today AM represents the foremost level of digitalisation in (...)

The Italian (Bad) Bank

A deteriorated banking sector in a worn-out economy At the beginning of 2016, in the context of the new EU legislation on “bail in”, Italy found itself unprepared to face the emerging crisis of its credit system, mainly caused by two correlated elements: 1. a banking sector weakened by a large (...)

A critical time for the NHS

How is NHS coping with winter?
Winter is historically, and not surprisingly, a very challenging time for the UK National Health System, NHS, due to lower temperatures and the spread of viral infections. Winter 2015/2016 seems to be particularly bad and the system is showing clear signs of a (...)

The debate over Net Neutrality

Net neutrality: what is the debate about?
The Internet has probably been the fastest developing industry of the last two decades, leading it to become a necessary instrument in our daily life and a possible engine of economic growth. In this context, the net neutrality principle broadly says (...)

The 2016 reform of the UK labour market

The UK labour market at the beginning of 2016 is in a rather good shape. The rate of unemployment has decreased steadily in the last two years and is now approaching pre-crisis figures. Employment at 73.9% is reaching also record levels.
Presenting the summer budget, George Osborne, the (...)

How fiscal policy of the 1400s created Industrial Revolution in the 1800s

The Nobel-Laureate Douglass North passed away at the end of November. Though he didn’t specialise in fiscal questions, his analysis of institutions in early modern Europe reveals that actual fiscal choices about how to finance an army help to determine the fortunes and falls of European powers. (...)

No Schwexit, at least for now.
New developments in the land of the fiscally federal.

Switzerland may be known for low taxes, but that does not prevent it from redistributing them; richer regions subsidise the poorer ones. Now at least one paying canton is starting to protest against the arrangement. There really is a big difference between how much taxpayers in different (...)

Sugar taxation won’t work and anway, there’s a better way.

The UK government has been watching Jamie Oliver’s TV shows and now wants to implement his plans for a new tax on sugar. The Commons‘ Health Committee has reported its overwhelming support for the idea at the end of November. Other than arguments that such taxes are “good per se“ because they will (...)

UK government is wrong. 5p for plastic bags *is* a tax. And it’s badly designed.

At the beginning of October, England became the last constituent part of the United Kingdom to introduce a compulsory charge for plastic shopping bags (to be paid by the shopper), after similar taxes had been introduced in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in previous years. The relevant (...)

Policy Paper: Asylum migration and barriers to labour market entry
Policy recommendations for easier access

A successful integration of asylum migrants arriving in Europe will largely depend on their success on the European labour arket. In a new Policy Paper we investigate the labour market barriers faced by asylum migrants in Germany, France and the UK. We recommend a full elimination of barriers (...)

How taxes have created the cheating Volkswagen

Strange behaviours are often caused by strange taxes or subsidies. The strange behaviour of Volkswagen believing it could cheat and not get found out was motivated partly by the strange tax/subsidy policies in Europe which subsidised diesel at the cost of petrol (...)

Populism and government greed jeopardise rule of law

In an alarming trend, individuals, companies and institutions that have committed no crime are increasingly finding themselves subject to public witch-hunts on ill-defined ‘ethics’ charges. The practice is gaining traction in several countries, though it remains unclear who has the authority to (...)

Improving the environment in the EU: taxation does not work, property rights do.

Two routes exist in theory towards making people behave more environmentally: through taxation, and through better defining and upholding of property rights. Empirical evidence suggests that at least in the EU, environmental taxation does not seem to work. Greater reliance on property rights (...)

Press Independence, State Broadcasters, and Safeguard Against Power Abuse

An essential component of a free society is independent press. It plays a central role in preventing both state actors and private interest groups from pursuing their own interests through state power too aggressively. Journalists independent from political and economic power work effectively (...)

Grab on African resources deepens. Not by China, but by the EU.

The best way how rich countries can help the poorer ones has always been to teach them how to fish. Not giving them fish. And certainly not taking fish away from them.
Yet this is what the EU has been doing since the 1970s, and in September it has renewed three multi-year greatly underpriced (...)

Germany: the highest income equality among large rich economies

Germany Income per capita is not only high in Germany, it is also relatively equally distributed in the population. OECD data indicate that only a few small countries have income both higher and more equally distributed than Germany. In other large European countries like France, UK, Italy or (...)

EU has given a new meaning to the idea of "Fair Taxes"

"Fair tax(es)" is a beautiful idea everybody wants to subscribe to. Including, of course, modern EU politicians. Their idea of "fair tax", however, differs very much from the way in which people understood the concept in the past.
It is no longer about making sure the tax is fair to the (...)

Subsidies: the real reason why foreigners cannot own land

It is good when foreigners buy agricultural land. Johnny Foreigner will have evidentnly paid more than anyone else, and he can bring access to better capital, technology, know-how or marketing channels. That’s what the single market is for.
Yet governments fear him and legalise against him - (...)

Can governments really save money by creating disasters abroad?

A new study from a German economics institute claims that the German state has already made €100bn from the Greek crisis as lenders flee from Greece into the safe haven of German government bonds, reducing their interest rate and saving the German government money on debt interest payments. (...)

Slovak government decides to prove that Marx was right
7 Lessons about Governments Bedding Big Business

Each employed Slovak worker will pay about a week’s take-home pay in extra taxes so that their government can bribe Jaguar into creating a few jobs located in Slovakia (for a while). We present lessons this teaches us, one for each day of such (...)

Do economists believe too much in the market?
Market failure is discussed more frequently than government failure

Economists are often accused (especially by other disciplines) of exaggerating the virtues of the market and of systematically downplaying the chances of a successful government intervention. In this view, economists are "market believers" and “state sceptics”, which is then reflected not only in (...)

Next tax on the menu in the EU: tax on meat.

The imagination of EU governments to come up with new kinds of tax is apparently inexhaustible. Tax on meat is now being prepared, as an answer to alleged “problems” with meat production and consumption. But taxes are generally bad solutions to “problems”, especially when those problems are created (...)

Minimum wage increases employment! (But not of humans).

It’s not just USA who is raising minimum wages significantly. New or increased minimum wages are spreading all across the EU, too (e.g. Germany, UK, Portugal..). If we take McDonald’s as a symbol of "minimum wage jobs", which governments are working the hardest to deprive such workers of any job (...)

Just How Do Greek Taxes Differ From the Rest of the OECD?

If it wasn’t obvious already, Greeks do their taxes differently.. They rely more than is customary in OECD on the less visible taxes of VAT and Social Security. Income tax revenue (from people and companies) is much less prominent. If they are risking a lot less, it time to try to actually lower (...)

Hungary vs. Czechia: new taxes discriminate and favour big business

New retail tax in Hungary discriminates big business, which just happens to coincide with the finance minister’s nationalistic interest. New retail tax in Czechia favours big business, which just happens to coincide with the finance minister’s business interest. Curious thing, (...)

It’s almost official. Bitcoin will be VAT-exempt in the EU

You’ve heard of Bitcoin. Is it primarily a currency or a service?
Its users probably could not care less; for many it will be both. Yet a distinction is necessary. Why? Well, taxes, of course! What else?
If it is primarily a currency, buying or selling bitcoin (exchanging it for your ordinary (...)

Greeks hate it when people actually pay their taxes
Are Germans the redeemer or destroyer of the Greek tax system?

Two recent stories from Greece reveal very different treatments of Germans paying taxes in Greece – depending on whether they are people or corporations.

Piketty’s three main mistakes
New IREF book

Thomas Piketty’s book “Capital in the 21st century” was dubbed as “blockbuster”. But for a group of French intellectuals under the lead of IREF, a free market institute in Paris, it was important to demonstrate that the French economist’s “Capital” did not deserve its commercial success. “Anti-Piketty” (...)

Propaganda Wars: interest on Greek debt is not "profit"

Greece failed to pay a 1.5 billion installment by the end of June. The rhetoric has long portrayed the lenders as fat cats living off Greece’s misery. Varoufakis had his sight on 1.9 billion which he called “ECB’s profiteering on poor Greeks” and should be “returned” to the Greeks to cover the IMF (...)

EU’s tax haven blacklist: created by black magic method

How do you make a credible list of countries whose tax policies you don’t agree with? Do you ask only half of your members, let them decide their own criteria, and have it approved by a few interest groups? If you are the EU, then (...)

The “Other” European Banana Problem

Two decades after the last EU bananagate, it’s going bananas again. EU subsidy programme to bring "fruits, vegetables and bananas" [sic!] to schools is only partly trying to do a "good thing". Partly it’s changing schools into dumpsters for excess output of oversubsidised agriculture. And the EU (...)

Social policy cannot pursue social good, says the ECJ

So you thought you could have your cake and eat it. That you reduce tax on something which has benefitial implications for a disadvantaged social group, saves resources and is good for the environment. Think again, says the EU Court. Your young ones are, apparently, not a legitimate aim of (...)

EU has too much money: The Proof

How do you know that any institution has too much money? When it does not manage, in spite of best intentions, to spend them all. Then there is room for scaling down the budget. The money will not disappear - it will be spent by the original "donors" instead. We show that the EU is, at least to (...)

Greece cannot save itself by taxing exports
Summer in Greece? Silly taxes ahead.

In all epochs, exports were almost always considered good for an economy. That’s why modern governments have generally stayed away from trying to tax exports. Not so the current Greek government, however. By increasing the tax rate on a vital component of Greek exports it is hoping to raise some (...)

Low labour taxes – less unemployment

An age-old phenomenon: Some unemployment exists and politicians want to fight it by creating conditions for new jobs. The usual recipe involves expanding government spending and investment programs. Figures for OECD countries show that places with low taxation of labour tend to exhibit low (...)

What’s Wrong With | increasing budget for EU Parliamentary assistants

European Parliament has just voted to increase the budget each MEP can spend on their assistants. This can hardly be justified. Worse, it can increase the deluge of new regulations.

EU should not encourage Nigeria to increase income taxes. (Or anyone else.)

International institutions like IMF or World Bank do often give economic policy advice to poorer countries, but generally only after thorough analysis. EU does not specialise in such anaislys, and its diplomats should avoid dispensing such unfounded advice (...)

It is not Brexit that endangers sovereign debt

There are plenty of reasons to panic about the level of UK government deficits and debt. But Brexit, even if it actually came, is not one of them. We review the relationship between a UK-sans-EU and public finance.

6 reasons to worry about inconclusive UK election
Political instability tends to worsen national debt

UK might not get a single party government after next month’s election. Again. Moody’s are not worried about the consequences for government finances. They probably should be.

What’s Wrong With | Greek death tax uncharitable to foreigners
Greek death tax uncharitable to foreigners

Say you want to pass your wealth to others after you die, since you cannot take it with you.
If you pass it to friends and family, many (18) EU governments will take a hefty portion of it in inheritance tax.
If you pass it to a charity, most governments won’t charge you tax.
If you pass it (...)

Have you paid your tax? Belgian taxman won’t believe you.

In the Middle Ages in the Middle East, merchants and travellers would sometimes have a proof of having paid their tax tattooed on their necks, to prove that they don’t have to pay again. Modern EU has devised a less painful alternative – a “Portable Document A1”. It is automatically recognised (...)

Actual business tax? Almost half of profits in almost half of EU
Businesses pay a lot more than just corporate income tax.

The impression from media is that companies pay “only” somewhere around 20-30% tax rate in the EU, if they pay at all. That’s only the headline figure for one tax they pay. Total tax rates are well over 40%, French businesses pay 2/3 of their profits in tax. What’s worse, the big economies of (...)

EU’s complicated tax forms, measured

Businesses both pay taxes and collect them from others for the government. How administratively burdensome is this activity across the EU, North American and EFTA? We assess the evidence and identify, whether it is the frequency of filing or complicated tax returns that (...)

Text in e-books is irrelevant, says highest EU court

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled last Thursday that e-books are not allowed to enjoy the lower VAT that “normal” books enjoy in some EU states, and that they have to be taxed at the standard (much higher) rate of other goods. The ECJ’s justification sounds strange and very (...)

The new Greek (Secret) Tax Police

If you are playing for time, you have to swamp your creditors with proposals how you are going to improve. “This time it’ll work, honest, guv.” So the Greek government is now proposing a secret tax police, where ordinary citizens would be wired with cameras and microphones to catch tax evaders. (...)

February’15 Assessment of Commision’s Legal Action

We are continuing our assessments of monthly packages of legal actions initiated by the European Commission against member states. Unfortunately, no information was made available by the EC since our November assessment until the current February package. At the beginning of December, the next (...)

Planned Obsolescence: a tax with strange effect on economy

The French government is hoping to help consumers – and increase growth – by making it illegal to manufacture products with artificially shortened lifetime. We argue that proving such case will be nearly impossible in modern technology and the ban will act as a tax, with consequences even worse (...)

Fiscal health means more than current government debt
Some “fiscally healthy” Eurozone governments are in fact in dire straits

The Greek bankruptcy of 2010 was the latest impetus for reviving the debate on robustness of governments’ budgets in the Eurozone. It became clear that in order to assess the long-term fiscal health, it is not enough to look at the much used public debt-to-GDP ratio. Additional indicators need (...)

A guide to the world of negative interest rates

Negative interest rates here, there, everywhere. What used to be taught as "impossible" in textbook is now a reality throughout the EU. And for the first time it even affects corporate bonds, not just "safe" sovereign ones. Why would anyone lend more than they receive, when they can just hang (...)

Croatian government has just grown bigger. And more sinister.

The poorest poor in Croatia are having their debts wiped out by the government. The motivation may be noble, but the apportioning of the costs is despicable. Once again, government’s power and reach grows, yet it keeps this fact under the carpet. Who’s (...)

After banks and governments, now individuals want money for “unforeseen circumstances”

Earlier this week, Russian borrowers with Euro or Dollar mortgages called upon Putin to relieve them of their now increased interest payments. Banks should bear the costs, whilst the borrowers bore the benefits until now. We show that this bailout is just a repeated story of bank and government (...)

Greek debt servicing is not at all crippling

Greece is said to be suffering under crippling burden of debt servicing. However, the official debt servicing is already lower than in other EU countries with much smaller debts. Furthermore, the actual interest payments payable by Greece are close to those that Germany is having to make on its (...)

TTIP: ending some protections while creating others?

Transatlantic Trade and Investment negotiations are resuming. Popular support varies across Europe, we identify four distinct groups. Removing trade protectionism will generally benefit ordinary people. However, some protectionism may increase, especially in investment chapters. If governments (...)

New rules encourage EU governments’ profligacy

New rules about deficits run by Member State governments have been announced by the European Commission. They are phrased as “guidance” so no Parliamentary approval is needed. They are said to “encourage structural reforms and investment”, but IREF shows that they discourage structural reforms and (...)

Economic freedom down in Eurozone, up in non-Euro countries

9 EU countries have not adopted the Euro, 19 have. Both groups include similar proportions of countries with high, medium and low levels of economic freedom. However, IREF’s investigation of what has been happening to economic freedom in the two groups reveals significant differences. While (...)

Greeks have the safest jobs in the euro area
Greek labour market is hard to crack for an outsider

The Greeks have voted and the left-wing Syriza emerged as the clear winner. There will now follow intensive discussions about Greek reforms and the relationship between Greece and the rest of the world. The labour market is one of the core battlegrounds in Greece. It is very difficult for the (...)

Freedom helps: especially in times of crisis
Greeks suffer consequences of lack of economic freedom

For several weeks Greece has been, once again, at the centre of European economic policy. Grexit, Greece’s withdrawal from the Eurozone, is being debated again, in light of the forthcoming Greek election of 25 January. Proponents point to the opportunity after such withdrawal for a massive (...)

3 French Hens
Twelve Days of Fiscal Christmas

This article is from our mini-series looking at modern fiscal issues surrounding items listed in the famous 18th century English carol “Twelve Days of Christmas”. We believe that if the list can be used as an index measure of monetary inflation, it can equally well be used as an indicator of how (...)

2 Turtle Doves
Twelve Days of Fiscal Christmas

To replace the original sacrifice of two turtle doves, the biggest European authority in the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church, dictated what people should eat. EU governments continue doing the same, by fiscal means. However, this fiscal policy is full of paradoxes. Governments tax consumption (...)

1 Partridge in a Pear Tree
Twelve Days of Fiscal Christmas

A partridge in a pear tree, the famous gift of the first day of Christmas, is at the centre of an EU fiscal paradox: European taxpayers are paying for extensive programmes to protect the habitat of the dwindling species. At the same time, they are fiscally forced to help to destroy partridge’s (...)

ECJ ruling strengthens European Welfare States

New ECJ ruling confirms that member states can currently deprive non-residents of welfare payments. Yet, it has been popularly portrayed as a new tool to protect the spiralling costs of EU welfare states. We show that on the contrary, costs may rise, both in the short and long run, and the (...)

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