Germany’s tax debate
Whether or when to cut
May 22nd 2008 | BERLIN
From The Economist print edition
An argument about tax cuts causes divisions within as well as between parties
GERMANY’S grand coalition is supposedly a union of the centre-right Christian Democrats (CDU) and their left-leaning foes, the Social Democrats (SPD). Lately, it has been more like an irascible marriage between those who wish to cut taxes fast and those who do not. Most CDU deputies in the Bundestag want tax cuts. The SPD chief, Kurt Beck, even says his party will cook up cuts of its own. But barring the way are the CDU chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the SPD finance minister, Peer Steinbrück. They want to keep a promise to balance the federal budget by 2011. Tax cuts in this parliament? “Not while I’m around,” growls Mr Steinbrück.
德国的大联合政府一般认为是中间偏右的基督教民主联盟（CDU）和他们的左派对手社会民主党（SPD）的联合。但最近，这 个政府变得更像是减税支持者和反对减税者之间暴躁的联姻。众议院的大部分CDU成员希望减税。SPD领导科特贝克甚至说要设计他们自己的减税方案。但是挡 在他们前面的是CDU成员首相安吉拉默克尔，和SPD成员财政部长施泰因布吕克。他们想在2011年之前恪守平衡联邦预算的承诺。在这届议会减税？“只要 我在就别想，”施泰因布吕克吼道。
The fuss was stirred by the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU). Fearful that its five-decade grip on power may be loosened in September’s state election, the CSU called for tax breaks that would give low- and middle-income workers “more net from gross pay”, starting next year. The cost: euro 28 billion ($43 billion) by 2012. Most CDU deputies have since joined their Bavarian colleagues in a plea for rapid tax cuts. And the economy minister, the CSU’s Michael Glos, has become the first cabinet member to suggest that the balanced-budget target is not sacrosanct.
这一麻烦是由CDU的巴伐利亚姐妹党基督教社会联盟（CSU）引起的。生恐他们掌握长达五十年的权利在九月的国家选举中被 撼动，CSU要求从明年开始实行税收减免，这样可以使低中收入工人“从总收入中得到更多净收入”，预计到2012年时减免280亿欧元（折合430亿美 元）。大部分CDU议员很快加入巴伐利亚同僚的阵营要求迅速减税。德国经济部长，CSU成员格罗斯声称平衡预算并不是政府首要的任务，成为首位支持减税的 内阁成员。
The tax-cutting frenzy is stoked both by the political calendar and by the economy’s performance. With a federal election due by September 2009 each partner in the grand coalition can do little but think of how to win by a margin wide enough to jettison the other. Their duel will be fought in part over tax. Total tax revenue at all levels of government jumped by 10% in 2007, thanks to a rise in value-added tax and to robust growth. In the first quarter of 2008 the economy grew by 6% at an annualised rate, its fastest in 12 years. That not all have benefited is another reason to argue over taxes. On May 19th the government disclosed that an eighth of Germans were living at or below the poverty line in 2005, early on in the boom. Tax the rich, demanded the left; lighten the burden on ordinary folk, countered the right.
德国的政治日程和经济表现煽动起了这场减税风暴。德国在2009年九月将进行联邦选举，使得大联合政府的每一位成员都想着如何才 能与对手拉开足够大的差距以赢得选举。而他们的斗争部分集中在税收上面。因为增值税上升和强劲的经济增长，各级政府的税收总额在2007年增长了10%。 2008年第一季度经济按全年水平计算增长了8%，这是12年来最快的。而利益分配不公是导致税收争论的又一个原因。5月19号政府透露，在处于经济增长 前期的2005年，有八分之一的德国人生活在贫困线左右甚至更差。左派要求对富人征税，右派则相应地要求减轻普通人的负担。
Germans have reason to resent state greed. From 2004 to 2007 the state collected euro 91 billion in extra taxes, while workers’ net incomes rose by just euro 18 billion, say the main business associations. Germany is not heavily taxed compared with other European countries (see chart), but it takes a bigger bite out of pay than most, a burden borne disproportionately by those on modest salaries. Workers earning only 1.4 times the average pay a top rate of income tax of 42% (there is a special 45% rate for the very rich). Unlike many countries, Germany does not adjust tax brackets automatically for inflation; the result is “cold progression”, which pushes taxpayers into higher brackets even when real incomes have not risen.
德国人有理由对国家的贪婪表示愤慨。主要商业 社团宣称，2004到2007年间，国家税收增加910亿欧元，与此同时工人的净收入增长却只有180亿欧元。与其他欧洲国家相比德国税负并不重，但它从 民众工资当中拿走的份额最多，导致中等收入民众承担了不合理的负担。收入仅仅是全国平均水平1.4倍的工人就要付最高税率的所得税—42%（对于特别富的 群体有45%的特殊税率）。不像其他国家，德国不根据通货膨胀情况自动调节税收等级；这造成了“冷发展”，使得纳税人在实际收入没有提升的情况下进入了更 高的税收等级。
The government has been trying both to cut the budget deficit and to make the tax system friendlier to growth and employment. Last year’s VAT increase may have disheartened consumers but it allowed a cut in payroll taxes. The previous coalition government of the SPD and the Greens cut income-tax rates. The current one has reduced taxes on companies instead. Most of its deficit reduction has come from higher revenues, but the government has tried to restrain expenditure: federal spending has risen by around 1.5% a year since 2004.
政府一直以来 试图在削减财政赤字的同时使税收体系更加有利于经济增长与就业。去年增值税上升也许使消费者很沮丧，但它降低了总体税额。上届SPD和绿党的联合政府下调 了所得税率。本届政府降低了企业所得税。大部分的赤字减少是因为高收入，与此同时政府试图节制支出：联邦支出自2004年以来年均增长在1.5%左右。
That has not appeased nervous politicians who see tax relief as the quickest route to electoral relief. Their suggestions are a mix of the sensible and the silly. The CSU would reduce the starting rate for income tax from 15% to 12% and lift the threshold for applying the top rate, countering the effects of cold progression. It would also restore a tax break for commuters, a foolish subsidy to pollution and traffic jams. The SPD leans towards cutting social-security contributions, which would stimulate employment. The party largely backs Mr Steinbrück’s goal of eliminating the federal deficit first.
这并没有让那些把减税视为减轻选举压力的捷径的 紧张政客感到安心。他们提出的建议是合理与愚蠢的混合体。CSU要把所得税的起步税率从15%下调到12%，同时上升适用最高税率的门槛，以此来缓解冷发 展的影响。它要求恢复一项对通勤者的税收减免，和一项对污染和交通堵塞的愚蠢补贴。SPD倾向于削减社会保障费用来刺激就业，党内大部分成员支持施泰因布 吕克首先减少联邦赤字这一目标。
What is missing is any serious attempt to weigh the merits of tax cuts against other pressing aims, such as reducing the debt or spending more on research and education. Some economists read the tax-cut movement as a sign that Germans are questioning whether they need a state that consumes 44% of GDP, but there is little evidence for this. Federal spending is expected to jump this year and next, driven by higher pensions, health benefits and wage rises for civil servants, among other things. Mr Steinbrück is battling budget-busting proposals from the foreign-aid, transport, education and economy ministries. Rainer Kambeck of RWI Essen, an economic-research institute, predicts that federal spending will rise by an average of more than 2% a year from 2009 to 2011, well above the finance ministry’s projection of 0.8%.
但争论没有就减税和其他一些急迫目标的利弊进行比较，其中包换削减债务和加大 研究和教育经费等等。，一些经济学家把减税风潮视为德国人正在质疑是否需要这样一个政府—每年消耗掉44%GDP—的信号，但没有证据表明这一点。受养老 金，健康福利和公务员工资上升的驱动，联邦支出在今明两年还会增加。施泰因布吕克还在与外国援助，交通，教育，经济等部长讨价还价，而他们的种种建议都会 进一步扩大赤字。经济研究机构RWI Essen的Rainer Kambeck预测，2009到2011年间，联邦支出将会以超过2%的年平均速度增长，远远高于财政部长年增长0.8%的计划。
If all goes well the government might afford a voter-pleasing tax cut before the election and still hit its balanced-budget target. But that is a big if. Growth may slow soon. And nobody knows how far the corporate-tax reform, which takes effect this year, will reduce revenue, says Florian Zinsmeister of DIW, an economic-research institute in Berlin. The government could create room for tax cuts by trimming subsidies, which lavish euro 24 billion a year on such unworthy causes as coal mining. But that seems unlikely so close to an election. On taxes, the government “should drive with a steady hand” over the next two years, says Mr Zinsmeister.
如果一些顺利，政府也许能在选举前实行受欢迎的减 税政策并且同时平衡预算。但做起来并不容易。增长也许会放缓。柏林的经济研究机构DIW的Florian Zinsmeister说，没有人知道预计在今年见效的企业税制改革会在多大程度上减少税收。政府应该通过停止一些补贴来为减税创造空间。这些补贴每年把 240亿欧元浪费在一些不值得的事情上，比如说煤矿开采。但这在选举前夕看起来并不可能。Zinsmeister认为，未来两年政府在税收方面“应该力求 平稳”。
Ms Merkel and Mr Steinbrück may be right to give priority to deficit reduction: interest payments are the second-largest item of federal spending. If Germans really want lower taxes on top, they should demand lower spending, too.