Tax competition: main lessons from the economic analysis
The need to control tax competition has been debated at length within several international institutions. The question is of great importance for France, generally considered as poorly rated in this competition. The first part of this paper examines the messages delivered by the theoretical literature on tax competition. These messages remain inconclusive. One reason is that this literature relies on models that remain very rough. The other reason is more fundamental. It is that similar models can reach opposite conclusions depending on the behavioural assumptions that are made concerning states. Tax competition has negative effects if it restricts the capacity of benevolent states to raise taxes that are necessary to their normal development. Conversely, tax competition is a good thing if it helps controlling the natural tendency of Leviathan states to overdevelop. This theoretical deadlock did not preclude the development of more pragmatic approaches, which are reviewed in the second half of the paper, in three steps. In a first step, the European Union and the OECD have tried to separate two concepts of a harmful and a fair tax competition. In practice, this distinction remains minimalist because the criteria that are used only identify the most extreme cases of harmful competition. A second form of regulation does not consist in reducing competition: its aim is rather to allow this competition to take place in a fair and open environment. The main instrument for reaching this goal is the harmonization of tax bases. In a third step, the question of coordinating tax rates can be raised. If any, a coordination of tax rates should be based on the setting of a minimum tax rate, not on the setting of a common one. Indeed, all countries are not equal towards tax competition. This heterogeneity must thus result in some spread of tax rates.
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