The most exciting part of George Osborne's fifth budget came as a total surprise. This was the complete overhaul of the pensions system, and it achieved two of the Adam Smith Institute's long-term objectives: simplification combined with tax reduction.
The previous rules, complicated and cumbersome, arose from the Treasury's lack of trust in people's ability to manage their own affairs competently. The Treasury tried to micro-manage how pension pots should be drawn upon. They limited the amount that could be taken in cash, and capped the amount that could be drawn in annual income to a small amount, with a punitive 55% tax on anything in excess.
The Treasury's concerns were twofold. They didn't want high earners to use pension pots to circumvent income tax, and they didn't want people drawing so much that they had insufficient left to support them and might become a burden on the state. People were compelled at one stage to buy an annuity, despite the poor value these have represented.
Osborne's bold budget has introduced the revolutionary idea that people are better at judging their own interests than Treasury officials are. At a stroke he has given them the choice of how much to draw and when to draw it, and abolished the 55% rate. Anything they do withdraw will be taxed at their marginal rate. Significantly, the Chancellor pointed out that those on his side of the House know that lower tax rates can sometimes bring increased revenue, and he expects it will happen in this case.
Saving for retirement has suddenly been made more attractive, and since much of this saving is in equities, it means more investment will be available to create and sustain jobs and to boost growth. It also means that fewer people will choose to be dependent on the state in their old age.
The Chancellor has expressed his confidence that people will behave responsibly and with due regard for their own interest. Bravo. It is an admirable sentiment and one that should be adopted in other Departments. The ASI will be encouraging them to do so in the months ahead.