The report explores how fiscal policy can foster resilience by protecting households against large income and employment losses. Governments face increasingly difficult trade-offs in tackling the spikes in food and energy prices when policy buffers are largely exhausted after two years of pandemic. They should prioritize protecting vulnerable groups through targeted support while keeping a tight fiscal stance to help reduce inflation. Building fiscal buffers in normal times would allow governments to respond swiftly and flexibly during adversities. Several fiscal tools, such as job-retention schemes, have proven useful to preserve jobs and income for workers. Social safety nets should be made more readily scalable and better targeted, leveraging digital technologies. Exceptional support to firms should be reserved for severe situations and requires sound fiscal risk management.
Just as uncertainty associated with COVID-19 pandemic was abating, Russia invaded Ukraine. Uncertainty endured, shifting from pandemic to war, affecting all countries but in different ways. Above-target inflation rates and inflation surprises have helped reducing debt-to-GDP ratios but such relief is often temporary. High uncertainty and marked divergences across countries require a tailored and agile fiscal policy response that is ready to adjust as the outlook becomes clearer. Fiscal policy will need to shift focus away from the exceptional pandemic-related measures as central banks increase interest rates to fight inflation. Emerging and developing economies that are net importers of energy and food will be hit the hardest by surging international prices. Many of these countries already experience scarring from the pandemic and have little fiscal space to tackle new spending pressures. Government should focus on those most affected by the crisis and priority areas. Ensuring greater resilience through investment in health, food, and energy security from cleaner sources has become even more urgent. Global cooperation to achieve these objectives is more important now than ever. As countries strive to promote an inclusive and green recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic—and formulate responses to the immediate impacts of increased energy prices—they face shared challenges to secure tax revenues, address inequalities, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. National tax policies are under pressure to deal with cross-border spillovers—one country’s action affects other countries. Chapter 2 discusses how international coordination on tax matters (i) reduces profit shifting by multinationals and tax competition between countries; (ii) improves tax enforcement by lifting the veil of secrecy to tackle tax evasion; and (iii) limits global warming. The current energy crisis reinforces the case for coordination among major emitters to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, urging countries to not allow near-term responses to detract efforts to establish credible policies for emissions reductions in the medium term.
Chapter 1 argues that fiscal policy should remain nimble and strengthen its medium-term frameworks, as countries face highly uncertain and differentiated prospects. Vaccination has saved lives and is helping fuel a nascent recovery, but risks are elevated amidst new virus variants, high debt, and poverty. In advanced economies, the shift in fiscal support toward medium-term packages to “build back better” will have overall positive effects globally. Emerging markets and low-income developing countries face a more challenging outlook, with permanent economic scarring and revenue losses. They need international support to increase vaccine availability and financing to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Many countries find themselves in a situation where fiscal support is still invaluable to protect lives and livelihoods. At the same time, governments are also facing questions on their elevated debt and gross financing needs. Chapter 2 provides countries with guidance on how they can both avoid withdrawing fiscal support too early, and yet signal to the public that their debt levels are sustainable in the long run. To commit to future deficit reduction, governments have several instruments, including undertaking structural fiscal reforms (such as pension reform or subsidies reform), pre-legislating changes to taxes or spending, committing to fiscal rules that lead to deficit reduction in the future. Countries that follow debt rules, for instance, manage to reduce debt faster that other countries, although fiscal rules should also provide enough flexibility to spend in times of need. Overall, governments that commit to sound public finances and that achieve high levels of fiscal transparency reap meaningful benefits: their budgets are more credible, their announcements are better perceived by the media, and they pay lower interest rates on their debt.
This report overviews countries fiscal actions in response to COVID-19 and discusses how governments policies should adapt to get ahead of the pandemic and set the stage for a greener, fairer, and more durable recovery. Global vaccination should be scaled up as it can save lives and will eventually pay for itself with stronger employment and economic activity. Until the pandemic is brought under control globally, fiscal policies must remain flexible and supportive, while keeping debt at a manageable level over the long term. Governments also need to adopt comprehensive policies, embedded in medium-term frameworks, to tackle inequalities—especially in access to basic public services—that were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and may cause income gaps to persist. Investing in education, healthcare and early childhood development and strengthening social safety nets financed through improved tax capacity and higher progressivity, can strengthen lifetime opportunities, improve trust, and contribute to more social cohesion.