Richard A. Musgrave
My role in beginning this volume on problems of tax reform in East Asian countries has to be a modest one. Although I have been involved over the years in tax reform in developing countries, including countries in the Pacific Asian region--Taiwan, Korea, Indonesia, and, further away, Burma--I have not been so recently. I therefore offer some comments on recent tax reforms in the Western world and on what message they carry for East Asian countries. These reforms will affect these countries directly, especially in their impact upon capital flows, and they may also offer policy guidance. This, however, involves two provisos. First, it needs to be determined whether the Western reforms did in fact constitute improvements, and second, it needs to be shown that what is appropriate there is also suitable in the Pacific Asian setting. Neither of these conditions necessarily follow. There may be a tendency for consultants to recommend policies abroad they cannot sell at home, and such policies may not be appropriate in a foreign setting.
In high-income countries the 1980s were unusually productive of major tax reforms. 1 They were similar in scope only to those of the 1940s but differed sharply in setting and direction. In the 1940s the necessities of war finance called for a drastic increase in revenue, and this in an atmosphere supportive of progressive taxation and liberal (as distinct from libertarian) in terms of rectifying social problems. The reforms of the 1980s, on the contrary, proceeded in a setting of declining or constant revenue requirements, and in a climate that had become critical of the public sector in general and of high marginal tax rates in particular. Attention thus shifted from equity to supply-side concerns, from the desire to impose taxation that served the public sector to that which minimized