Taxation and Development: What Have We Learned from Fifty Years of Research?
Bird, Richard M.
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This paper considers how economic thinking about taxation in developing countries has changed over the last half century. It suggests that three different ‘models’ of development taxation may be discerned over this period. The key element in the first model, which was derived from the dominant public finance literature in the 1950s and 1960s, was the introduction of a comprehensive progressive personal income tax. Experience proved that this approach was not very useful. Fortunately, increased knowledge of the reality of conditions in developing countries, combined with post-1970 theoretical and empirical studies of taxation, soon led to the emergence of a second model for development taxation, centered on a broad-based VAT and much lower rate income taxes, both personal and corporate. While there is still much to be said for this model, more recent investigations of the political and administrative as well as economic dimensions of tax systems in developing countries have led to the gradual emergence of a third ‘model’ – or, perhaps better, framework – for development taxation. Unlike the earlier approaches, this approach focuses on the need to ‘custom build’ the different components of the tax system as well as the system as a whole and emphasizes the extent to which sustainable reforms must be developed ‘in house’ by countries themselves.