Coffers’ researcher Alex Cobham from Tax Justice Network recently spoke at an event entitled ‘Technical challenges and solutions for taxing wealth in developing countries’ at the World Bank/International Monetary Fund annual meetings on 15th October 2017. Is a new Washington Consensus emerging to replace the old one, which arguably has contributed to growing economic inequalities?
The main criticisms of the IMF have centred on its leading role in promoting a ‘tax consensus‘ that not only lacks a sound economic rationale, but that has demonstrably damaged the benefits of tax for many lower-income countries. The approach, in simple terms, has emphasised indirect taxes at the expense of direct taxes; VAT over trade taxes; set a low revenue ambition, and left redistribution to be done through (limited) expenditure. More than ten years ago, the Fund’s own Fiscal Affairs Department – and Michael Keen in particular, now the department’s deputy director – published research showing how the introduction of VAT on this basis failed to replace crucial revenues for lower income countries. Equity, too, has long been an element of the Fund’s thinking. But for many years the organisation’s country advice, where policy decisions are influenced, continued to bang the same drum.