Death and Taxes May be Certain—But Taxes We Can Make Better


Mick KeenBy Michael Keen

(Version in Español)

Benjamin Franklin famously said these are the only things that we can be sure will happen to us. Certainly taxation has been much to the fore of public debate in the last few years. The latest Fiscal Monitor takes a close look at where tax systems now stand, and where they might, and should be headed. Can we tax better, could we—if we wanted to—raise more revenue, and how does fairness come into it?

A better way to tax

The IMF’s broad advice on the revenue side of consolidation is straightforward.

  • Before raising rates, broaden bases by scaling back exemptions and special treatments, and thereby getting more people and entities to pay taxes;
  • Rely more on taxing consumption rather than labor;
  • Strengthen property taxes; and
  • Seize opportunities to raise revenue while correcting environmental and other distortions by, not least, carbon pricing (to address climate and other pollution challenges).

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Still Some Hurdles On The Fiscal Path


Martine GuerguilBy Martine Guerguil

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

Five years into the crisis, the fiscal landscape remains challenging. On the positive side, deficit-cutting efforts and the first signs of recovery reduced the fiscal stress felt in many advanced economies; but debt ratios often remain at historical peaks. At the same time, slowing growth and rising borrowing costs, combined with unabated demands for improved public services, puts pressure on government budgets in emerging market economies.

So we created  an index of ‘fiscal difficulty’ that shows the biggest challenge ahead for advanced economies is to maintain budget surpluses until debt ratios return to lower levels.  We expect this will take several years.

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Transitions to Financial Stability: A Bumpy Ride


GFSRBy José Viñals

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

The global financial system faces several major transitions along the road to greater financial stability.  These transitions will be challenging because they are accompanied by substantial risks.

So what are these transitions?

  • The first one is the transition in the United States from a prolonged period of monetary accommodation towards a normalization of monetary conditions. Will this transition be smooth or bumpy?
  • Second, emerging markets face a transition to more volatile external conditions and higher risk premiums. What needs to be done to keep emerging markets resilient?
  • Third, the euro area is moving to a stronger union and stronger financial systems. This report focuses on the close links between the corporate and banking sectors. What are the implications of the corporate debt overhang for bank health?
  • Fourth, Japan is moving towards the new policy regime of Abenomics. The stakes are high. Will Japan’s policies be comprehensive enough to ensure stability?
  • And finally, there is the global transition to a safer financial system, where much remains to be done.

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How Emerging Markets Can Get Their Groove Back


By Kalpana Kochhar and Roberto Perrelli

(Version in Español  and عربي)

After a decade of high growth and a swift rebound after the collapse of U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers, emerging markets are seeing slowing growth. Their average growth is now 1½ percentage points lower than in 2010 and 2011. This is a widespread phenomenon: growth has been slowing in roughly three out of four emerging markets. This share is remarkably high; in the past, such synchronized and persistent slowdowns typically have only occurred during acute crises.

Chart Growth Revisions.finalOur analysis attributes the slowdown in part to cyclical forces, including softer external demand and in part to structural bottlenecks, for example in infrastructure, labor markets, power sector. And this has happened in spite of supportive domestic macroeconomic policies, (still) favorable terms of trade, and easy financing conditions, which only began to tighten recently. However, a non-trivial portion of the slowdown remains unexplained, suggesting that other factors common to emerging markets are at play.

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Bending with the Winds of International Capital Flows


John_SimonBy: John Simon

The winds may fell the massive oak, but bamboo, bent even to the ground, will spring upright after the passage of the storm.
Japanese Proverb

Capital flows to emerging market economies are a source of particular and enduring concern to many policymakers. As seen in the 1997-98 Asian crisis, surging inflows can fuel excessive credit growth, expanded current account deficits, appreciated exchange rates and a loss of competitiveness—followed by painful adjustment when the inflows reverse. Countries often fight these buffeting winds with tight controls on exchange rates, capital flow management and aggressive interest rate movements. While these sometimes work, and are sometimes the best response to a crisis, all too often countries can find themselves felled by the wind like the massive oak.

In the most recent World Economic Outlook we discuss an approach to dealing with volatile international capital flows that emphasizes the soft and flexible response to capital flows rather than the hard and oak-like. Instead of trying to resist foreign inflows, countries can bend. We find that the countries that proved to be more resilient to the turbulent gusts of international capital flows were not necessarily those that controlled the inflows, but those where foreign inflows were balanced by offsetting resident outflows.

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Taming government debt—it can be done, but it ain’t easy


By Helge Berger and  Justin Tyson

Sooner or later, and one way or the other, government debt in advanced economies will have to come down from the record levels reached in the wake of the global economic and euro area crises. Figure 1.Dev in Gross Debt and Structural Balance in Adv Economies There is no magic number for how much sovereign debt an economy can shoulder. And, as bringing down debt by cutting government spending or raising taxes comes at the risk of reducing growth and employment in the short term, there are arguments to not proceed too hastily. But eventually debt will have to be put back on a downward path in many countries. This will help rebuild fiscal buffers and cope with the costs of aging. So, what should governments do?

Our new analysis takes a closer look at the historical record and key trade-offs.  The bottom line: it is possible to reduce debt when growth is low. Ultimately perseverance should pay off.

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Achieving China’s Great Promise


Murtaza SyedBy Murtaza Syed

(Version in 中文)

Anticipation of the U.S. Federal Reserve’s exit from quantitative easing has dominated headlines in recent weeks. Half a world away, less conspicuously, but no less importantly, China, the globe’s second largest economy, is designing its own policy adjustments: firstly, unwinding the fiscal and monetary stimulus that helped shield it from the Great Recession and lifted global growth (but which also created some vulnerabilities), and secondly transitioning out of a growth model that has generated spectacular growth over the last three decades, but which is now running out of fuel.

Managed well, these twin adjustments would allow China to prolong its economic miracle in a sustainable way, with a significant positive impact for the rest of the world.

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Japan’s Three Arrows―Will They Fly?


Jerry SchiffBy Jerry Schiff 

(Versions in 日本語l and 中文)

Discussions in Japan of the “three arrows” of Abenomics—the three major components of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s economic plan to reflate the economy—are rampant among its citizens as well as economists, journalists and policy-makers worldwide. Even J-Pop groups are recording paeans to the economic policy named after the newly-elected premier.  It is clear that “Abenomics” has been a remarkable branding success. But will it equally be an economic triumph?

We think it can be, and initial signs are positive.  But such success is not assured. It will require difficult decisions as the country moves into largely uncharted territory. And much will depend on changing expectations within the country.

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The U.S. Housing Market’s Road to Recovery


Jarkko TurunenBy Jarkko Turunen

(Version in Español)

A year ago, we were very concerned about lingering weakness in the U.S. housing market, which we saw as a major obstacle to the economic recovery.

But what a difference a year makes! As our latest report on the U.S. economy points out, the housing market recovery has been stronger than expected, and is providing a significant boost to private domestic demand and economic growth.

What has changed in the last 12 months? House prices have rebounded sharply and are currently about 7-12 percent above their level a year ago. Home sales increased by more than 15 percent over the same time period. Thanks to higher house prices and the positive effects of government housing finance programs, fewer homeowners are “underwater” (owe more on their mortgages than their houses are worth) or are behind on their mortgage payments, and fewer houses are entering foreclosure.

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The Times They are a-Changin’: will (fiscal) history repeat itself?


Carlo CottarelliBy Carlo Cottarelli

Recent political and social unrest in some emerging and developing countries may have idiosyncratic features. But they also have a common denominator: a yearning for more equality in incomes, economic self-determination, and political power. Are these developments in seemingly unrelated emerging economies the beginning of a trend?

Simple—some would say simplistic!—empirical evidence suggests that this may indeed be the case: look at the convergence of real per capita GDP in emerging markets to the level observed in Western Europe and the United States in the early sixties (see chart 1). One can conjecture that, once per capita income achieves this level, the rise of the middle class prompts demands for more equity in the distribution of economic and political power. We know the sixties. It was a time when the rise of the middle class led to a wave of social unrest and change that rocked the economy and society—a change that gradually spread throughout the western world (what we now call “advanced economies”), with a call for more social justice, more democracy, and a better life for everyone. What followed were deep social and economic transformations.

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