Journal Article

Social Contracts, Fiscal Pacts and Tax Reform in Latin America, Paper for the InterAmerican Development Bank (IADB)

Published on 1 January 2005

It is a commonplace observation that, perhaps more than in any other part of the world, development and progress in Latin America has long been impeded by the apparent weakness of what many Europeans would term social solidarity. Different observers describe and diagnose this phenomenon in many different ways, but most attribute real significance to the adverse consequences of: large inequalities of wealth, income, power and effective citizenship; weak senses of identification with or concern for a common, national good; continuing resistance to the resolution of difficult national issues through the democratic process; and the apparent prevalence of narrow and particularistic concerns in the political process. One could look at patterns of taxation in Latin America and find in them clear reflections of this weak sense of social solidarity. Most concretely, taking into account income levels and other relevant factors, Latin Americans pay less tax than one would expect on the basis of comparisons with other regions of the world (IDB, 1998). There appears to be widespread tax evasion, especially on the part of the wealthy, who can take advantage of their transnational connections to shift income off-shore. The processes of making and changing tax policy are not very transparent. They seem to be dominated by interest groups, which frequently aim to create legislative and administrative loopholes that they can then exploit. Tax bases are unduly narrow, and income taxes in particular are ineffectively collected. It is hard to find citizens who believe either that the procedures for tax collection are fair, or that the taxes they pay represent equitable and reasonable contributions to a larger purpose and social entity with which they positively identify.


Mick Moore

Professorial Fellow


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