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.
Drawing on an expanded data set covering emerging markets and low-income countries as well as advanced economies, this issue examines the extent and makeup of global debt and asks what role fiscal policy can play in facilitating the adjustment. The analytical framework explicitly models the interlinkages between private and public debt in analyzing the role of fiscal policy in the deleveraging process. Country case studies provide useful insights on what fiscal policy should and should not do to facilitate deleveraging while minimizing the drag on the economy.
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.