Saturday, November 12, 2011

Of Course Compulsory Super is a Cost to Employees...

A reader asks the Sydney Morning Herald:

"Q The money that an employer ''compulsorily contributes'' to my super * comes from where? Is it my money contributed on my behalf by the employer, or is it the employer's money, begrudgingly contributed to my super because the government orders it?"

and the answer:

"A The contribution is a cost to employers and, although contributed on behalf of the employee, is not a cost to them unless they are employed under a salary-packaging arrangement."

While this might be legally correct it is absolutely not correct from an economic point of view. It reminds me of the claims back in 2000 from the government that the GST (=value added tax) wasn't a tax on business but just a tax collected by businesses from consumers for the government. If employers didn't have to make 9% contributions to super they would pay workers higher nominal wages by the same amount (presuming that workers value super and extra salary the same and so labor supply was unaffected which wouldn't be quite true). It is very much forced saving by workers. That doesn't mean there is anything wrong with it. It is a kind of behavioral economics policy - forcing people to save in their own interest because they wouldn't do enough of it otherwise.

* Super(annuation) is the retirement account system in Australia. Employers must by law contribute a minimum 9% of the stated salary on top of the salary actually paid to a superannuation account. This will be rising to 12% if current legislation is passed.

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