The outlook for further interest-rate increases by the US Federal Reserve revives interest in a compelling question: In an increasingly integrated global financial system, how much control do countries outside of the US retain over their economic policies?Continue reading “With Global Financial Markets, How Much Control Do Countries Have Over Economic Policies?” »
By Deniz Igan
Michael Mussa, a former Chief Economist of the IMF, famously likened capital account liberalization to fire. In his comments at the IMF Economic Forum on October 2, 1998, he said: “Fire warms our homes, it cooks our food, our internal combustion engines,” and continued: “No doubt, fire is very useful, and we are not going to give up its manifold benefits. On the other hand, fire can also burn you down and do a great deal of damage.”
“The Great Distortion.” That’s what The Economist, in its cover story of May 2015¸ called the systematic tax advantage of debt over equity that is found in almost every tax system.
This “debt bias” is now widely recognized as a real risk to economic stability. A new IMF study argues that it needs to feature more prominently on tax reform agendas; it also sets out options for how to do that.
Banks are struggling to overhaul the way they do business given new realities and new regulations adopted in the aftermath of the global financial crisis. While banks are generally stronger—they have more capital—they are less profitable, as measured by the return on equity. There are a number of reasons behind this, including: anemic net income at banks, particularly in the euro area; higher levels of equity; and banks taking fewer risks.
If they cannot change their business models, there is a risk that banks will not be able to provide enough credit to help the economy grow and recover.
Most policymakers in the Middle East and North Africa agree that stronger economic growth is a crucial component of any strategy to address the region’s persistently high levels of unemployment and raise its living standards. One question that arises is: What role can the financial sector play? It is well known that a dynamic and vibrant financial sector will improve economic outcomes for a country, leading to faster and more equitable economic growth. The key to answering this question, therefore, is to look to the past and examine how the financial sector has contributed historically to growth in the region. Unfortunately, the experience in the Middle East and North Africa has not been as successful as in other regions. How, then, can policymakers in the region enhance the financial system’s contribution to growth?
Corporate tax codes in the United States, most of Europe, Asia and elsewhere in the world, create a significant bias toward debt finance over equity. The crux of the issue is that interest paid on borrowing can be deducted from the corporate tax bill, while returns paid on equity—dividends and capital gains—cannot. This debt distortion is not new. What is new, however, is that we have come to realize that excessive debt (or leverage) is much more costly than we had. The global financial crisis was a stark lesson about the risks of excessive leverage ratios in financial institutions. Designing a better system will ultimately pay off. And now is the time for change. A recent IMF Staff Discussion Note offers two alternatives that reduce or eliminate the more favorable tax treatment of debt.
For all too many low-income countries, government tax revenues are far from enough to meet the needs of their people. Some have made good progress, and this helped them weather the crisis better than many advanced economies—but there is an underlying, quiet crisis of inadequately resourced governments.
Governments in Africa have a prime objective—to reduce poverty. To improve living standards and create jobs, they need to provide their citizens with better health care, better education, more infrastructure. They need to build hospitals, schools, and to pay doctors, nurses, teachers. All this costs money, and how to pay for this—in a way that is both fair and efficient—is a major challenge. With limits to how much a government can receive as grants or borrow, raising tax revenues will be a crucial element for governments to deliver more of these essential services and, in turn, reduce poverty. Policymakers will have an opportunity to exchange views on the challenges of Revenue Mobilization in Sub-Saharan Africa at a conference in Nairobi this week. To help frame that conversation, here are some ideas about priority areas for action.
Health care reform is tricky. On the one hand, providing access to affordable health care is of paramount importance. But spending on health care is putting enormous pressure on public purses all over the world, and it’s only getting worse. How can we fix this? How can governments keep their health care promises to citizens without busting the budget? Despite the obvious differences, advanced and emerging markets share something very basic in common—they all need to get “more bang for their buck” when it comes to public health care spending.