The rising threat of digital taxes across the world, most recently in New Zealand, is raising the stakes to reform the international corporate tax system. In February 2019, the OECD outlined four proposals that will go through public consultations in the coming months. Of those, the “user participation” proposal has popular appeal, but seems least likely to succeed.
World Development Report 2019
Social media has flourished with increasing digital connectivity. Internet users in the Philippines, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and the United Arab Emirates spend more than 3 hours per day on social media. Global social media platforms such as YouTube and WhatsApp as well as local ones such as Mxit, an instant messaging application in South Africa, and Odnoklassniki, the Russian version of Facebook, are attracting people's attention. The social interaction aspect of those communication initiatives redefines how individuals, business and government engage with each other.
The latest revelations regarding covert data sharing practices by large tech companies demand governments finally take action to curb the unwanted exploitation of user data. To date, attention has been focused on privacy regulation; governments would be well served to look at tax policy, too. Digital taxes would better align taxation rights with value creation in the digital economy. They might also serve to communicate the growing frustration with abusive data management practices by the biggest offenders.
The gig economy matches businesses to consumers through digital platforms. It serves local communities such as Tutorama, an Egyptian online platform connecting students with local private tutors. In Jordan, refugee women who have limited mobility are able to make a living by selling home-cooked dishes through Bilforon, a food-delivery platform. In 2018, more than five thousand women domestic workers earned income through SweepSouth, a home cleaning service platform in South Africa.
The Middle East and North Africa region have some of the best educated, unemployed people in the world. High-skill university graduates currently make up almost 30 percent of the unemployed pool of labor in MENA, many of them women. In Tunisia, slightly more than half of the working age population is out of work, the vast majority being women. Part of the problem is that, despite some economic growth, not enough new jobs are being created.
Are robots, friends or foes of the future of work? Automation is eliminating some routine jobs but, on the positive side, robots are good partners for workers engaged in tasks that demand analytical, interpersonal, and creative skills, as well as manual physical skills involving dexterity.
The OECD base erosion and profit shifting initiative, aimed at closing tax avoidance gaps in the international system, is meant to be inclusive. Today roughly two-thirds of the initiative’s members are emerging economies. Yet, as discussions expand to questions regarding who gets to tax what in the digital economy, it is becoming clear that the OECD is an unlikely forum for the task. Instead, institutions like the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund are the obvious conveners. These institutions have the global membership required for such decision-making.
From the e-commerce site Taobao.com to the social media app WeChat, China has drawn global attention to its digital platform economy. A third of the top-200 digital platforms were born in China according to the Global Platform Survey 2016. They are also growing fast. A 2017 report published by Ali Research shows that the digital platform sector contributes to 10.5% of China’s GDP.
We have been living with digital platforms for about a decade now and their impact on changing how we work is beginning to make itself felt. Even so, it merits much greater attention and investigation, but until now the spotlight has been trained firmly on robots and automation.
Tax avoidance by the world’s wealthiest people and largest companies is widespread. The excuse is that such avoidance is legal. Rich individuals and corporations look for jurisdictions that have low or no tax on personal or corporate income, on dividends, on capital or R&D expenditure. They base their business activities there, at least for the purposes of taxation.