"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.
Law and Regulation
I recently visited one of Bioversity International’s project sites in Begnas, where I met farming couple, Surya and Saraswati Adhikari. They proudly showed me around their biodiverse farm, pointing out some of the 150 plant species they grow and explaining that each one has a specific use. They showed me the vegetables, rice, gourds and legumes they grow to eat and sell; the trees that provide fruits, fodder and fuel, and the many herbs for medicinal and cultural purposes.
Stigmatization and discrimination often have a direct impact on the lives of LGBTI people, but also affect economies and societies at large: when entire groups are left behind - including due to sexual orientation or gender identity - everyone loses out on their skills and productivity.
On this International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT), Ede Ijjasz and Maninder Gill detail some of the actions taken by the World Bank to make sure LGBTI people can be fully integrated into global development.
Despite the persistent low-growth environment, the benefits of the digital era are within our grasp to help reignite the growth engine.
Digital trade is the fastest-growing component of trade, and 4.4 billion people globally are yet to come online. In the first quarter of 2015 and in major U.S. cities, an average of 46 percent of all total paid car rides were through Uber. In Kenya, the digital payment system creates additional income for more than 80,000 small business owners. The Chinese e-commerce sector has created 10 million jobs. The Internet of Things, self-driving cars and 3-D printing have now arrived as part of the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution.
These benefits will materialize faster if competitive dynamics allow and drive innovation. Disruptive innovation has a great potential to shake up markets, increase productivity and bring benefits to consumers. And yet, if there are government-imposed rules that close markets and unjustifiably protect incumbents from such competing new solutions, these benefits do not materialize. Cities around the world have blocked Uber from offering services. The debate on President Obama’s Executive Order to boost competition has centered around a pending decision by the communications regulator on whether to open the market for TV cable set-top boxes to allow for competition.
Conscious of such challenges, forward-looking competition authorities around the world are advocating several measures that will allow consumers and businesses to benefit from disruptive innovations and new business models. A new World Bank Group publication on competition advocacy tools highlights examples of successful initiatives to promote pro-competitive regulatory reform in markets subject to disruptive innovations.
Value addition through manufacturing has been a major focus of economic policymakers across the world, and at times with remarkable success, most famously in East Asia. Initial ‘Asian miracles’ in places like South Korea have since been eclipsed by the meteoric rise of manufacturing in China, which has grown its exports in manufactures by 18 percent a year over the past 10 years, compared to a global average of 7 percent (ITC Trade Map data).
Most countries generally seemed to follow a basic pattern, initially establishing manufacturing credentials in light manufacturing, such as in textile and apparel, but then in time moving on from such products to higher-value-added and more complex products. As they moved on and up, they opened space for other countries to move into the initial entry products, following the so-called ‘flying geese’ model of division of labor.
There have been noticeable absences though, with not all regions having moved into manufacturing. This is partially the case with Central and South America, but most strikingly with Sub-Saharan Africa.
What can be done to support countries in their quest to deepen their manufacturing sectors, and extract the jobs and technological development that this can offer? How can they develop the kinds of deep and comprehensive manufacturing ecosystems that have enabled China to maintain investment despite fast-rising labor costs?
Many of the World Bank Group’s client countries face a difficult challenge – and the White House recently put this issue at the top of the agenda, too: How can policymakers increase competition to support continued growth of the economy? In a global low-growth environment, developing and advanced economies alike are looking for new ways to boost productivity and innovation. A global panel of Ministers agreed at a recent Spring Meetings event that market competition is pivotal in finding a solution.
When firms collude to fix prices or divide markets, thus harming consumers and reducing competitiveness in their sector and the broader economy, independent competition authorities can fine and therefore deter such illegal conduct. When governments set up rules that reinforce the market power of a dominant firm or that allow such illegal conduct, then competition authorities can rarely demand that those rules be changed – even though the effects on prices, service quality or the availability of products can be just as severe. If champions of competition seek to promote more pro-competition government interventions in markets, they must rely on competition advocacy.
Last Thursday in Singapore, Klaus Tilmes, Director of the Trade and Competitiveness (T&C) Global Practice of the World Bank Group, and Andreas Mundt, Chair of the International Competition Network (ICN), presented awards to the winners of the 2015-2016 Competition Advocacy Contest – a joint WBG and ICN initiative – at the ICN Annual Conference.
A new World Bank Group publication, launched by T&C on April 15, showcases the results of the 2014-2015 Competition Advocacy Contest, sharing the lessons that have been learned about effective advocacy and discussing innovative ways of adapting to new competition challenges. Previous rounds of the contest have shown how the notable impact of competition advocacy can change mindsets.
Our newest publication highlights the tools that competition authorities have developed to overcome the practical challenges, political-economy constraints and emerging trends that affect competition advocacy.
My father is a long-distance trucker based in Belarus. As a young girl, I spent long hours on the road with him. I loved traveling to neighboring and faraway cities and—even though I could barely reach the pedals at the time—dreamed of becoming a truck driver myself one day. Life ended up taking me on another path, but it wasn’t until I was older that I learned that the option of being a truck driver was never open to me to begin with.
Because my native country prohibits women from being truck drivers, one of the 182 professions out of bounds for women.
When I first visited the college town of Madison, Wisconsin (USA) in 2000, what first stood out wasn’t its beautiful university campus or its famous brat and beer combo. What caught my attention was a public bus which had the equipment to lift a wheelchair. “Beep, beep, beep,” a sound would signal as the bus would lower and extend a ramp to aid people in wheelchairs to board the bus.
At that time, I had never seen anything like this bus and thought, “Wow! Why can’t we have such services back in my country?” No such buses existed in Korea where I grew up. But more than just the bus, I remembered thinking that I rarely noticed people with special needs in Korea. In hindsight, the lack of support and consideration for people with disabilities and ignorant attitudes were also reasons why people with disabilities were rarely seen in public.
Addressing needs through action
In 2014, I became the task leader for Bangladesh’s Disability and Children at Risk (DCAR) project. The difficult situation faced by persons with disabilities in the country was a reminder of the contrast I had experienced in that college town. Accessible transportation was not the only service lacking for people with disabilities. There was a lack of access to health facilities for checkups and treatment along with a short supply of therapy equipment and wheelchairs. A lack of respect towards persons with disabilities by the wider public was also a challenge. Moreover, the project was not delivering the results that it expected to achieve.
At the Global Parliamentary Conference 2016, the perspectives of parliamentarians from 70 countries energized the debate before the Bank's and the Fund's Spring Meetings. From left to right, on the Preston Auditorium stage: Jeremy Lefroy, a Member of Parliament in the U.K., who served as the conference chairman; IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde; and World Bank President Jim Yong Kim.
Did you happen to miss the Davos conference over the winter? I feel your pain: Somehow, for the umpteenth year in a row, my ticket to the World Economic Forum in Davos must have gotten lost by the Postal Service, too.
Not to worry, however: Twice a year, in April and October, Washington’s motto might as well be “Davos Every Day” – as the great and the good of globalization gather for the formal meetings of the World Bank Group and the International Monetary Fund.
The Bretton Woods siblings are just-now recovering from their semiannual tsunami of scholarship and diplomacy, with still-dazed staff members sorting through their accumulated post-Meetings mountains of newly published policy monographs, economic analyses and deepthink datapoints. This spring’s sprint focused, as is customary, on the speeches, statements and seminars with the Bank’s and the Fund’s scholars, along with the insights of the institutions’ core constituents: the Finance Ministers and central-bank governors who oversee their countries’ daily economic policymaking.
But there was an additional governance-focused feature at this spring's gathering: Meetings-goers also gained the valuable perspective of the almost 200 lawmakers and observers from 70 countries who convened in Washington, for just the second time, for the annual Global Parliamentary Conference. The gathering was held under the auspices of the Bank- and Fund-sponsored Parliamentary Network, which is now chaired by Jeremy Lefroy, a member of the U.K.’s House of Commons representing Stafford.
Hearing the viewpoints among the lawmakers, just before the executive-branch officials began the Spring Meetings formalities, provided Washingtonians a chance to take the pulse of an additional cohort of opinion leaders whose work is indispensable in delivering effective governance. The conference first brought the parliamentarians to Washington in 2015 – and now the Parliamentary Network is aiming to make Washington the venue for their conference every year.
Linking the lawmakers’ conference with the meetings in Washington will provide a valuable opportunity for the parliamentarians to hear more about the latest research findings of the Bank and the Fund. Moreover, it will help the Bank’s and the Fund’s headquarters staffs in Washington hear, more directly, about the policy priorities and development ideas of the leaders who frame their countries’ laws – some of whom may someday, in their turn, become the Ministers and policymakers who lead their countries’ executive-branch agencies.
And so, what better place than Singapore for the Asia Launch of the Competitive Cities for Jobs and Growth: What, Who & How report. The World Bank Group, along with the Centre for Liveable Cities and International Enterprise Singapore co-sponsored the launch as part of Urban Week held in Singapore from 8-11 March, 2016. The roundtable was attended by over 100 delegates representing cities from 23 countries.
The competitiveness potential for cities is enormous. Almost 19 million extra jobs, annually, could be created globally if cities performed at the level of the top quartile of competitive cities. Of this potential, more than 1/3, i.e. equivalent to an additional 7 million jobs, comes from cities in East Asia. Between 2000 and 2010, nearly 200 million people moved to East Asia's urban centers – these people will need jobs. Where will these jobs come from? How will they be generated?