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.
Chapter 1 of the report draws some early lessons from governments’ fiscal responses to the pandemic and provides a roadmap for the recovery. Governments’ measures to cushion the blow from the pandemic total a staggering $12 trillion globally. These lifelines and the worldwide recession have pushed global public debt to an all-time high. But governments should not withdraw lifelines too rapidly. Government support should shift gradually from protecting old jobs to getting people back to work and helping viable but still-vulnerable firms safely reopen. The fiscal measures for the recovery are an opportunity to make the economy more inclusive and greener. Chapter 2 of this report argues that governments need to scale up public investment to ensure successful reopening, boost growth, and prepare economies for the future. Low interest rates make borrowing to invest desirable. Countries that cannot access finance will, however, need to do more with less. The chapter explains how investment can be scaled up while preserving quality. Increasing public investment by 1 percent of GDP in advanced and emerging economies could create 7 million jobs directly, and more than 20 million jobs indirectly. Investments in healthcare, housing, digitalization, and the environment would lay the foundations for a more resilient and inclusive economy.
Chapter 1 argues that fiscal policies are at the forefront of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Fiscal measures can save lives, protect the most-affected people and firms from the economic impact of the pandemic, and prevent the health crisis from turning into a deep long-lasting slump. A key priority is to fully accommodate spending on health and emergency services. Global coordination is for a universally low-cost vaccine and to support countries with limited health capacity. Large, temporary and targeted support is urgently needed for affected workers and firms until the emergency abates. As the shutdowns end, broad-based, coordinated fiscal stimulus—where financing conditions permit—will become more effective in fostering the recovery. Chapter 2 argues that fiscal policies are at the forefront of facilitating an economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic once the Great Lockdown ends. Policymakers can achieve this objective with IDEAS: Invest for the future—in health systems, infrastructure, low carbon technologies, education, and research; adopt well-planned Discretionary policies that can be deployed quickly; and Enhance Automatic Stabilizers, which are built-in budgetary tax and spending measures that automatically stabilize incomes and consumption. Importantly, improving unemployment benefit systems and social safety nets can protect household incomes from adverse shocks and strengthen resilience against future epidemics. Over the past decade, state-owned enterprises (SOEs) have doubled in importance among the world’s largest corporations. They often deliver basic services such as water, electricity, and loans for families and small businesses. At their best, they can help promote higher economic growth and achieve development goals. However, many are a burden to taxpayers and the economy. Chapter 3 discusses what governments can do to get the most out of SOEs. This includes ensuring the firm’s managers have the right incentives and there is effective oversight. It also requires a high degree of transparency of their activities.
This report emphasizes the environmental, fiscal, economic, and administrative case for using carbon taxes, or similar pricing schemes such as emission trading systems, to implement climate mitigation strategies. It provides a quantitative framework for understanding their effects and trade-offs with other instruments and applies it to the largest advanced and emerging economies. Alternative approaches, like “feebates” to impose fees on high polluters and give rebates to cleaner energy users, can play an important role when higher energy prices are difficult politically. At the international level, the report calls for a carbon price floor arrangement among large emitters, designed flexibly to accommodate equity considerations and constraints on national policies. The report estimates the consequences of carbon pricing and redistribution of its revenues for inequality across households. Strategies for enhancing the political acceptability of carbon pricing are discussed, along with supporting measures to promote clean technology investments.
This report discusses fiscal policies to prepare for the next downturn and foster long-term inclusive growth by adapting to changing demographics, advancing technology, and deepening global integration. It also covers recent fiscal developments and the fiscal outlook in advanced economies, emerging markets, and low-income developing countries; recent trends in government debt and analysis of changes in fiscal balances, revenue, and spending; and potential fiscal risks. The report takes on in-depth look at how corruption impacts government policies and operations, the fiscal costs, and how fiscal institutions can help fight corruption.
Public sector balance sheets provide the most comprehensive picture of public wealth. They bring together all the accumulated assets and liabilities that the government controls, including public corporations, natural resources, and pension liabilities. They thus account for the entirety of what the state owns and owes, offering a broader fiscal picture beyond debt and deficits. Most governments do not provide such transparency, thereby avoiding the additional scrutiny it brings. Better balance sheet management enables countries to increase revenues, reduce risks, and improve fiscal policymaking. There is some empirical evidence that financial markets are increasingly paying attention to the entire government balance sheet and that strong balance sheets enhance economic resilience. This issue of the Fiscal Monitor presents a new database that shows comprehensive estimates of public sector assets and liabilities for a broad sample of 31 countries, covering 61 percent of the global economy, and provides tools to analyze and manage public wealth. Estimates of public wealth reveal the full scale of public assets and liabilities. Assets are worth US$101 trillion or 219 percent of GDP in the sample. This includes 120 percent of GDP in public corporation assets. Also included are natural resources that average 110 percent of GDP among the large natural-resource-producing countries. Recognizing these assets does not negate the vulnerabilities associated with the standard measure of general government public debt, comprising 94 percent of GDP for these countries. This is only half of total public sector liabilities of 198 percent of GDP, which also includes 46 percent of GDP in already accrued pension liabilities. Once governments understand the size and nature of public assets, they can start managing them more effectively. Potential gains from better asset management are considerable. Revenue gains from nonfinancial public corporations and government financial assets alone could be as high as 3 percent of GDP a year, equivalent to annual corporate tax collections across advanced economies. In addition, considerable gains could be realized from government nonfinancial assets. Public assets are a significant resource, and how governments use and report on them matters, not just for financial reasons, but also in terms of improving service delivery and preventing the misuse of resources that often results from a lack of transparency.
This report discusses fiscal trends in policies aimed at reducing fiscal vulnerabilities and boosting medium-term growth, recent fiscal developments and the fiscal outlook in advanced economies, emerging markets, and low-income developing countries; recent trends in government debt and analysis of changes in fiscal balances, revenue, and spending; potential fiscal risks; and growth from the fiscal policies. It also describes how digitalization can help governments improve implementation of current policy and widen the range of policy options, and opportunities and risks for fiscal policy, including improvements in policy implementation, the design of future policy, and how digitalization can create opportunities for fraud and increase government vulnerabilities.
At the global level, inequality has declined substantially over the past three decades, but within national boundaries, the picture is mixed: some countries have experienced a reduction in inequality while others, particularly advanced economies, have seen a significant increase that has, among other things, contributed to growing public backlash against globalization. Excessive levels of inequality can erode social cohesion, lead to political polarization, and ultimately lower economic growth, but whether inequality is excessive depends on country-specific factors, including the growth context in which inequality arises, along with societal preferences. This Fiscal Monitor focuses on how fiscal policy can help governments address high levels of inequality while minimizing potential trade-offs between efficiency and equity. It documents recent trends in income inequality, including inequality both between and within countries, then examines the redistributive role of fiscal policies over recent decades and underscores the importance of appropriate design to minimize any efficiency costs. It then focuses on some key components of fiscal redistribution: progressivity of income taxation, universal basic income, and public spending policies for achieving more equitable education and health outcomes. The analysis relies on the existing theoretical and empirical literature, IMF work on inequality and fiscal policy, country experiences, and new analytical work, including various static microsimulation analyses based on household survey data. Simulations using a dynamic general equilibrium model calibrated to country-specific data and behavioral parameters illustrate the potential impact of alternative budget-neutral tax and transfer measures on income inequality and economic growth.