Though optimism about a recovery may be rising, the global crisis has left deep scars and placed economies of all levels and sizes under severe strain. Achieving long-term, inclusive, growth is a key goal of OECD countries and a central theme of the Russian presidency of the G20. Reforms are essential for achieving that goal, though other measures, in fiscal policy for instance, could help too.

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How to get it right

Austerity programmes to restore order to public finances can add to the woes of already struggling economies, leading to more job losses and social hardship. But there are ways for governments to put their fiscal houses in order, while supporting growth and reducing income inequality at the same time.

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What the BEPS are we talking about?

Bloomberg’s “The Great Corporate Tax Dodge”, The New York Times’ “But Nobody Pays That” and the Guardian’s “Tax Gap”: these are some examples of the wide media attention given to global tax issues in recent weeks. The public is understandably becoming alarmed, since what is at issue is how profit shifting by multinationals is eroding their national tax bases. OECD initiatives on tax policy can help.

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See the trends in taxes on personal income for the G7 from 2008 to 2011.

A rising tide may not now lift all boats, to misquote US President Kennedy’s original analogy made in 1963 linking economic growth to prosperity for all. Can governments maintain the social cohesion needed for sustainable, long-term growth? Supporting an equitable income distribution remains one of the key goals of fiscal (and tax) policy. 

The economic ills of the crisis have rightly prompted public reevaluation of government spending habits and revenue collection on both sides of the Atlantic. While congressional super committees and EU delegations hash out plans to foot massive debt bills, a combination of civil society groups, the Occupy movement, and simple common sense have brought long-deserved attention to certain tax loopholes and corporate practices that cost governments billions of dollars. 

Since 2008, unemployment in the OECD area has leapt from 6.1% to 8.2% in 2011. Governments searching for ways to increase employment must at the same time deal with the large budget deficits that are also a legacy of the crisis. Tax reform can play a role in this balancing act. 

Social media is being exploited by advertisers, politicians and headhunters. Government tax offices are also weighing in.

When the OECD joined the G20 crackdown on tax havens during the economic crisis in 2009, its longstanding work helped to curb this harmful tax practice and implement a global standard of bank transparency. Now the organisation is focusing on another time-honoured malpractice: that of slipping taxable income through fiscal loopholes. Some call this creative accounting, the OECD calls it aggressive tax planning, and because it is hurting government revenue, it is hurting entire economies as well.

Like the OECD, VAT has also been around for about 50 years. Is it time to reform some of the older, more unwieldy versions and go for a trimmer, broad-base, standard-rate VAT system instead?

Building tax administration capacity is needed to help spur development in Africa. A new survey shows that action is being taken, but more work is needed.

The recent financial crisis has left a hole in the public finances of many countries. Yet, with the right preparation, governments may have been better placed to fund that gap. This holds lessons for future crisis resolution strategies.

Defying fiscal deficits

One area where governments have been looking to raise revenues is green taxes. And with good reason. Taxes can provide a clear incentive to reduce environmental damage. But while the number of environmentally-related taxes has actually been increasing in recent years, revenues from these taxes have been on a slight downward trend in relation to GDP. The decline in revenue partly reflects the drop in demand for fuel in response to recent high oil prices and other factors, which in turn has led to a reduction in total revenues from taxes on energy products.

When the G20 decided to get tough on tax evasion, several decades of OECD work suddenly became even more relevant than before. The growing determination to tackle evasion is helping to restore trust in tax systems and close off avenues for illegal activities.

The tax system can be a powerful policy instrument for spurring innovation. Here is how.

Click to enlarge. Source: OECD

Can taxation help governments achieve environmental goals with respect to energy use and emissions? Yes, with conditions.

Economic data

GDP growth: -1.8% Q1 2020/Q4 2019
Consumer price inflation: 0.9% Apr 2020 annual
Trade (G20): -4.3% exp, -3.9% imp, Q1 2020/Q4 2019
Unemployment: 8.4% Apr 2020
Last update: 9 July 2020

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