Tax and Benefit Reform in Central and Eastern Europe

Fiscal reform is central to the process of transforming a planned economy into a market economy. With the emergence of a significant private sector, the boundaries between the public and private sectors need to be more sharply drawn. The system in which the bulk of taxes came directly or indirectly from state-owned enterprises, forming just one part of the overall mechanism of resource allocation, must be replaced by a legally-based, incentive-oriented and preferably stable system of raising the revenue required for continuing public activities. Many of the former purposes of state revenues, such as subsidizing enterprises and financing capital formation, should disappear with restructuring of the state sector; while activities that may have been financed directly by enterprises, such as social services, education and housing, must instead be transferred to the private sector or to the state. Lastly, the state inherits new responsibilities for organizing unemployment insurance and funding lagging infrastructural investment where privatization and direct foreign investment prove inadequate for present requirements. This book takes stock of the first five years of fiscal reform in the transitional economies of Central and Eastern Europe, comparing the structures of taxation and expenditure between countries, with the European Union and over time. The research concentrates on the experience of the Visegrád nations (Hungary, Poland and the Czech and Slovak Republics) since these countries were in the forefront of the transitional process and have made the most progress with tax reform. They all also have a strong statistical tradition that allows the transition process to be studied in great detail: going beyond the macro aggregates to probe the efficiency and distributional impact of reforms at the household and enterprise level, the studies analyse survey data ranging in size from several hundred enterprises to over 100,000 individuals. The book divides into three pairs of chapters: the first pair examines the impact of tax and benefit reforms on households; the second deals with the taxation of enterprises, in many ways the pivot of tax reform and the sector presenting some of the greatest challenges; and the third focuses on the critical area of labour market policy, where institutions have had to be created from virtually nothing in a very short period. Taken together, these contributions teach important lessons about the design, sequencing and impact of tax and benefit reforms, not only for further reforms in the Visegrád nations, but also for countries further east.