Scientists Just Discovered an Entirely New Way of Measuring Time

 (in-future/Getty Images) 

Marking the passage of time in a world of ticking clocks and swinging pendulums is a simple case of counting the seconds between ‘then’ and ‘now’. Down at the quantum scale of buzzing electrons, however, ‘then’ can’t always be anticipated. Worse still, ‘now’ often blurs into a haze of uncertainty. A stopwatch simply isn’t going to cut it for some scenarios.

A potential solution could be found in the very shape of the quantum fog itself, according to researchers from Uppsala University in Sweden. Their experiments on the wave-like nature of something called a Rydberg state have revealed a novel way to measure time that doesn’t require a precise starting point.

Rydberg atoms are the over-inflated balloons of the particle kingdom. Puffed-up with lasers instead of air, these atoms contain electrons in extremely high energy states, orbiting far from the nucleus. Of course, not every pump of a laser needs to puff an atom up to cartoonish proportions. In fact, lasers are routinely used to tickle electrons into higher energy states for a variety of uses.

In some applications, a second laser can be used to monitor the changes in the electron’s position, including the passing of time. These ‘pump-probe‘ techniques can be used to measure the speed of certain ultrafast electronics, for instance. Inducing atoms into Rydberg states is a handy trick for engineers, not least when it comes to designing novel components for quantum computers.

Needless to say, physicists have amassed a significant amount of information about the way electrons move about when nudged into a Rydberg state. Being quantum animals, though, their movements are less like beads sliding about on a tiny abacus, and more like an evening at the roulette table, where every roll and jump of the ball is squeezed into a single game of chance.

The mathematical rule book behind this wild game of Rydberg electron roulette is referred to as a Rydberg wave packet. Just like actual waves in a pond, having more than one Rydberg wave packet rippling about in a space creates interference, resulting in unique patterns of ripples. Throw enough Rydberg wave packets into the same atomic pond, and those unique patterns will each represent the distinct time it takes for the wave packets to evolve in accordance with one another.

It was these very ‘fingerprints’ of time that the physicists behind this latest set of experiments set out to test, showing they were consistent and reliable enough to serve as a form of quantum timestamping. Their research involved measuring the results of laser-excited helium atoms and matching their findings with theoretical predictions to show how their signature results could stand in for a duration of time.

“If you’re using a counter, you have to define zero. You start counting at some point,” physicist Marta Berholts from the University of Uppsala in Sweden, who led the team, explained to New Scientist. “The benefit of this is that you don’t have to start the clock – you just look at the interference structure and say ‘okay, it’s been 4 nanoseconds.’

A guide book of evolving Rydberg wave packets could be used in combination with other forms of pump-probe spectroscopy that measure events on a tiny scale, when now and then are less clear, or simply too inconvenient to measure. Importantly, none of the fingerprints require a then and now to serve as a starting and stopping point for time.

It’d be like measuring an unknown sprinter’s race against a number of competitors running at set speeds. By looking for the signature of interfering Rydberg states amid a sample of pump-probe atoms, technicians could observe a timestamp for events as fleeting as just 1.7 trillionths of a second.

Future quantum watch experiments could replace the helium with other atoms, or even use laser pulse of different energies, to broaden the guide book of timestamps to suit a broader range of conditions.

This research was published in Physical Review Research.

By Mike McRae

Source: Scientists Just Discovered an Entirely New Way of Measuring Time : ScienceAlert

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China’s Burned Out Tech Workers are Fighting Back Against Long Hours

Ms Tech | Getty

The draining 996 work schedule—named for the expectation that employees work 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week—has persisted in Chinese companies for years despite ongoing public outcry. Even Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma once called it a “huge blessing.”

In early October this year, it seemed the tide might have been turning. After hopeful signs of increased government scrutiny in August, four aspiring tech workers initiated a social media project designed to expose the problem with the nation’s working culture. A publicly editable database of company practices, it soon went viral, revealing working conditions at many companies in the tech sector and helping bring 996 to the center of the public’s attention. It managed to garner 1 million views within its first week.

But the project—first dubbed Worker Lives Matter and then Working Time—was gone almost as quickly as it appeared. The database and the GitHub repository page have been deleted, and online discussions about the work have been censored by Chinese social networking platforms.

The short life of Working Time highlights how difficult it is to make progress against overtime practices that, while technically illegal in China, are still thriving. But some suspect it won’t be the last anonymous project to take on 996. “I believe there will be more and more attempts and initiatives like this,” says programmer Suji Yan, who has worked on another anti-996 project. With better approaches to avoiding censorship, he says, they could bring even more attention to the problem.

Tracking hours

Working Time started with a spreadsheet shared on Tencent Docs, China’s version of Google Docs. Shortly after it was posted, it was populated with entries attributed to companies such as Alibaba, the Chinese-language internet search provider Baidu, and e-commerce company JD.com.

“9 a.m., 10:30 p.m.–11:00 p.m., six days a week, managers usually go home after midnight,” read one entry linked with tech giant Huawei.

“10 a.m., 9 p.m. (off-work time 9 p.m., but our group stays until 9:30 p.m. or 10 p.m. because of involution,” noted another entry (“involution” is Chinese internet slang for irrational competition).  Within three days, more than 1,000 entries had been added. A few days later, it became the top trending topic on China’s Quora-like online forum Zhihu.

As the spreadsheet grew and got more public attention, one organizer, with the user name 秃头才能变强 (“Only Being Bald Can Make You Strong”), came out on Zhihu to share the story behind the burgeoning project.

“Four of us are fresh college and master’s degree graduates who were born between 1996 and 2001,” the organizer said. Initially, the spreadsheet was just for information sharing, to help job hunters like themselves, they said. But as it got popular, the organizers decided to push from information gathering to activism. “It is not simply about sharing anymore, as we bear some social responsibility,” 秃头才能变强 wrote.

The spreadsheet filled a gap in China, where there is a lack of company rating sites such as Glassdoor and limited ways for people to learn about benefits, office culture, and salary information. Some job seekers depend on word of mouth, while others reach out to workers randomly on the professional networking app Maimai or piece together information from job listings.“I have heard about 996, but I was not aware it is that common. Now I see the tables made by others, I feel quite shocked,” Lane Sun, a university student from Nanjing, said when the project was still public.

Against 996

According to China’s labor laws, a typical work schedule is eight hours a day, with a maximum of 44 hours a week. Extra hours beyond that require overtime pay, and monthly overtime totals are capped at 36 hours.

But for a long time, China’s tech companies and startups have skirted overtime caps and become notorious for endorsing, glamorizing, and in some cases mandating long hours in the name of hard work and competitive advantage.

In a joint survey by China’s online job site Boss Zhipin and the microblogging platform Weibo in 2019, only 10.6% of workers surveyed said they rarely worked overtime, while 24.7% worked overtime every day.

Long work hours can benefit workers, Jack Ma explained in 2019. “Since you are here, instead of making yourself miserable, you should do 996,” Ma said in a speech at an internal Alibaba meeting that was later shared online. “Your 10-year working experience will be the same as others’ 20 years.”

But the tech community had already started to fight back. Earlier that year, a user created the domain 996.icu. A repository of the same name was launched on GitHub a few days later. The name means that “by following the 996 work schedule, you are risking yourself getting into the ICU (intensive care unit),” explains the GitHub page, which includes regulations on working hours under China’s labor law and a list of more than 200 companies that practice 996.

Within three days, the repository got over 100,000 stars, or bookmarks, becoming the top trending project on GitHub at that time. It was blocked not long after by Chinese browsers including QQ and 360, ultimately disappearing entirely from the Chinese internet (it is still available through VPNs).

The 996.icu project was quickly followed by the Anti-996 License. Devised by Yan and Katt Gu, who has a legal background, the software license allows developers to restrict the use of their code to those entities that comply with labor laws. In total, the Anti-996 License has been adopted by more than 2,000 projects, Yan says.

State involvement

Today, 996 is facing increasing public scrutiny from both Chinese authorities and the general public. After a former employee at the agriculture-focused tech firm Pinduoduo died in December 2020, allegedly because of overwork, China’s state-run press agency Xinhua called out overtime culture and advocated for shorter hours.

And on August 26, China’s Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security and the Supreme People’s Court jointly published guidelines and examples of court cases on overtime, sending reminders to companies and individuals to be aware of labor laws. But even though authorities and state media seem to be taking a tougher stand, it is unclear when or if the rules that make 996 illegal will be fully enforced.

Some companies are making changes. Anthony Cai, a current employee of Baidu, says working six days a week is quite rare in big companies nowadays. This year, several tech companies including and ByteDance, the developer of TikTok, canceled “big/small weeks,” an emerging term in China that refers to working a six-day schedule every other week. “Working on Saturday is not that popular anymore,” Cai says. “However, staying late at the office is still very common, which is not usually counted as overtime hours.”

In the future, companies may have to scale further back on overtime to attract young applicants. Faper Fu, a university student in Nanjing, says he has little interest in accepting 996 when he enters the job market. “If I am getting paid a lot, I may consider it,” he says. “But it is not my long-term plan 100%. Having work and life balance is very important to me.”

Cary Cooper, a professor of organizational psychology and health at Alliance Manchester Business School in the UK, thinks Chinese companies will pull away from overtime culture when they see evidence of the impact that long hours have on the health and productivity of workers. “There is no evidence that if people consistently work long hours, their productivity level will increase—it’s the opposite,” he says.

In the meantime, Cooper says, younger generations “won’t stop fighting for a good quality of working life.”

“996 will only make human machines,” wrote  秃头才能变强. “And the only result of a dry human battery is being thrown into the trash can after the battery goes dry.”

Source: China’s burned-out tech workers are fighting back against long hours | MIT Technology Review

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Time: Understand How You Use It, Create More of It, Maximize It, and Sustain It

Graphic: Viktoria Kurpas (Shutterstock)

The writer Annie Dillard says, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” Yet, we let our weeks happen to us instead of proactively designing our time. We don’t block off our calendars to do heads-down, focused work. We participate in meetings without clear agendas or purposes.

We work without a plan. We let the constant barrage of notifications distract us. We convince ourselves that our busy work is our most important work, even when we know better. The fundamental building block of a workweek is how each individual spends their time. But surprisingly, little attention is dedicated to how we design our hours and workweeks.

For example, when do you do your best work? How many meetings should you schedule on your calendar? Do you allow notifications and respond immediately, or do you turn notifications off to work uninterrupted?

Here are four steps to design your week

Conduct a self-audit to understand your time

Put everything you do on your calendar for two weeks, from meetings and time blocks for emails to special projects and preparing for upcoming meetings; then conduct a time audit by reflecting on the data.

  • What do you notice about how you spent your time?
  • What percentage of your time is dedicated to each project? To meetings?
  • What days of the week are you most focused?
  • What time of day are you most energized?

Use the insights from your audit to take the following steps:

  1. Identify small changes: Making small improvements can add up to big differences. What are the simplest, easiest steps you can take to proactively design your workweek? For me, it was blocking off my calendar to do heads-down deep work time 3-4 times per week and turning off notifications.
  2. Identify significant changes: Making big structural changes to your week can also lead to more time for the most important work. When I completed my self-audit, I realized that there were weekly standing meetings that could either get canceled or that I didn’t need to attend.

Reduce the cost of distractions to create time

The Australian software company Atlassian conducted research into distractions, and the results are staggering:

  • 36: The number of times we check email per hour
  • 16 minutes: Time it takes to refocus after an incoming email
  • 10: How many IQ points you lose when fielding constant emails (the same as losing an entire night’s sleep)
  • 56: The number of times we’re interrupted per day
  • 3 minutes: Spent working before switching between tasks
  • 2 hours: Spent recovering from distractions every day

Here are a few steps to reduce the time lost to distractions:

  1. Email: Turn off email notifications and set aside 2-3 blocks of time to check and respond to emails throughout the day. Then, ignore email for the rest of the day, knowing that you have time allocated to get to it.
  2. Notifications: Turn off all notifications (email, internal team notifications) for certain “deep work zones” scheduled throughout the week. I blocked off two deep work zones each week where I could work uninterrupted.
  3. Create goal-based calendar blocks: I often create 30 or 60-minute calendar blocks where I challenge myself to complete a specific task or reach a particular goal. Like the pomodoro technique, using time constraints to reach a predetermined goal can increase your focus and empower you to tune out distractions.

Finally, consider what you gain when you reduce distractions (time with your children, ability to go to the gym after work, work-free weekends, etc.).

Create boundaries to maximize your time

Boundaries are a crucial step in reducing distractions, burnout, and work stress. With 79% of employees reporting work-related stress in 2021, we need to take personal ownership and reclaim our time.

Boundaries can be hard to create, but consider using the results from your self-audit to help you determine what boundaries will be most valuable. For example, is it protecting your time? Limiting new, additional tasks? Blocking certain times of day for important work while you’re at your best? Avoiding company events that aren’t required?

When communicating your boundaries with others, focus on the benefit they create for the task at hand.

When your availability is limited:

“I prioritize time with my family on X day or after Y time, but I’m fully available [list commonly available times]. How can we leverage that availability to reach our deadline?”

When the project isn’t in line with your priorities:

“I am working on several projects right now and want to ensure I’m effective. Given that our quarterly goals are [insert goals/metrics/objectives], it seems like Y project and Z project are less essential and timely than x project. Is this right? How do you propose I best prioritize?

Test, Optimize, and Repeat to sustain your time

Start with designing just one workday. How might you proactively structure a workday that has a high chance of being focused, productive, and healthy? Make 2-3 small changes across notifications, deep-work time, emails, and boundary-setting. Then at the end of the day, review what you learned. What worked? What didn’t? Then try again for another day. Double down on 1-2 practices you already implemented and select 1-2 more to test.

If you find it harder to make changes daily, consider looking at a whole week and focusing on identifying 2-3 small changes you can make weekly. Then at the end of the week, reflect on what worked and what didn’t, and try again for the following week.

It can often feel like our calendar is predetermined for us; we just need to respond and make the best of it, striving to fit everything in. But we have more power than we sometimes give ourselves credit for. One of the best ways to find more time in our schedule is to recognize the agency within us and begin by taking a few small steps.

By: Banks Benitez

Source: Time: understand how you use it, create more of it, maximize it, and sustain it

.

Related contents:

Bill Belichick stressing time management with difficult road ahead USA Today

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11 Tech Experts On How Small Businesses Can Effectively Leverage Machine Learning

We hear a lot these days about how technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning are changing the ways businesses operate. Even casual followers of the technology industry have read stories about how household-name companies including Amazon, Google and IBM are using AI and ML for everything from tailored product recommendations to piloting autonomous vehicles to developing computers that can defeat chess champions and win TV game shows.

Entrepreneurs and small-business owners may think ML is a tool only “the big guys” can afford or use effectively; but there are plenty of ways even startups can use the technology to boost their odds of success, from predicting future purchases (just like the big guys do) to taking labor-intensive tasks off their team members’ plates. Below, 11 members of Forbes Technology Council share ways machine learning can help entrepreneurs and small-business owners and why they’re so effective.

1. Scoring And Prioritizing Leads

Machine learning can help small businesses better identify leads and provide valuable insights into them. ML can not only be used to “score leads” but also to provide insights on the probable time to close. This allows entrepreneurs to create better portfolios from their leads and prioritize them effectively, as you want to balance high-value leads in terms of those that will close “now” versus those that will need some nurturing. – Neerav Vyas, Capgemi

2. Eliminating Time-Intensive, Repetitive Tasks

Technology for the sake of technology is never a good idea. The pandemic has left workers burned out, and the labor shortage is real. Entrepreneurs and small businesses should look for AI/ML technology that helps eliminate the time-intensive, mundane tasks employees do so they can focus on higher-order work. This will keep productivity moving and keep employees motivated. – Prasad Ramakrishnan, Freshworks

3. Analyzing Data

Many entrepreneurs and small businesses do not have the budget for one data analyst, let alone a team of analysts. Machine learning is a way to cover your analytical base without the positional cost. And while most entrepreneurial initiatives start out with a great vision, expecting yourself to peer with otherworldly wisdom into analytics at every turn is simply not tenable. – Denver Hunter, PenServ Plan Services, Inc.

4. Identifying Purchasing Patterns

One of the simplest ways to utilize machine learning in smaller businesses is to use its capabilities to identify patterns, such as purchasing patterns, and to predict near-future purchasing. This can drastically cut supply chain and storage costs—smaller businesses often neither have significant resources in these areas, nor can they afford them. Predictions are excitingly accurate, even with sudden trend changes. – Markus Bernhardt, OBRIZUM

5. Handling Personal Scheduling

Time is money, and entrepreneurs have little of either. Smart scheduling solutions have been a game-changer for me. They analyze my calendar, automate coordination, and streamline how meetings get booked, rescheduled and canceled. – Sean Steele, Infolock

6. Turning Insights Into Ideas

Machine learning can drive home the importance of data and the commodity of technology. Entrepreneurs and small-business owners will find machine learning closing the loop to shorten the distance between doing and dreaming. Operationally, this means turning insights into ideas that are executed for real business impact, with those learnings creating even more insights. – Cleve Gibbon, Wunderman Thompson

7. Understanding Consumer Behavior

In light of recent technological advances, machine learning is becoming more accessible, which can help small businesses and entrepreneurs understand consumer behavior. This alone can provide you with better insight into customer needs and the updates or changes that should be made in order for your company’s products/services to best serve your customers. – Matt Pierce, Immediate

8. Analyzing Customer Feedback

Machine learning should definitely be used to analyze the feedback from your customers. Ideally, you will want to know how to evolve your products and understand what would make a customer become interested in or evolve with your product. Therefore, the feedback loop is highly important; but understanding what is noise and what is truly critical feedback is even more so. Then you can react accordingly. – WaiJe Coler, InfoTracer

9. Identifying Product ‘Winners’ And ‘Losers’

ML can help automate the process of product development. By using artificial intelligence to predict which products are likely to be successful, business owners can save time and money by passing on projects that would have failed anyway, freeing up their resources for more promising endeavors. – Leon Gordon, Pomerol Partners

10. Business Planning

There’s a lot more potential for machine learning to help in business planning processes than is realized at the moment. While machine learning is generally popular in aspects such as marketing and customer service, it is rather underutilized in planning, despite its high potential. Business planning is an important and complicated process where human efforts are not always enough to stay competitive. – Peter Abualzolof, Mashvisor

11. Cleansing Data, Processing Documents And Combating Fraud

ML can be overwhelming for small-business owners because of the learning curve. To start with, small businesses can certainly leverage ML for customer data cleansing, fraud detection, automation of document processing and guarding against phishing attacks. These areas are common pain points, and ML can certainly help small businesses solve these issues as well as realize some long-term cost savings. Later on, small businesses can invest more money in automation. – Kiran Palla, Kiran Palla

Successful CIOs, CTOs & executives from Forbes Technology Council offer firsthand insights on tech & business.

Source: Council Post: 11 Tech Experts On How Small Businesses Can Effectively Leverage Machine Learning

Critics by Gero Keil

Machines have become smart but we are still years away from human-like intelligence. However, until then it is possible for us to understand how machines can learn from data. Depending on the use case, data may be classified, segment, interpreted, extracted and you can run regressions on it. Looking at your business processes (and data) in this manner is the entry ticket to the promised land of AI.

Artificial intelligence has been helping big companies for years. Only recently has AI become available to small businesses through AIaaS (AI as a service). The benefits for small businesses are similar to those of big companies—let’s take a look:

Reduce time spent on mundane tasks: using AI to automate repetitive tasks and analyze large amounts of data helps small businesses free up time to focus on other tasks.

Lower costs: implementing an AI solution reduces costs in the long run by improving efficiency and freeing up time and resources to develop the business.

Improve service: using AI to understand your consumers and how they feel about your product can help you proactively improve your offerings.

Improve security: AI solutions can be implemented to help small businesses detect any suspicious cyber activity before it becomes an issue. AI solutions can help businesses improve customer service in a number of ways, from analyzing customer sentiment to categorizing support requests.

Having insights into customer behavior and sentiment is key for improving your support and product—often before customers themselves request it. AI can help businesses by improving efficiency and productivity when it comes to business operations. Whether that’s by categorizing incoming emails based on their contents, or identifying promising leads and unpromising leads.

AI can help with both simple and complex issues, and can help you and your team free up a lot of time for other important tasks. AI enables businesses to continuously improve their product and offerings with insights into how users interact with them. Simply use AI to monitor what users are talking about and the sentiment behind their words, and make changes accordingly.

AI can help highlight product issues before they’re vocalized by users—meaning you can solve problems before they even arise. Gone are the days where only the biggest organizations leveraged AI—small businesses can now use AI to optimize their processes, too. AI solutions make harnessing the power of machine learning easier than ever before—let’s see how to implement AI in your small business.

Machines have become smart but we are still years away from human-like intelligence. However, until then it is possible for us to understand how machines can learn from data. Depending on the use case, data may be classified, segment, interpreted, extracted and you can run regressions on it. Looking at your business processes (and data) in this manner is the entry ticket to the promised land of AI….

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Wealth And Windfall Taxes: Still Not Ready For Prime Time

One sign that post-COVID-19 normalcy is slowly coming to the tax world is that tax authorities are increasingly being accused of launching or seeking unwarranted investigations of taxpayers. Eighteen months or even a year ago, when liquidity was paramount during the height of the pandemic lockdowns, tax authorities across the world quietly backed away from tax enforcement, giving taxpayers some grace in a difficult time. But in some countries, the grace period appears to be over.

In New Zealand, the Inland Revenue Department is seeking contact information for high-net-worth individuals so it can follow up with inquiries about their financial affairs. That hasn’t been received well by the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union, which recently accused the department of conducting fishing expeditions that could keep the rich from moving to or investing in New Zealand.

In the United States, the Biden administration received significant blowback when it released a bank reporting proposal that would have obligated financial institutions to report data on business and personal accounts with over $600. A second iteration that would have increased the reporting threshold to $10,000 didn’t fare much better. The idea was ultimately cut from a massive budget package winding its way through the government.

The South African Revenue Service, which recently beefed up its high-net-worth unit, is reportedly assigning specific staff to each high-net-worth taxpayer to engage in ongoing dialogue, reminiscent of private banking relationships, according to a report in South Africa’s BizNews.

Overall, this activity is a sign that governments are beginning to shift to the pandemic recovery phase instead of remaining in the pandemic emergency phase. Recent budget and legislative proposals issued in various countries back this up.

Yet the tax transition to recovery has not been as smooth or decisive as previous phases: It has been more hesitant and cautious because policymakers continue to grapple with taxpayer trust issues and slow economic recovery. This is particularly true with excess profits (windfall taxes) and wealth taxes, both of which have generated a lot of discussion.

Where Are We Now?

As a refresher, tax responses to the COVID-19 pandemic have generally followed three phases. The first was about liquidity and enabling taxpayers to keep cash on hand. Many tax administrations achieved this by allowing deferred tax payments, issuing faster tax refunds, increasing business deductions, and allowing taxpayers to shift losses to other years. In that phase, taxing authorities relieved taxpayer burdens and scaled back on enforcement.

The second phase was about maintaining liquidity and starting to ease into restructuring, which requires a careful balance between maintaining taxpayers’ access to cash and instating gradual and reasonable tax increases that do not impede growth or anger taxpayers.

Finally, there is what the World Bank calls phase 3: resilient recovery. This phase is about trust. According to the World Bank, if taxpayers think their lawmakers have been evenhanded and fair over the course of the pandemic by providing adequate relief when needed, then this phase’s needed tax hikes and tax base expansions will have the greatest likelihood of public acceptance.

Windfall Taxes Are Still Rare

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, many questioned whether countries should rely on windfall taxes to pay for pandemic-related support and recovery. There has been a lot of debate, but few takers. Malaysia stands out as one of the first countries to adopt a pandemic-related windfall tax.

Malaysia

COVID-19 battered Malaysia’s economy. In 2020 the country suffered a 5.6% decline in GDP — its worst economic contraction since the Asian financial crisis of 1997. The good news is that the economy is expected to steadily recover over the next year as part of the overall global economic recovery. But riding these economic coattails may not be enough for Malaysia, which has struggled with chronically low tax revenue collection.

In the run-up to the country’s October budget release, Deputy Finance Minister Yamani Hafez bin Musa said the government was considering a number of tax measures to fund recovery, “including taxing the profits on stock investments and imposing higher tax rates on a one-off basis on companies that generated extraordinary profits during the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.

The government made good on that promise October 29 when it released a souped-up $80 billion budget, its largest ever, which features a controversial one-time windfall profit tax. Effective 2022 corporations will pay a 33% corporate tax rate on profits over MYR 100 million (about $24 million). The first MYR 100 million will be taxed at the regular 24% corporate tax rate. The government expects that a few hundred companies will cross the windfall threshold.

Malaysia did not arrive at this decision lightly, but there is precedent. Crude palm oil producers have been subject to the Windfall Profit Levy Act (Act 592) since 1999. The act imposes a tax on profits exceeding a crude palm oil market price of MYR 2,500 per ton for Malaysia’s peninsula and MYR 3,000 per ton for the states of Sabah and Sarawak.

Since its inception, the tax has generated MYR 4.1 billion in revenue, so expanding it and imposing it on other sectors was not a giant leap and reflects feedback garnered from various stakeholders.

Underscoring that strategy, the government refrained from hiking the windfall profit tax on crude palm oil producers. Instead, it increased the profit threshold by MYR 500 for peninsular Malaysia and Sabah and Sarawak, according to Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Aziz.

But the initial response from industry was one of general displeasure; the country’s benchmark stock index, the FTSE Bursa Malaysia KLCI, fell 2% on the announcement, and some economists are warning that consumers will bear the cost of the tax. All told, Malaysia presents a case study for other countries considering similar measures.

Canada

In Canada, the manufacturing and extractives industries — mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction — performed handsomely in 2020. If the government imposed an excess profits tax on large companies that performed the best during the pandemic, they would bear the largest burden, according to data from Canada’s parliamentary revenue estimator.

The country’s New Democratic Party, which sits to the left of the ruling Liberal Party, has been the most consistent advocate for an excess profits tax.

In April New Democratic Party member of Parliament Peter Julian asked the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer to estimate how much an excess profit tax on the most profitable companies during the pandemic would raise, using the country’s previous World War II-era excess profits tax as a model.

When Canada imposed an excess profits tax during WWII, it calculated the average yearly profits that companies earned between 1936 and 1939 and levied a 100% tax on anything exceeding that figure. Using that formula, the parliamentary budget officer investigated what would happen if Canada, which has a 15% corporate tax rate, doubled the rate on excess profits.

Excess profits would be those made in 2020 by firms that earned over C $10 million in revenue for at least one year between 2016 and 2020 and exceeded their expected 2020 profits, which the office calculated using each company’s average profit margin between 2014 and 2019.

If Canada followed this formula, it could raise C $7.9 billion, according to the office’s estimates. That said, there’s very little indication that an excess profits tax is on the table. The measure wasn’t included in the country’s 2021 budget, released in April.

It was resurrected as a campaign point during the September general election, but the New Democratic Party, which has long held a minority of seats in Parliament, underperformed in the election. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau instead wants to rely on increased tax enforcement on businesses and the wealthy and to raise corporate tax rates on large financial institutions to 18%.

United Kingdom

Before COVID-19 became a worldwide pandemic, the U.K. Labour Party suggested the country should implement a windfall profits tax on oil companies. As the pandemic progressed, other stakeholders issued broader calls for a general business windfall tax.

In March the House of Commons Treasury Committee briefly analyzed the idea of a business windfall tax in a sprawling report, “Tax After Coronavirus,” that considered the country’s options for both COVID-19 recovery and general tax reform. Lawmakers asked private industry and civil society about the feasibility and wisdom of a windfall tax and emerged from the discussion skeptical about the future of a U.K. tax.

“There are downsides to a windfall tax, including its potentially retrospective nature. There would also be complexities, including the difficulties of identifying sectors to which any such tax should apply, ensuring that such a tax is fairly targeted at firms which have benefited excessively within those sectors, and identifying the element of a firm’s profits which could be reasonably attributed to excessive profits generated by the pandemic,” the report said.

The committee thought a windfall tax would be troublesome, but it also left the door open, adding that it might not “be impossible to introduce a windfall tax in certain circumstances in the future, if that was the political choice made.”

Wealth Taxes Gain More Traction

During the COVID-19 pandemic the ultrawealthy flocked to Singapore from all around the world, seeking a sophisticated, low-tax refuge in a time of chaos. But they wound up bringing chaos of their own, driving real estate prices to all-time highs amid a frenzy to put down roots.

According to Bloomberg, Singaporean authorities have been quietly asking high-net-worth individuals and the business community their opinions on wealth taxation. On one hand, the government is loath to disrupt the multimillionaire pilgrimage, but on the other hand, growing wealth inequality within the country may require creative wealth taxation, according to the head of Singapore’s central bank.

That creativity could arrive in the form of a property gains tax or inheritance tax — neither of which Singapore has — according to Ravi Menon, managing director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore. He shied away from proposing a net wealth tax, which historically has not performed well around the world.

In early November MP Jamus Lim offered the first concrete proposal: a graduated net wealth tax between 0.5 and 2% imposed on individual net worth in excess of SGD 10 million (about $7.4 million). Net wealth above SGD 10 million and up to SGD 50 million would be taxed at 0.5%, and wealth above SGD 50 million and up to SGD 1 billion would be taxed at 1%. Anything above SGD 1 billion would be assessed at 2%.

Latin America has embraced wealth taxation more than any other region during the pandemic, with several countries, including Bolivia and Argentina, introducing or expanding wealth taxes.

The next country to watch in the region is Colombia. In April lawmakers there introduced, as part of a broader tax reform package, legislation for a one-off wealth tax that would apply a 1% tax on net assets over the equivalent of $1.3 million and 2% on net assets over the equivalent of $4 million. The tax would apply in 2022 and 2023. However, the reform package was subsequently revised following public protest, and the wealth tax component was omitted. It is unclear where the idea stands.

Meanwhile, Belgium thought the COVID-19 pandemic presented a good opportunity to resurrect its controversial wealth tax on securities accounts. A securities tax was scrapped in 2019 after a Belgian high court found that it violated EU legal principles of equality and nondiscrimination and deemed it unconstitutional.

The country’s Constitutional Court found that the 0.15% tax contained some discriminatory exclusions, like real estate certificates, without a solid justification. The court also found that the tax applied unequally because individuals who own a share of an account can potentially avoid the tax if their share exceeds €500,000.

This time around, Belgium is applying a blanket tax on all securities accounts worth over €1 million — unlike the previous version, there are no exemptions. The government says the proceeds will be used to fund healthcare, but it remains to be seen whether this new provision will also be subject to legal challenge.

In the United Kingdom, the House of Commons Treasury Committee explicitly rejected the idea of an annual wealth tax, citing design and administration challenges as well as the fact that several other countries have abolished their wealth taxes because of administrative difficulties. As for a one-off wealth tax, the committee didn’t fully write off the idea, noting that “it could be used to raise significant revenue.”

The idea of a one-off tax has been floating around ever since a group of economists from the London School of Economics and Political Science and the University of Warwick formed an independent wealth tax commission to evaluate the country’s revenue-raising options. In a December 2020 report they estimated the country could raise £260 billion over five years if it taxed individual wealth over £500,000 at a 1% rate and would raise £80 billion if it taxed wealth over £2 million.

There are design concerns with that proposal. It would likely hit middle-income earners because “wealth” for purposes of the tax would include main home values. There also are concerns over retrospectivity.

Beyond that, some worry that a one-off wealth tax would simply open a Pandora’s box if the tax is imposed and succeeds because the government could very well impose it again. For now, wealth tax conversations in the United Kingdom remain academic: The measure failed to make it into the U.K. annual budget, released October 27.

A similar phenomenon happened in Germany when the center-left Social Democratic Party, which won a plurality in the country’s recent parliamentary election, vowed to resurrect the country’s wealth tax, which had been struck down over constitutionality concerns. But because the Social Democratic Party lacks a governing majority, it is seeking a coalition with two other parties — the Alliance 90/The Greens and the Free Democratic Party — and has decided to abandon the wealth tax to make a coalition possible. So it remains an academic topic, perhaps to be resurrected at a later date.

I am a contributing editor for Tax Notes International, where I write weekly analysis on various international tax topics including European tax developments, the digital economy, base erosion and profit shifting, and tax transparency. I also write for the Tax Analysts blog. I am passionate about the intersection of tax, law, and journalism, and I look for the accessible and interesting angle in tax. Before joining Tax Analysts I was a managing editor for Thomson Reuters in New York and a senior tax reporter for Law360. I have a BA from the University of Pittsburgh and a JD from Columbia Law School.

Source: Wealth And Windfall Taxes: Still Not Ready For Prime Time

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