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Why Taxation Must Go Global

BERLIN – We are witnessing profound changes in the way that the world economy works. As a result of the growing pace and intensity of globalization and digitization, more and more economic processes have an international dimension. As a consequence, an increasing number of businesses are adapting their structures to domestic and foreign legal systems and taxation laws.

Thanks to technical advances in the digital economy, companies can serve markets without having to be physically present in them. At the same time, sources of income have become more mobile: There is an increasing focus on intangible assets and mobile investment income that can easily be “optimized” from a tax point of view and transferred abroad.

Tax legislation has not kept pace with these developments. Most of the tax-allocation principles that apply today date back to a time when doing business internationally primarily meant transporting goods across a border to a neighboring country. But rules that were devised for this in the 1920s and 1930s are no longer suitable for today’s international integration of economic processes and corporate structures. They need to be adapted to the economic reality of digital services.

In the absence of workable rules, states are losing revenue that they urgently need in order to fulfill their responsibilities. At the same time, the issue of fair taxation is becoming more and more pressing, because the number of taxpayers who make an adequate contribution to financing public goods and services is decreasing.