"When something such as the Panama Papers [disclosures on global tax avoidance] happens, we seem to be surprised. We should not be."
— Vito Tanzi, former leader of international tax policy at the International Monetary Fund; author of "Taxation in an Integrating World" (1995)
"Taxes are what we pay for civilized society," said the famed U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. So what does it say about society when it tolerates a skewed tax system that applauds tax avoidance, accommodates tax evasion, mocks the compliance of honest taxpayers and drags its feet on tax cooperation?
Those are some of the philosophical (and pointedly political) questions that are being debated this week at the World Bank, at a conference that has gathered some of the world's foremost authorities on international tax policy along with international advocates of fair and effective taxation.
If you can't make it in-person to the Bank's Preston Auditorium this week, many of the conference sessions are being livestreamed and the video will be archived at live.worldbank.org/winning-the-tax-wars
The livestreamed sessions include a pivotal speech by a determined tax-policy watchdog, former Sen. Carl Levin (D-Michigan) — the former chairman of the U.S. Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations — whose address on "Reducing Secrecy and Improving Tax Transparency" will be one of the highlights of the forum.
Coming just a week after a global conference in London on tax havens, tax shelters and abusive tax-dodging — a conference that highlighted some wealthy nations' lackadaisical approach to enforcing tax fairness — this week's Bank conference, "Winning the Tax Wars: Protecting Developing Countries from Global Tax Base Erosion" will propel the fair-taxation momentum generated by the recent Panama Papers disclosures. That leaked data exposed the rampant financial engineering (by high-net-worth individuals and multinational corporations) to avoid or evade taxes.
It’s not what you spend
FOR decades rich countries have sought to foster global development with aid. But all too often there is little to show for their spending, now over $135 billion a year and rising. Success depends on political will in recipient countries, says Erik Solheim of the Development Assistance Committee of the OECD, a club of mostly rich countries that includes the biggest donors. And that may well be lacking. What donors will pay for may not be what recipients deem a priority. So poor countries’ governments say what they must to get cash, and often fail to keep their side of the deal. Aid to build schools may be used to give fat contracts to allies, and the schools left empty. Ambulances bought by donors may rust on the kerb, waiting for spare parts. Now donors are trying a new approach: handing over aid only if outcomes improve. “Cash on delivery” sees donors and recipients set targets, for example to cut child mortality rates or increase the number of girls who finish school, and agree on how much will be paid if they are met.
Forget The Fitbit: Can Wearables Be Designed For The Developing World?
When we think of wearable technology today, we think of the Fitbits or the Apple Watch. But to many people, tracking our steps or sleep in unprecedented detail or getting a notification slightly faster is interesting but ultimately not quite useful enough. The quantified self, in the context of people who have access to any technology they want, can be inherently self-absorbed. Imagine a different use case: An impoverished woman in rural Africa, pregnant with her first child and many miles away from medical care. Here, a wearable that helps her track her pregnancy and let her know if she needs to get to a doctor could mean life or death for her unborn child.