Chart of the Week: Seeking Solutions to Growing Inequality

By IMFblog

As finance ministers and central banks gather in Washington this week for the spring meetings of the IMF and World Bank, income inequality will be among the topics of discussion.

While global economic integration has brought enormous benefits in the form of rising living standards, it has also contributed to widening inequality within some countries. In advanced economies, the incomes of the top 1 percent have grown three times faster than those of the rest of the population over the past three decades.

Why should this be a concern to policy makers? To put it simply, when the benefits of growth are shared more broadly, growth is stronger, more durable, and more resilient.

In a speech on April 12, IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde outlined steps governments can take to help workers who have been affected by labor-market dislocations, including greater emphasis on retraining and vocational training, job search assistance, and relocation support.

The IMF’s Fiscal Monitor, to be released on April 19, also explains how governments can use taxation and spending to ensure that growth is more equitable.

Taxing Oil, Gas and Minerals Across Borders Poses Challenges for Developing Nations

By Philip Daniel, Michael Keen, Artur Swistak, and Victor Thuronyi

Versions in Français (French), Português (Portuguese), and Español (Spanish)

Seventy percent of the world’s poorest people live in countries rich in oil, natural gas or minerals, making effective taxation of these extractive industries critical to alleviating poverty and achieving sustained growth. But national borders make that task much harder, opening possibilities for tax avoidance by multinationals and raising tough jurisdictional issues when resource deposits cross frontiers. (more…)

Redesigning Argentina’s Economic Landscape

By Roberto Cardarelli

Versions in Português (Portuguese), and Español (Spanish)

Most people know Argentina as the land of tango, Malbec, and some of the greatest soccer players of all times. But Argentina is also famous for being home to some of the most diverse and extreme landscapes of the world—from subtropical rainforests and Iguazu Falls in the north to the glaciers of Perito Moreno in the south, and from the lowest site in South America (Laguna del Carbón) to the highest elevation in the Americas (Aconcagua mountain).

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Tax Treaties: Boost or Bane for Development?

By Jim Brumby and Michael Keen

Tax officials and experts grappled with the issue of tax treaties several weeks ago at the IMF-World Bank Annual Meetings. This arcane subject has now emerged as a new lightning rod in the debate on fairness in international taxation. As citizens demand that corporations pay their fair share of taxes and some governments struggle to raise enough revenues for basic services, tax treaties present difficult issues.

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Fixing the Great Distortion: How to Undo the Tax Bias Toward Debt Finance

By Ruud de Mooij, Michael Keen, and Alexander Tieman

“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.

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An Argument for Paying Down Public Debt

By Vitor Gaspar and Julio Escolano

What should governments do about high public debt-to-GDP ratios?  This question is getting much-deserved attention. Let’s abstract from macroeconomic (business cycle) considerations and look at the issue purely from an optimal tax smoothing perspective—that is, weighing the cost and benefits of raising taxes to pay down debt. By doing so we decidedly do not engage in the current debate about the contribution that fiscal policy may make to demand management. (more…)

Seeking Fairness in the Middle East and North Africa: How Taxation Can Help

Pritha MitraBy Pritha Mitra

(Versions in Français and عربي)

Aspirations for greater fairness were at the core of the protests that triggered the Arab Spring almost five years ago—and remain largely unfulfilled today. In our new paper, we show that tax reform can go a long way towards meeting those aspirations.

Taxation is a critical interface between the state and citizens. How much revenue is raised, how the tax burden is distributed, and how taxation is implemented can all powerfully affect both the reality and the perception of economic opportunities—and the degree of trust in government.

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Oil Prices and Public Finances: A Double-Edged Sword

By Benedict Clements and Marta Ruiz-Arranz 

(Versions in 中文, Français, 日本語Русскийعربي and Español)

Plunging oil prices have taken the public finances on an exciting ride the past six months. Oil prices have fallen about 45 percent since September (see April 2015 World Economic Outlook), putting a big dent in the revenues of oil exporters, while providing oil importers an unexpected windfall.  How has the decline in oil prices affected the public finances, and how should oil importers and exporters adjust to this new state of affairs?

In the April 2015 Fiscal Monitor, we argue that the oil price decline provides a golden opportunity to initiate serious energy subsidy and taxation reforms that would lock in savings, improve the public finances and boost long-term economic growth.

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Once And For All—Why Capital Levies Are Not The Answer

Mick Keen By Michael Keen

(Version in EspañolFrançais and  中文)

Holy grail

Last night, when you went to bed, you left $40 on the kitchen table. When you woke up this morning, you found only $30—and a note from the government saying, “Thank you very much, we took $10 as a tax payment.” This is, of course, extremely irritating. To an economist, however, it’s close to an ideal form of taxation, since there is nothing you can now do to reduce, avoid, or evade it—the holy grail of what economists call a non-distorting tax.

(This doesn’t mean that you won’t react in some way. Being worse off, you may now work a bit more, or save a bit less. But any other tax raising $1 would make you even worse off, because it would change relative prices (a tax on your earnings would make working less attractive, for instance), and so take your choices even further from those you would make in the absence of taxation.)

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Debt in a Time of Protests

As the world economy continues to struggle, people are taking to the streets by the thousands to protest painful cuts in public spending designed to reduce government debt and deficits. This fiscal fury is understandable. People want to regain the confidence they once had about the future when the economy was booming and more of us had jobs. But after a protracted economic crisis, this will take planning, fair burden-sharing, and time itself.

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