Taxing People: The Next 100 Years
Scholars regard the 1923 League of Nations experts’ report as the origin of the international tax system as we know it. The experts’ report noted the decline of political allegiance as an accepted basis for taxation, and it acknowledged the emergence of new—often conflicting—allegiances. Given this reality, the report famously endorsed an international tax ideal according to which “The individual’s whole faculty should be taxed, but that it should be taxed only once, and that the liability should be divided among the tax districts according to his relative interests in each”. Aware of the magnitude of the challenge, the experts also noted that they “hold out no hopes of this proving to be a smooth and practicable arrangement”. One hundred years after the League of Nations report, the international tax regime has evolved into a colossal web of rules and regulations: unilateral laws, bilateral treaties, multilateral accords, and yet, the international tax regime is still no smooth operation.
In the 1920s and after, academic and policy analysts placed heavy emphasis on business taxation. Departing from that trend, our focus will be on people.
The past 100 years witnessed major changes in people’s lives. Globalization brought with it increased mobility of people and resources, transcending national borders. The digital revolution and the merging of social and cultural communities across national borders removed barriers and allowed people and businesses greater flexibility in operating major aspects of their lives across national borders. Simultaneous with these changes in technology and daily life, we have seen major changes in tax policy and governance: the rise of interstate tax competition, the development of new institutions, and the expansion of some actors’ influence alongside the diminishment of others’. These developments have had major effects not only on the power of states to tax, but also on the legitimacy of taxation, raising concerns for justice at the national and international levels.
With the recent developments in international taxation, it is time to think about the next 100 years: To reconceive the goals of taxation and the role of international taxation, and to consider the potential roles of governments and international institutions in designing a tax system that puts people at its core.