Going with the Flow: Benefits of Capital Inflows for Emerging Markets


deniz-igan-imfBy 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.”

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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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Banks Should Help, Not Hinder the Economy


By Will Kerry and Andrea Maechler 

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.

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The MENA Jobs and Growth Challenge: How Can Finance Help?


By Masood Ahmed

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. Continue reading

To Owe or Be Owned—Depends on How You Tax It


By Ruud de Mooij

In February, President Obama said “Companies are taxed heavily for making investments with equity; yet the tax code actually pays companies to invest using leverage”. And he is right: the corporate tax code in the United States creates a significant bias toward debt finance over equity.

Of course, the U.S. is not unique. In most of Europe, Asia and elsewhere in the world, the tax advantages of debt finance are even bigger than in the U.S.

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.

The 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 have always thought. Continue reading

Tax Matters for Developing Countries


By Carlo Cottarelli

You hear a lot these days—not least from me—about the fiscal problems of advanced economies. But let’s not forget the fiscal problems that low-income countries face, though they are of a different kind.

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. Continue reading

Raising Government Revenue in Africa: A Road out of Poverty


By Mark Plant

(Version in Français. Listen to the podcast in English or Français.)

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. How to pay for this—in a way that is both fair and efficient—is a question that all governments face.

There are limits to how much a government can receive as grants from donors or borrow from donors or the private sector. So raising tax revenues is a necessary element for governments to spend on providing more of these essential services and, in turn, reduce poverty. Continue reading

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