ICTD Working Paper 28

Many global taxes have been proposed over the years. This study reviews the more important global tax proposals and concludes that, while many such ideas seem inappropriate or inadequately thought through, others are worth taking seriously. In reality, however, no global governance structure to impose such taxes exists or is likely to emerge in the near future. Global taxation – a dream for some and a nightmare for others – thus is, and is likely to remain for years to come, little more than a mirage. But even mirages may be useful if they motivate people to keep seeking better solutions to real problems. The world now faces one such real problem with respect to reforming the existing international tax regime. This paper therefore also considers whether the current ‘soft governance’ approach to resolving the issues arising from the recent financial crisis is likely to produce politically acceptable, technically feasible and economically efficient and effective results. Experience suggests that the current attempts to reshape the international tax regime may in the end fall short. Even so, however, we should continue considering how to move a few more steps further down the road of slowly and painfully adjusting the existing political structure of sovereign nation states to deal more adequately with the increasingly interdependent world of the 21st century. Whether one is searching for the mirage of global taxation or for answers to the real problems arising from the existing international tax regime, lasting solutions require either an improbably radical change in how the world is run or still more of the sort of episodic evolutionary process of inter-state negotiation and compromise evidenced in the history of international taxation if we are to reach an acceptable and perhaps adequate solution.


Richard M. Bird

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