Public Finance for Poverty Reduction: An Overview
Governments in low-income countries have the difficult task of making wide-ranging decisions about public spending, taxation, and borrowing with the aim of helping their countries maintain long-term debt sustainability, achieve higher economic growth, and ultimately reduce poverty. Making such decisions is difficult because it involves considering multiple trade-offs. There are at least four reasons why designing and implementing fiscal policies that contribute to growth and poverty reduction are particularly challenging tasks in developing countries. First, private-market failures are widespread and often unpredictable. Second, government and institutional failures also limit the effectiveness of public interventions. Third, raising public revenues is difficult in a context of macroeconomic and growth instability, high debt ratios, weak tax administration, and large informal sectors. Finally, many developing countries lack the data necessary to conduct a thorough analysis of the effect of government policies on the poor segments of the population. Despite those challenges, however, the budget remains one of the most important instruments (together with laws and regulations) that governments have at their disposal to foster poverty reduction. Policy makers in both developing and developed countries, as well as nongovernmental or-ganizations and providers of aid, can benefit from a deeper understanding of how internally or externally financed public funds channeled through the budget can be used more successfully to benefit the poor in a realistic manner. This paper, which serves as an introduction to an edited volume on "Public Finance for Poverty Reduction" starts with a brief discussion of the rationale behind the role of the government in public finance. Then we discuss some of the limitations faced by governments in developing countries. We follow those discussions with an overview of the nature and structure of the material presented in the book and with our thoughts on germane topics yet to be addressed adequately.
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