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.
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 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.
The global economy remains fragile at this time. While the recovery in advanced economies is softening, many emerging market and developing economies have experienced a significant economic slowdown, and some large countries show signs of distress. Global risk aversion has risen, and commodity prices have continued to fall since the April 2015 Fiscal Monitor. The weaker outlook and concerns about the ability of policymakers to provide an adequate and swift policy response have amplified downward risks and clouded global prospects. According to this issue of the Fiscal Monitor, the challenging environment calls for a comprehensive policy response to boost growth and reduce vulnerabilities. In particular, it is critical to identify policies that could lift productivity growth by promoting innovation. Fiscal policy can play an important role in stimulating innovation through its effects on research and development, entrepreneurship, and technology transfer.
Fiscal risks remain significant in both advanced and emerging market and developing economies. Fiscal policy continues to play an essential role in building confidence and, where appropriate, sustaining aggregate demand. According to this issue of the Fiscal Monitor, strengthening fiscal frameworks—particularly to manage public finance risks and ensure debt sustainability—must be part of the fiscal policy response. Countries should seize the moment created by lower oil prices to start the process of energy taxation and energy subsidy reform. Finally, fiscal policy can contribute substantially to macroeconomic stability, through the workings of automatic stabilizers. By doing so, fiscal policy can also unlock significant growth dividends.
Persistently high debt ratios in advanced economies and emerging fragilities in the developing world cast clouds on the global fiscal landscape. In advanced economies, with narrowing budget deficits, the average public debt ratio is expected to stabilize in 2013–14—but it will be at a historic peak. At the same time, fiscal vulnerabilities are on the rise in emerging market economies and low-income countries—on the back, in emerging market economies, of heightened financial volatility and downward revisions to potential growth, and in low-income countries, of possible shortfalls in commodity prices and aid. Strengthening fiscal balances and buttressing confidence thus remain at the top of the policy agenda. Against that backdrop, this issue explores whether and how tax reform can help strengthen public finances. Taxation is always a sensitive topic and is now more than ever at the center of policy debates around the world. Can countries tax more, better, more fairly? Results reported in this issue show that the scope to raise more revenue is limited in many advanced economies and, where tax ratios are already high, the bulk of the necessary adjustment will have to fall on spending. In emerging market economies and low-income countries, where the potential for raising revenue is often substantial, improving compliance remains a central challenge.
Continued progress in reducing advanced economy deficits and a gradually improving external environment have lowered short-term fiscal risks, according to this issue, but global prospects nevertheless remain subdued, and many advanced economies face a lengthy, difficult, and uncertain path to fiscal sustainability. Though many advanced economies are now close to achieving primary surpluses that will allow them to stabilize their debt ratios, this is only a first step, as merely stabilizing advanced economy debt at current levels would be detrimental to medium- and longer-term economic prospects. The key elements of the required policy package are well known: foremost among them is setting out—and implementing—a clear and credible plan to bring debt ratios down over the medium term. Debt dynamics have remained relatively positive in most emerging market economies and low-income countries, and most plan to continue to allow the automatic stabilizers to operate fully, while pausing the underlying fiscal adjustment process. Those with low general government debt and deficits can afford to maintain a neutral stance in response to a weaker global outlook. But countries with relatively high or quickly increasing debt levels are exposed to sizable risks, especially once effective interest rates rise as monetary policy normalizes in the advanced economies and concessional financing from advanced economies declines. The widespread use of energy subsidies makes commodity prices an additional source of vulnerability in many emerging market and low-income economies; subsidy reform, higher consumption taxes, and broadening of tax bases would help support consolidation efforts.