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Successful AIDS tax in Zimbabwe

Sometimes it’s easier to assume that everything is worse in Zimbabwe.  A failing kleptocracy, with a president who makes everyone’s short-list of despicable tyrants, Zim always provides ample ammunition for arguments about the superiority of democratic governance for human development.

And yet, the government has had a fairly successful AIDS levy, which the UN reports has helped to close some of the funding gap associated with declining donor support and increased needs. The levy is a 3 percent tax on income, and with some improved political and economic stability in the past year, this is generating several million dollars in income, perhaps about $25 million in 2011.

Generally, I am not one for ear-marked taxes, but in certain cases, such as war and national disasters, the notion of a general solidarity fund is a quite reasonable way to raise revenues. In the case of AIDS, not only does it provide a justification for an extra burden, but it can help to de-stigmatize the disease by making its eradication a national project. To be certain, there have been reports that AIDS funding from donors and from the tax have not all made their way to the people who need treatment or related services. But along these lines, I must say that when I was in Zimbabwe in November 2010, I visited several observed pretty well functioning government clinics.

Of course, my point is not that the general state of affairs in Zimbabwe is much rosier than what we generally hear (see, for example, my review of Godwin’s The Fear), but that good ideas sometimes come from unlikely places; and that one of the reasons that awful regimes don’t collapse as quickly as we think they should is because they sometimes make and implement decent policies.

About Evan Lieberman

I am a Professor of Political Science at MIT, and I conduct research, write, and teach about development, ethnic politics, and research methods.

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