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Reforming the international financial system is no act of charity

Rolph van der Hoeven and Rob Vos are the authors of a chapter* of the recently published book ‘COVID-19 and International Development’. In this blog, they elaborate on their chapter, which is about the international financial system. They urge governments worldwide to implement four reforms, necessary to create more fiscal space and access to adequate external finance for developing countries.

Deep inequalities in pandemic response capacity

The global economic crisis provoked by the COVID-19 pandemic has painfully revealed the fundamental flaws in the international financial and fiscal system (IFFS). While advanced countries could engage in massive fiscal and monetary support measures, low- and middle-income countries lacked such capacities and were hit disproportionally. During the first year of the pandemic (2020), advanced countries provided fiscal stimuli to the tune of 12.5 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on average. This was three times more in relative terms than the stimulus in emerging and other middle-income countries, and almost 10 times more than governments in low-income countries could provide (Figure 1). This divergence in government support mimicked the inequality in vaccine roll-out.

Figure 1. Fiscal and monetary support in response to COVID-19, as of January 2021

Source: Van der Hoeven and Vos (2022), based on data from IMF (2021), Fiscal Monitor, Database of Country Fiscal Measures in Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Four reforms to overcome financing flaws

As with past crises, a lack of adequate contingency financing forced poorer nations to take a big hit with lasting consequences. While high-income countries could engage in massive, and almost costless fiscal and monetary expansion, low-income countries saw their external debts increase to severe distress levels. In addition, they were forced to devalue their currencies, and curtail economic and social support programs. Consequently, an estimated 100 million to 150 million more people faced hunger during 2020, lifting the total number of people with not enough to eat to 810 million.[1]

The lack of fiscal space and access to adequate external finance for developing countries has its origins in the weaknesses of the International Financial and Fiscal System (IFFS). These structural weaknesses demand four urgent reforms, outlined below:

  1. Establish credible mechanisms for international tax coordination.

Such mechanisms would include, among other things, an internationally agreed, uniform corporate tax rate of approximately 25% to stop tax base erosion. This tax rate would hinder multinational companies shifting their profits to tax havens. Improved tax coordination should further include mandated publication of data on offshore wealth holdings. This would enable all jurisdictions to adopt effective progressive wealth taxes and facilitate the monitoring of income taxes effectively paid by the super wealthy. After years of deliberations, the G20 indeed agreed to a proposal for uniform corporate tax treatment in 2021. Unfortunately, at 15%, the rate is still significantly lower than we proposed, thereby falling short of making a more significant impact on boosting tax revenues and on limiting profit-shifting behaviour.[2]

  1. Establish a multilaterally backed sovereign debt workout mechanism.

Although existing mechanisms to renegotiate sovereign debts with private creditors have improved over the years, they are still far from adequate. This is due to the multiplicity of debt contracts, some of which are not subject to collective action clauses. These collective action clauses are perceived as preventing more drastic action in cases of crises; without them bonds could potentially lose a great amount of their value. A global institutional mechanism to renegotiate sovereign debts should, therefore, be put in place as soon as possible. To this day, sovereign debt solvency problems continue to be solved in an ad-hoc fashion, at little favourable terms to debt-distressed countries. Moreover, they are accompanied by policy conditionality. This leads to unnecessary hardship in affected countries.[3]

  1. Reform of policy conditionality attached to International Monetary Fund (IMF) contingency financing.

While the IMF has recognized the need for enhanced public spending by developing country governments, including those facing debt distress, in practice, however, it continues providing pro-cyclical policy advice. This means that the IMF asks for fiscal restraint, rather than deficit spending when economies are in recession.

  1. Increasing the availability of truly international liquidity by increasing Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) and making these available to developing countries.

As an important step in this direction, the IMF approved the issuance of US $650 billion in new SDRs in June 2021. However, no agreement has yet been reached regarding how these additional SDRs should be allocated to developing countries, and how they can leverage additional investment to foster sustainable development. Had such reforms been in place already, the pandemic response would have provided a fairer level playing field for emerging and developing countries. This would have mitigated the pandemic’s worst economic consequences.


None of these reforms should be seen as acts of charity. They are necessary to facilitate a global economic recovery that is both sustainable and equitable. As in past crises, government leaders have acted with a ‘me first’ attitude, as has been blatantly clear in the roll-out of vaccination programs. Some countries perceived this as a return to protectionism. This form of protectionism was evident in the unprecedented fiscal responses of high-income countries to protect the livelihoods of their own citizens, but which woefully disregarded the fate of people in low-income countries. The governments of those countries did not have the means to protect the livelihoods of their citizens to the same extent. Beggar-thy-neighbour policy responses, however, will affect global prosperity in the long term, and will make the Sustainable Development Goals elusive.

[1]  Laborde, D., Martin, W. and Vos, R. (2021) Impacts of COVID-19 on Global Poverty, Food Security and Diets, Agricultural Economics 52(3) https://doi.org/10.1111/agec.12624, and FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO. 2021. The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2021.  Transforming food systems for food security, improved nutrition and affordable healthy diets for all.  Rome: FAO. https://doi.org/10.4060/cb4474en

[2] A. Cobham, 2021 Is today a turning point against corporate tax abuse? Tax Justice Network, 4 June 2022

[3] INET. (2021). The pandemic and the economic crisis: A global agenda for urgent action (Interim report of the commission for global economic transformation). Institute for New Economic Thinking. https://www.ineteconomics.org/research/research-papers/the-pandemic-and-the-economic-crisis-a-global-agenda-for-urgent-action


*This blog is based on: Rolph van der Hoeven and Rob Vos (2022), ‘Reforming the International Financial and Fiscal System for better COVID-19 and Post-Pandemic Crisis Responsiveness’, Chapter 2 in Papyrakis, E.(ed.). COVID19 and International Development, Springer

Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question.

About the authors:

Rolph van der Hoeven is Professor of Employment and Development Economics at the Institute of Social Studies (ISS)

Rob Vos is Director of Markets, Trade and Institutions Division at the International Food Policy Research Institute.

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Deglobalisation Series | Deglobalisation 2.0: Trump and Brexit are but symptoms by Peter A.G. van Bergeijk

We live in strange and usual times. Actually, this is what people always do. And all people always think that their era is unique. We seem to live in the times of Trumpism, Brexitism and deglobalisation. It definitely feels like something unique. But it is not.

Our grandparents have been here before. Of course, the voices and characters on the world stage are different. But the stories of the Great Depression of the 1930s and the Great Recession that we are still living today are similar.

The start is a financial crisis. Then follows a collapse of world trade and world investment that marks the end of decades of intensifying globalisation characterised by increasingly free international trade and capital flows. This collapse starts a period of deglobalisation that at first is hidden under the veil of recovery, but later becomes clear as a reduction of the share of international trade in production. This happened in the 1930s and it is happening now.

Graph Deglobalization 2.0
Deglobalisation 1.0 (in the 1930s) and 2.0 (today)—these two periods are shown in red. Index numbers 2007=100.

Many observers make the error of blaming Trump and Brexit for deglobalisation. They are wrong and confuse the symptoms and the causes of the disease. Why are Trump and Brexit only symptoms? Because the virus of deglobalisation is widespread: the Dutch referendum opposing the treaty with the Ukraine, and the Belgian opposition of the trade agreement between the EU and Canada, are just two examples. And in other countries such as Austria, Germany and France, anti-globalist election platforms have gained significant strength. An interesting observation is that anti-globalism now has a strong foothold in the Global North, with much different attitudes in the Global South, particular among the BRICS countries.

Déjà Vu: The 1930s (and today)

Although deglobalisation is a recurring phenomenon, scientists have so far treated the different periods of deglobalisation as isolated cases, limiting our knowledge of deglobalisation to a hermeneutic understanding of this real-world phenomenon. In science “one” is typically not enough, but economists and political scientists have unfortunately limited their research to the most recent manmade trade disaster at hand.

The problem is that we therefore do not learn from history, do not compare it with other occurrences of the phenomenon, and cannot correctly understand our current situation.

Of course, the two major phases of deglobalisation are not identical twins. I would like to add: fortunately so. One can only learn if both similarities and differences occur. The two phases of deglobalisation were equally triggered by a demand shock in the wake of a financial crisis. Both in the 1930s and in the 2000s the composition of trade was a second key determinant: manufacturing trade bore the brunt of the contraction.

Before the start of deglobalisation, income inequality increased significantly, and the recent rise in inequality has been linked to international trade. And as in the 1930s, the political institutions are key for understanding where and when deglobalisation of economies occurred. Unlike is often assumed, a “world” trade collapse and its deglobalisation aftermath is characterised by significant heterogeneity of country experiences and practices, implying that a one-size-fits-all approach to deglobalisation will be deemed to fail.

Democracy and deglobalisation

The differences, however, are equally important. In the 1930s, democracies supported free trade, and deglobalisation was driven by autocratic decisions to strengthen self-sufficiency. In the 2010s, political institutions are just as significant, but now democratic decisions drive the deglobalisation process worldwide. Indeed, while the industrialised countries this time avoided the pitfalls of protectionism and deflation, they have experienced different political dynamics.

It is important that their significance measurably and significantly occurs well before the presidential elections in the US or the Brexit referendum. Trump and Brexit are consequences of the underlying political dynamics. These manifestations have a self-reinforcing character, but fighting them will not cure the world economy from the deglobalisation virus.

This raises an important question regarding the concept of the liberal peace (trade between democracies reduces the probability of war by increasing the cost of conflict) that underpins the Bretton Woods institutions. Now that the 19th and 20th Century hegemons are repositioning towards lesser integration into the world economy, the maintenance of the multilateral rules for trade and investment are under threat; thus the very concept of the liberal peace may be eroding. It is interesting to see that the developing and emerging economies understand the importance of these rules and regulations against the power play of economic world leaders. China, the emerging hegemon of the 21st Century , is one of those important voices. In the era of Trump and Brexit, it is essential that this voice is heard.

 This contribution is the first of a series of blog articles on deglobalisation. It is based on a peer reviewed journal article that econometrically investigates the deglobalisations of the 1930s and the 2000s:
van Bergeijk, P.A.G. (2018) ‘On the brink of deglobalisation…again’, Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society rsx023. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/cjres/rsx023

pag van bergeijkPeter van Bergeijk is Professor of International Economics at the Institute of Social Studies (of Erasmus University Rotterdam), one of Europe’s leading development studies institutes. He is author of On the Brink of Deglobalization: An Alternative Perspective on the Causes of the World Trade Collapse, Edward Elgar 2010. His latest book, Deglobalisation 2.0, is to appear in 2018.