Recently millionaires from different countries signed a petition under the name “Millionaire for Humanity” demanding their respective governments to raise taxes on them to help with the coronavirus pandemic. More than 80 individuals have signed the letter, and most signatories belong to the developed nations like the US, UK, and Germany. One of the key aspects of the petition is that taxes can only create a huge impact against charitable contributions, no matter how generous these contributions are. It might be a rare and historic moment to witness wealthy individuals quoting “Tax us, Tax us, Tax us” to fund the social sector like health, education, and security. The phrase “rebalance our world through wealth tax” seems like a unique moment of truth for the wealthy to play their part towards humanity.
But is the voluntary action enough to counter the state’s inaction to tax the wealthy? A few individuals’ voluntary actions are a drop in the ocean that might not even make a dent to make all wealthy accountable?Wealthy do indeed pay proportionate taxes according to their state laws in many parts of the world. But the bitter truth is that there are also increased tax avoidance cases by the wealthy, which the Paradise Papers, Panama Papers, and other evidence show. That is why there is a rigorous debate on taxing the rich even more.
According to Oxfam’s 2020 report world’s 2,153 dollar billionaires had more wealth than 4.6 billion people or 60% of the world population in 2019. Even in the aftermath of COVID-19 there has been no change in the millionaire’s status quo who actually saw their wealth grow exponentially. According to Forbes magazine report, 10 billionaires gained $51.3 billion or Rs 3.9 lakh crore (at exchange rate of Rs 76) in just a week between April 2 and 9 when the global economy was almost shut (except for a few essentials) and millions were losing their incomes and jobs.They did this through the stock market. These billionaires included Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Warren Buffett, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and Mukesh Ambani.
Thus the paper analyses two main issues in relation to the petition. Firstly, why similar actions were not taken by the wealthy in the developing nations, with focus on India? Secondly, will a voluntary compliance mechanism via a petition resolve the ongoing issue of tax evasion by the wealthy?
- Why there is no similar petition in developing countries?
The petition seems to appear as a global movement, but in reality, it is a mere representative of the few wealthy individuals residing in developed economies. The less participation and debate amongst the developing countries on taxing the rich can be understood in terms of their societal and cultural background. In India, it is easier to project it as a home to the poorest, but it is also a home for some of the world’s wealthiest people. In this context, it is essential to understand how the wealthier population’s nature changed significantly since Independence and how a favourable tax system helped them to grow.
1.1. From Inherited wealth to private enterprise:
When the British left, a handful of business families and dynastic royalties were in charge of key economic industries. These dynastic royalties had amassed and inherited great fortunes over time due to their close ties to the colonial administration. Although there was poverty amongst the general population, the most lavish lifestyles were only enjoyed by the princely classes, some business houses and large zamindars (landlords).
Primarily the inherited wealth was the primary source of wealth amongst the wealthier population.
However, between 1961 and 1986, India’s notorious macroeconomic plight undermined a progressive effort to reduce the incumbent rich’s size and importance. Low economic growth was accompanied by a sharp reduction of the real value of wealth held by the top 0.1%. The backdrop for this decline was itself rooted in the integration of India when the government quickly took steps to abolish inherited wealth amongst the super-rich royalty. Hence inflation, progressive taxation, and nationalization that characterized the late 1960s and 1970s punished the outdated rentier class and expropriated much-existing wealth.
In the 1990s, domestic and external liberalization happened in India, resulting in the deregulation of taxation and private investment. This led to a rapid increase in stock market capitalization relative to GDP. In fact, given the tremendous rise in stock market capitalization, it seems possible that wealth concentration in India may have surpassed its pre-1970 levels in recent decades. This transformative wealth dynamics of the 1960s and 1970s are crucial to understanding how the elite class, once populated by inherited wealth, is now made up of private enterprises.
However, the rise of the new private enterprise did not address income inequality, only to make the rich richer and the poor more miserable. According to Oxfam’s January 2020 report ‘Time to Care‘ said, in 2019, the wealth of top 1% Indians went up by 46% while that of the bottom 50% by 3%. In 2019, the top 1% Indians held 42.5% of national wealth, which is, more than 4 times the wealth of 953 million people constituting the bottom 70%. The bottom 50% held just 2.5% of national wealth. According to the Credit Suisse’s ‘Global Wealth Report of 2019‘, there were 7,59,000 dollar millionaires in India 2019, up from 725,000 in 2018 and 34,000 in 2010. This shows that even as a developing economy we do not have a dearth of wealthy people who are unable to participate in the petition.
1.2. How the tax system works favourably for the wealthy?
In developing countries, the governments’ primary focus is on resource mobilization, which dictates their tax system. This is due to the unequal income distribution. However, the tax system is also designed in such a way that makes it harder to tax the rich. This is because wealthy taxpayers’ political and economic power often prevents the government from developing fiscal reforms to increase their tax burdens.
Moreover, there are high personal exemptions and the plethora of other exemptions and deductions that benefit those with high incomes (for example, the exemption of capital gains from tax, generous deductions for medical and educational expenses, the low taxation of financial income). India has been an active recipient of FDI for decades. As a result, it results in lower effective tax rates for MNCs.
Simultaneously, the government keeps on slashing the corporate income tax rate during every budget, providing strong incentives for taxpayers to choose the corporate form of doing business for purely tax reasons. For instance, the Indian government slashed corporate tax to 22% (without exemptions) for domestic companies in September 2019, bringing the effective rate to 25.17% (with surcharge and cess). Such a move happened when the economy had nose-dived for several consecutive quarters.
According to the IMF, the combination of tax incentives and low corporate tax rates leads to the following:
- Increased incidences of tax evasion due to the ease with which multinationals seem able to avoid tax, combined with the three-decade-long decline in corporate tax rates, undermines both tax revenue and faith in the fairness of the overall tax system and
- the current situation is especially harmful to low-income countries, depriving them of much-needed revenue to help them achieve higher economic growth, reduce poverty and meet the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.
Hence, it can be observed that wealthy individuals are provided with a plethora of tax incentives in a developing economy to prevent capital flight. However, this does not translate into high tax morale for these individuals due to increased tax evasion incidences. Now is the time for the wealthy to take part in the petition to share responsibility in rebuilding the economy.
- Will the Petition be effective in achieving fair taxation by the wealthy?
2.1. Assessing the problem of tax evasion by the wealthy
Empirical data has shown (e.g., E. Hofmann, Voracek, Bock,& Kirchler, 2017b), that the motivation to engage in tax avoidance and evasion increases with wealth. Recent studies indicate that tax evasion is directly proportional to wealth, with the top 0.01% of the wealth distribution (i.e., households with more than $40 million in net wealth) evades almost 30% of their wealth and income tax versus 3% by taxpayers overall (Altstaeder, Johannesen, & Zucman, 2017). With the aim to minimize their taxes, it is easier for the wealthy to hire tax agents who are skilled in devising ways to achieve that(Sakurai & Braithwaite, 2001).
Tax avoidance is a huge issue that amounts to $240 billion every year (Rs 18.24 lakh crore), according to OECD-G20’s anti-tax avoidance initiative, ‘Action Plan on Base Erosion and Profit Shifting’ (BEPS). Recent data by Fair Tax Mark shows that Facebook, Google and four other US tech giants, described as the Silicon Six (others being Netflix, Amazon, Microsoft, and Apple) had avoided paying $100 billion tax (Rs 760,000 crore) between 2010 and 2019. Due to tax evasion, according to 2019 IMF study, the non-OECD countries are losing 1.3% of their GDP or $200 billion of revenue every year while the OECD countries about 1% of GDP or close to $450 billion.
Nonetheless, the blame cannot be squarely put on the wealthy for causing tax evasion. It is the legal, political, and economic context of national tax loopholes which not only give the wealthy many more opportunities to avoid taxes than the average citizen but might also create an ideal environment that legitimises aggressive tax avoidance behaviour.
2.2. How the petition will help in combating massive tax evasion problem?
It can be said that the petition is an example of committed motivation by the wealthy which drives them to pay taxes because of a felt moral duty(Gangl et al., 2015) or due to emotional stress, caused by anticipated guilt or shame (Blaufus, Bob, Otto, & Wolf, 2017). However before delving into the question whether such an initiative will be effective to combat tax evasion in the long run, it is important to understand the social psychological process that motivates the wealthy to either pay or evade taxes.
The wealthy can easily identify and compare themselves with other wealthy individuals as a result of pychological process in relation to belonging to a particular group. As a result they imitate not only lifestyles but also tax behviours out of comparison and competition, because one does not want to fall behind in the financial race (Mols & Jetten, 2017).For instance, if all wealthy friends move money to offshore tax havens, then the individual will also more likely do that.
Also, wealthy individuals do acquire a heightened sense of self-esteem, freedom, and perceived control, which increases the willingness to resist anything that hinders freedom (Brehm, 1966). Taxes on the wealthy is a classical case where the rich find it as an attack on their personal freedom for which they look for ways to fight against it. In fact, experimental research shows that coercive fines and audits increase taxpayer reactance more than less coercive attempts by the tax authorities (Gangl, Pfabigan, Lamm, Kirchler, & Hofmann, 2017). Thus, when faced with coercive form of taxation wealthier individuals will be motivated to employ more resources (compared to the average taxpayers) to escape this situation. This might make the classical coercive attempts to increase the tax honesty less effective.
In such a scenario, the voluntary form of tax compliance might appear as the ultimate solution to fight against reactance. Such a form of compliance comes with trust in the tax system, and thus, people accept their tax obligations without threatening audits and fines. However, state measures like suspending fines and audits or tax amnesties, which gives leeway to rich taxpayers to repatriate their money from tax havens without being fined, also show no long‐term positive effect (Alm & Beck, 1993; Toro, Story, Hartnett, Russell, & Van‐Driessche, 2017). Thus, it is important to combine voluntary and coercive tax measures to ensure fair taxation with a sense of tax honesty on the part of the wealthy individuals.
In view of the COVID-19 it is apparent that the petition by the few wealthy individuals brings in a wave of hope towards achieving fair taxation for the sake of humanity. However, the outreach is still not global, with a participation of a fraction of wealthy individuals from a few developed economies.Thus, there is a need to ensure the huge participation of wealthy people, not only from developing economies but those involved in tax evasion.
As discussed in the article, tax-related decisions of the wealthy are different from average taxpayers due to social psychological differences of belonging to a particular community. So a unique approach must be followed to motivate the wealthier population to pay their share of taxes.
3.1. Possible solutions:
There are many ways to motivate the wealthy, either in developed or in developing countries, to contribute more taxes to the benefit of society. It is true that mere public plea to join the campaign will not attract the attention of majority of wealthy individuals. On the other hand, coercive audit or fines to ensure fair taxation also does not help much towards the cause. For example, a fine of 18.8 million Euros imposed on Portugal’s football superstar Cristiano Ronaldo did not diminish the fame and positive image associated with the player.
One possible solution to influence the tax decisions of the wealthy is to combine coercive and voluntary state measures by publicly naming and shaming the wealthy individuals who resist to be part of the global campaign or pay their fair share of taxes. Thus, if such accusations on famous wealthy individuals like Chief Executive Officers or politicians violate ordinary citizens’ tax morale, these latter might start questioning the reasons for their tax honesty. For instance, after Greece published a blacklist of over 4,000 citizens who owed tax money to the state (Aswestopoulos, 2012), it experienced a decline in the shadow economy’s size from 25.4% in 2010 to 22.0% in 2016 (Schneider, 2016). This way, identifying evaders publicly may act as punishment and a deterrent from engaging in aggressive tax avoidance. However, it is equally true that shaming needs active public support and media coverage, without which the debate towards fair taxation will lose its grip. So the time is ripe for citizens to join their hands in the global movement towards fair tax and compel the wealthy to be accountable.
Ackermann, L., Becker, B., Daubenberger, M., Faigle, P., Polke‐Majewski, K., Rohrbeck, F., … Schröm, O. (2017, June). Cum‐ex. The great tax robbery. Zeit Online .
Altstaeder, A., Johannesen, N., & Zucman, G. (2017). Tax evasion and inequality . Retrieved from http://www.nielsjohannesen.net/wp-content/uploads/AJZ2017.pdf
Sakurai, Y., & Braithwaite, V. (2001). Taxpayers’ perceptions of the ideal tax adviser: Playing safe or saving dollars ? Working Paper No 5, The Australian National University, Centre of Tax System Integrity.
Gangl, K., Hofmann, E., & Kirchler, E. (2015). Tax authorities’ interaction with taxpayers: A conception of compliance in social dilemmas by power and trust. New Ideas in Psychology, 37, 13–23. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.newideapsych.2014.12
Blaufus, K., Bob, J., Otto, P. E., & Wolf, N. (2017). The effect of tax privacy on tax compliance – An experimental investigation. European Accounting Review, 26(3), 561–580.
Mols, F., & Jetten, J. (2017). The wealth paradox. Economic prosperity and the hardening of attitudes. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Brehm, J. W. (1966). A theory of psychological reactance. Oxford, UK: Academic Press.
Alm, J., & Beck, W. (1993). Tax amnesties and compliance in the long run: A time series analysis. National Tax Journal, 46(1), 53–60.
Toro, J., Story, T., Hartnett, D., Russell, B., & Van‐Driessche, F. (2017). Italy. Enhancing governance and effectiveness of the fiscal agencies. Interantional Monetary Fund. Fiscal Affairs Department . Retrieved from http://www.mef.gov.it/inevidenza/documenti/Rapporto_FMI_Eng.pdf
Aswestopoulos, W. (2012, January). Finanzamt stellt “Liste der Schande” ins Netz. Focus Online . Retrieved from http://www.focus.de/finanzen/news/staatsverschuldung/liste-der-schande-viele-deutsche-unter-griechischen-steuersuendern_aid_706059.html
Schneider, F. (2016). Estimating the size of the shadow economies of highly‐developed countries: Selected results. CESifo Dice Report, 14(4), 44–53.
Can e-commerce help save the planet?
If you have logged onto Google Flights recently, you might have noticed a small change in the page’s layout. Alongside the usual sortable categories, like price, duration, and departure time, there is a new field: CO2 emissions.
Launched in October 2021, the column gives would-be travellers an estimate of how much carbon dioxide they will be responsible for emitting.
“When you’re choosing among flights of similar cost or timing, you can also factor carbon emissions into your decision,” wrote Google’s Vice President of Travel Products, Richard Holden.
Google is part of a wave of digital companies, including Amazon, and Ant Financial, encouraging consumers to make more sustainable choices by offering eco-friendly filter options, outlining the environmental impact of products, and leveraging engagement strategies used in video games.
Experts say these digital nudges can help increase awareness about environmental threats and the uptake of solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“Our consumption practices are putting tremendous pressure on the planet, driving climate change, stoking pollution and pushing species towards extinction,” says David Jensen, Digital Transformation Coordinator with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
“We need to make better decisions about the things we buy and trips we take,” he added. “These green digital nudges help consumers make better decisions as well as collectively drive businesses to adopt sustainable practices through consumer pressure.”
At least 1.5 billion people consume products and services through e-commerce platforms, and global e-commerce sales reached US$26.7 trillion in 2019, according to a recent UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) report.
Meanwhile, 4.5 billion people are on social media and 2.5 billion play online games. These tallies mean digital platforms could influence green behaviors at a planetary scale, says Jensen.
One example is UNEP-led Playing for the Planet Alliance, which places green activations in games. UNEP’s Little Book of Green Nudges has also led to more than 130 universities piloting 40 different nudges to shift behaviour.
A 2020 study by Globescan involving many of the world’s largest retailers found that seven out of 10 consumers want to become more sustainable. However, only three out of 10 have been able to change their lifestyles.
E-commerce providers can help close this gap.
“The algorithms and filters that underpin e-commerce platforms must begin to nudge sustainable and net-zero products and services by default,” said Jensen. “Sustainable consumption should be a core part of the shopping experience empowering people to make choices that align with their values.”
Embedding sustainability in tech
Many groups are trying to leverage this opportunity to make the world a more sustainable place.
The Green Digital Finance Alliance (GDFA), launched by Ant Group and UNEP, aims to enhance financing for sustainable development through digital platforms and fintech applications. It launched the Every Action Counts Coalition, a global network of digital, financial, retail investment, e-commerce and consumer goods companies. The coalition aims to help 1 billion people make greener choices and take action for the planet by 2025 through online tools and platforms.
“We will bring like-minded members together to experiment with new innovative business models that empower everyone to become a green digital champion,” says Marianne Haahr, GDFA Executive Director.
In one example, GDFA member Mastercard, in collaboration with the fintech company Doconomy, provides shoppers with a personalized carbon footprint tracker to inform their spending decisions.
In the UK, Mastercard is partnering with HELPFUL to offer incentives for purchasing products from a list of over 150 sustainable brands.
Mobile apps like Ant Forest, by Ant Group, are also using a combination of incentives and digital engagement models to urge 600 million people make sustainable choices. Users are rewarded for low-carbon decisions through green energy points they can use to plant real trees. So far, the Ant Forest app has resulted in 122 million trees being planted, reducing carbon emissions by over 6 million tons.
Three e-commerce titans are also aiming to support greener lifestyles. Amazon has adopted the Climate Pledge Friendly initiative to help at least 100 million people find climate-friendly products that carry at least one of 32 different environmental certifications.
SAP’s Ariba platform is the largest digital business-to-business network on the planet. It has also embraced the idea of “procuring with purpose,” offering a detailed look at corporate supply chains so potential partners can assess the social, economic and environmental impact of transactions.
“Digital transformation is an opportunity to rethink how our business models can contribute to sustainability and how we can achieve full environmental transparency and accountability across our entire value chain,” said SAP’s Chief Sustainability Officer Daniel Schmid.
UNEP’s Jensen says a crucial next step would be for mobile phone operating systems to adopt standards that would allow apps to share environment and carbon footprint information.
“This would enable people to seamlessly calculate their footprints across all applications to develop insights and change behaviours,” Jensen said. “Everyone needs access to an individual’ environmental dashboard’ to truly understand their impact and options for more sustainable living.”
Need for common standards
As platforms begin to encode sustainability into their algorithms and product recommendations, common standards are needed to ensure reliability and public trust, say experts.
Indeed, many online retailers are claiming to do more for the environment than they actually are. A January analysis by the European Commission and European national consumer authorities found that in 42 per cent, sustainability claims were exaggerated or false.
In November, the One Planet network issued guidance material for e-commerce platforms that outlines how to better inform consumers and enable more sustainable consumption, based on 10 principles from UNEP and the International Trade Centre.
The European Union is also pioneering core standards for digital sustainability through digital product passports that contain relevant information on a product’s origin, composition, environmental and carbon performance.
“Digital product passports will be an essential tool to strengthen consumer protection and increase the level of trust and rigour to environmental performance claims,” says Jensen. “They are the next frontier on the pathway to planetary sustainability in the digital age.”
2022: Small Medium Business & Economic Development Errors
Calling Michelangelo: would Michelangelo erect a skyscraper or can an architect liberate David from a rock of marble? When visibly damaged are the global economies, already drowning their citizenry, how can their economic development departments in hands of those who never ever created a single SME or ran a business, expect anything else from them other than lingering economic agonies?
The day pandemic ends; immediately, on the next day, the panic on the center stage would be the struggling economies across the world. On the small medium business economic fronts, despite, already accepted globally, as the largest tax contributor to any nation. Visible worldwide, already abandoned and ignored without any specific solutions, there is something strategically wrong with upskilling exporters and reskilling manufacturers or the building growth of small medium business economies. The SME sectors in most nations are in serious trouble but are their economic development rightly balanced?
Matching Mindsets: Across the world, hard working citizens across the world pursue their goals and some end up with a job seeker mindset and some job creator mindset; both are good. Here is a globally proven fact; job seekers help build enterprises but job creators are the ones who create that enterprise in the first place. Study in your neighborhoods anywhere across the world and discover the difference.
Visible on LinkedIn: Today, on the SME economic development fronts of the world, clearly visible on their LinkedIn profiles, the related Ministries, mandated government departments, trade-groups, chambers, trade associations and export promotion agencies are primarily led by job seeker mindsets and academic or bureaucratic mentality. Check all this on LinkedIn profiles of economic development teams anywhere across the world.
Will jumbo-pilots do heart transplant, after all, economic performance depends on matching right competency; Needed today, post pandemic economic recovery demands skilled warriors with mastery of national mobilization to decipher SME creation and scalability of diversified SME verticals on digital platforms of upskilling for global age exportability. This fact has hindered any serious progress on such fronts during the last decade. The absence of any significant progress on digitization, national mobilization of entrepreneurialism and upskilling of exportability are clear proofs of a tragically one-sided mindset.
Is it a cruise holiday, or what? Today, the estimated numbers of all frontline economic development team members across 200 nations are roughly enough to fill the world-largest-cruise-ship Symphony that holds 6200 guests. If 99.9% of them are job-seeker mindsets, how can the global economic development fraternity sleep tonight? As many billion people already rely on their performances, some two billion in a critical economic crisis, plus one billion starving and fighting deep poverty. If this is what is holding grassroots prosperity for the last decade, when will be the best time to push the red panic button?
The Big Fallacy of “Access to Finance” Notion: The goals of banking and every major institution on over-fanaticized notions of intricate banking, taxation are of little or no value as SME of the world are not primarily looking for “Access to Capital” they are rather seeking answers and dialogue with entrepreneurial job creator mindsets. SME management and economic development is not about fancy PDF studies of recycled data and extra rubber stamps to convince that lip service is working. No, it is not working right across the world.
SME are also not looking for government loans. They do not require expensive programs offered on Tax relief, as they make no profit, they do not require free financial audits, as they already know what their financial problems are and they also do that require mechanical surveys created by bureaucracies asking the wrong questions. This is the state of SME recovery and economic development outputs and lingering of sufferings.
SME development teams across the world now require mandatory direct SME ownership experiences
The New Hypothesis 2022: The new hypothesis challenges any program on the small medium business development fronts unless in the right hands and right mindsets they are only damaging the national economy. Upon satisfactory research and study, create right equilibrium and bring job seeker and job creator mindsets to collaborate for desired results. As a start 50-50, balances are good targets, however, anything less than 10% active participation of the job creator mindset at any frontline mandated SME Ministry, department, agency or trade groups automatically raises red flags and is deemed ineffective and irrelevant.
The accidental economists: The hypothesis, further challenges, around the world, economic institutes of sorts, already, focused on past, present and future of local and global economy. Although brilliant in their own rights and great job seekers, they too lack the entrepreneurial job creator mindsets and have no experience of creating enterprises at large. Brilliantly tabulating data creating colorful illustrative charts, but seriously void of specific solutions, justifiably as their profession rejects speculations, however, such bodies never ready to bring such disruptive issues in fear of creating conflicts amongst their own job seeker fraternities. The March of Displaced cometh, the cries of the replaced by automation get louder, the anger of talented misplaced by wrong mindsets becomes visible. Act accordingly
The trail of silence: Academia will neither, as they know well their own myopic job seeker mindset. In a world where facial recognition used to select desired groups, pronouns to right gatherings, social media to isolate voting, but on economic survival fronts where, either print currency or buy riot gears or both, a new norm; unforgiveable is the treatment of small medium business economies and mishmash support of growth. Last century, laborious and procedural skills were precious, this century surrounded by extreme automation; mindsets are now very precious.
Global-age of national mobilization: Start with a constructive open-minded collaborative narrative, demonstrate open courage to allow entrepreneurial points of views heard and critically analyze ideas on mobilization of small mid size business economies. Applying the same new hypotheses across all high potential contributors to SME growth, like national trade groups, associations and chambers as their frontline economic developers must also balance with the job creator mindset otherwise they too become irrelevant. Such ideas are not just criticism rather survival strategies. Across the world, this is a new revolution to arm SME with the right skills to become masters of trade and exports, something abandoned by their economic policies. To further discuss or debate at Cabinet Level explore how Expothon is making footprints on new SME thinking and tabling new deployment strategies. Expothon is also planning a global series of virtual events to uplift SME economies in dozens of selected nations.
Two wheels of the same cart: Silence on such matters is not a good sign. Address candidly; allow both mindsets to debate on how and why as the future becomes workless and how and why small medium business sectors can become the driving engine of new economic progress. Job seekers and job creators are two wheels of the same cart; right assembly will take us far on this economic growth passage. Face the new global age with new confidence. Let the nation witness leadership on mobilization of entrepreneurialism and see a tide of SME growth rise. The rest is easy.
Rebalancing Act: China’s 2022 Outlook
Authors: Ibrahim Chowdhury, Ekaterine T. Vashakmadze and Li Yusha
After a strong rebound last year, the world economy is entering a challenging 2022. The advanced economies have recovered rapidly thanks to big stimulus packages and rapid progress with vaccination, but many developing countries continue to struggle.
The spread of new variants amid large inequalities in vaccination rates, elevated food and commodity prices, volatile asset markets, the prospect of policy tightening in the United States and other advanced economies, and continued geopolitical tensions provide a challenging backdrop for developing countries, as the World Bank’s Global Economic Prospects report published today highlights.
The global context will also weigh on China’s outlook in 2022, by dampening export performance, a key growth driver last year. Following a strong 8 percent cyclical rebound in 2021, the World Bank expects growth in China to slow to 5.1 percent in 2022, closer to its potential — the sustainable growth rate of output at full capacity.
Indeed, growth in the second half of 2021 was below this level, and so our forecast assumes a modest amount of policy loosening. Although we expect momentum to pick up, our outlook is subject to domestic in addition to global downside risks. Renewed domestic COVID-19 outbreaks, including the new Omicron variant and other highly transmittable variants, could require more broad-based and longer-lasting restrictions, leading to larger disruptions in economic activity. A severe and prolonged downturn in the real estate sector could have significant economy-wide reverberations.
In the face of these headwinds, China’s policymakers should nonetheless keep a steady hand. Our latest China Economic Update argues that the old playbook of boosting domestic demand through investment-led stimulus will merely exacerbate risks in the real estate sector and reap increasingly lower returns as China’s stock of public infrastructure approaches its saturation point.
Instead, to achieve sustained growth, China needs to stick to the challenging path of rebalancing its economy along three dimensions: first, the shift from external demand to domestic demand and from investment and industry-led growth to greater reliance on consumption and services; second, a greater role for markets and the private sector in driving innovation and the allocation of capital and talent; and third, the transition from a high to a low-carbon economy.
None of these rebalancing acts are easy. However, as the China Economic Update points out, structural reforms could help reduce the trade-offs involved in transitioning to a new path of high-quality growth.
First, fiscal reforms could aim to create a more progressive tax system while boosting social safety nets and spending on health and education. This would help lower precautionary household savings and thereby support the rebalancing toward domestic consumption, while also reducing income inequality among households.
Second, following tightening anti-monopoly provisions aimed at digital platforms, and a range of restrictions imposed on online consumer services, the authorities could consider shifting their attention to remaining barriers to market competition more broadly to spur innovation and productivity growth.
A further opening-up of the protected services sector, for example, could improve access to high-quality services and support the rebalancing toward high-value service jobs (a special focus of the World Bank report). Eliminating remaining restrictions on labor mobility by abolishing the hukou, China’s system of household registration, for all urban areas would equally support the growth of vibrant service economies in China’s largest cities.
Third, the wider use of carbon pricing, for example, through an expansion of the scope and tightening of the emissions trading system rules, as well power sector reforms to encourage the penetration and nationwide trade and dispatch of renewables, would not only generate environmental benefits but also contribute to China’s economic transformation to a more sustainable and innovation-based growth model.
In addition, a more robust corporate and bank resolution framework would contribute to mitigating moral hazards, thereby reducing the trade-offs between monetary policy easing and financial risk management. Addressing distortions in the access to credit — reflected in persistent spreads between private and State borrowers — could support the shift to more innovation-driven, private sector-led growth.
Productivity growth in China during the past four decades of reform and opening-up has been private-sector led. The scope for future productivity gains through the diffusion of modern technologies and practices among smaller private companies remains large. Realizing these gains will require a level playing field with State-owned enterprises.
While the latter have played an instrumental role during the pandemic to stabilize employment, deliver key services and, in some cases, close local government budget gaps, their ability to drive the next phase of growth is questionable given lower profits and productivity growth rates in the past.
In 2022, the authorities will face a significantly more challenging policy environment. They will need to remain vigilant and ready to recalibrate financial and monetary policies to ensure the difficulties in the real estate sector don’t spill over into broader economic distress. Recent policy loosening suggests the policymakers are well aware of these risks.
However, in aiming to keep growth on a steady path close to potential, they will need to be similarly alert to the risk of accumulating ever greater levels of corporate and local government debt. The transition to high-quality growth will require economic rebalancing toward consumption, services, and green investments. If the past is any guide to the future, the reliance on markets and private sector initiative is China’s best bet to achieve the required structural change swiftly and at minimum cost.
First published on China Daily, via World Bank
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