Modern welfare states under pressure : determinants of tax policy in a globalizing world

  • Taxation and tax policy reform appears on the political agenda in most advanced welfare states in Europe and North America. Of course studies of taxation and tax policy are nothing new and have existed ever since people have paid taxes. The current work is situated in the context of the future of the welfare state and the reinforced international economic and political integration referred to as "globalization." The purpose of this paper is to analyze how globalization is affecting tax policy in advanced welfare states. In comparing the evolution of tax policy in Canada with those in the United States, Germany and Sweden from 1960 to 1995, I will try to review the conventional antiglobalization thesis, i.e., that globalization leads to a "race to the bottom" in revenue and expenditures policies, or as others have called it, a "beggar the neighbour policy" (Tanzi and Bovenberg 1990, 187). ... Conclusion: The empirical data and theoretical models clearly show that globalization is one relatively minor factor among many that explain tax policy reforms. And even that limited influence is mediated by domestic political systems, institutions and constellations of actors. As the data has shown, the conventional globalization thesis of a race to the bottom is not borne out. Tax rates and tax revenues are still increasing, despite the ongoing trend toward international trade integration. Countervailing pressures like the high cost of welfare programs, different parties in government, strong labour unions, and institutional veto players counteract the pressure of globalization on tax policy. As for the future of taxation in Canada, it is more likely to be one of gradual evolution than radical change. Although the data don’t show any downward pressure on tax rates and tax revenues comparatively speaking, there are at least four key factors in Canada that are likely to put pressure on future tax rates, although regional political dynamics and the workings of fiscal federalism suggest that tax reductions will be a higher priority in some provinces than others (Hale 2002). First, neoliberalism will continue to shape fiscal and tax policy, including the role of the tax system in delivering social policies and programs in most parts of Canada. Second, governments that seek to define their own economic and social priorities rather than simply react to events beyond their borders will have to exercise centralized control over budgetary policies and spending levels if they hope to foster the economic growth needed to finance social services in the context of Canada’s changing demographics. Third, the ability of governments to combine the promotion of economic growth and higher living standards will be closely linked to their ability to develop a workable division of responsibilities among federal and provincial governments and with other national governments. Finally, the diffusion of new technologies will continue to transform national and regional economies while giving individuals greater opportunity to avoid government and tax regulations that run contrary to their perceived interests and values. This discussion of determinants that shape tax policy reform has shown that successful management of fiscal and tax policy requires a capacity to set priorities; adapt to changing circumstances; and build a consensus that enables competing economic, social, regional and ideological interests to identify their own well-being in the broader political and economic environment. Tax policy is shaped by many political, economic and social determinants. As Geoffrey Hale correctly concludes, "it should not be surprising if the tax system stubbornly refuses to confirm either economic theories or political ideologies, but reflects past decisions and the policy tradeoffs of the political process" (2002, 71). The notion of tax policy being driven by globalization and forces associated with globalization (both positive and negative) is simply not borne by the facts.

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Author:Christian Lammert
Parent Title (English):IRPP Working Paper Series no. 2004-01
Publisher:Institute for research on public policy
Place of publication:Montreal, Quebec
Document Type:Working Paper
Year of Completion:2004
Year of first Publication:2004
Publishing Institution:Universitätsbibliothek Johann Christian Senckenberg
Release Date:2006/11/23
Page Number:19
Source:Montreal, Quebec : Institute for research on public policy, 2004 ; IRPP Working Paper Series no. 2004-01
Institutes:Wissenschaftliche Zentren und koordinierte Programme / Zentrum für Nordamerika-Forschung (ZENAF)
Dewey Decimal Classification:3 Sozialwissenschaften / 32 Politikwissenschaft / 320 Politikwissenschaft
Licence (German):License LogoDeutsches Urheberrecht