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Posts Tagged ‘Cayman Islands’

A reader from New York has a follow-up question for me.

Referencing a “Question of the Week” from last month, in which I expressed guarded optimism that America could be saved, she wants to know what I would do if things go the wrong way.

In other words, what if things go really wrong and America suffers a Greek-style fiscal collapse? And imagine how bad that might be since there wouldn’t be an IMF or European Central Bank capable of providing bailouts to the United States.

Perhaps because of an irrational form of patriotism, I’m fairly certain that I will always live in the United States and I will be fighting to preserve (or restore) liberty until my last breath.

But I probably would want my children someplace safe and stable, so I’ll answer the question from that perspective.

The obvious first choice is a zero-income tax jurisdiction like the Cayman Islands that is prosperous and reasonably well governed.

But I’m not sure about the long-run outlook for the Cayman Islands, in part because the politicians there have flirted with an income tax and in part because the jurisdiction inevitably would suffer if the United States was falling apart.

So what’s a place that is stable and not overly tied to the American economy.

Then the obvious choice is Switzerland. That nation’s long-run fiscal outlook is relatively favorable because of  modest-sized government and a very good spending control mechanism.

But while Switzerland is not dependent on the U.S. economy, it is surrounded by European welfare states. And I’m fairly certain that nations such as France, Italy, and (perhaps) Germany will collapse before America.

And even though most Swiss households have machine guns and the nation presumably can defend itself from barbarian hordes in search of a new welfare check, Switzerland’s probably not the ideal location.

Estonia is one of my favorite countries, and they’ve implemented some good reforms such as the flat tax. But I worry about demographic decline. Plus, I’m a weather wimp and it’s too chilly most of the year.

Another option is a stable nation in Latin America, perhaps Chile, Panama, or Costa Rica. I haven’t been to Chile, but I’m very impressed by the nation’s incredible progress in recent decades. I have been to Panama many times and it is one of my favorite nations. I’ve only been to Costa Rica two times, but it also seems like a nice country.

The bad news is that I don’t speak Spanish (and my kids don’t speak the language, either). The good news is that Hispanics appear to be the world’s happiest people, so that should count for something.

“G’day mate, we’ve privatized our social security system!”

This brings me to Australia, the country that probably would be at the top of my list. The burden of government spending in Australia is less than it is in the United States.

But the gap isn’t that large. The reason I like Australia is that the nation has a privatized Social Security system (called Superannuation) and the long-run fiscal outlook is much, much better than the United States.

Plus the Aussies are genuinely friendly and they speak an entertaining form of English.

So if America goes under, I recommend going Down Under.

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What Do Greece, the United States, and the Cayman Islands Have in Common?

At first, this seems like a trick question. After all, the Cayman Islands are a fiscal paradise, with no personal income tax, no corporate income tax, no capital gains tax, and no death tax.

By contrast, Greece is a bankrupt, high-tax welfare state, and the United States sooner or later will suffer the same fate because of misguided entitlement programs.

But even though there are some important differences, all three of these jurisdictions share a common characteristic in that they face fiscal troubles because government spending has been growing faster than economic output.

I’ve written before that the definition of good fiscal policy is for the private sector to grow faster than the government. I’ve humbly decided to refer to this simple principle as Mitchell’s Golden Rule, and have pointed out that bad things happen when governments violate this common-sense guideline.

In the case of the Cayman Islands, the “bad thing” is that the government is proposing to levy an income tax, which would be akin to committing fiscal suicide.

The Cayman Islands are one of the world’s richest jurisdictions (more prosperous than the United States according to the latest World Bank data), in part because there are no tax penalties on income and production.

So why are the local politicians considering a plan to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs? For the simple reason that they have been promiscuous in spending other people’s money. This chart shows that the burden of government spending in the Cayman Islands has climbed twice as fast as economic output since 2000.

Much of this spending has been to employ and over-compensate a bloated civil service (in this respect, Cayman is sort of a Caribbean version of California).

In other words, the economic problem is that there has been too much spending, and the political problem is that politicians have been trying to buy votes by padding government payrolls (a problem that also exists in America).

The right solution to this problem is to reduce the burden of government spending back to the levels in the early part of last decade. The political class in Cayman, however, hopes it can prop up its costly bureaucracy with a new tax – which euphemistically is being called a “community enhancement fee.”

The politicians claim the tax will only be 10 percent and will only be imposed on the expat community. But it’s worth noting that the U.S. income tax began in 1913 with a top rate of only 7 percent and it affected less than 1 percent of the population. But that supposedly benign tax has since become a monstrous internal revenue code that plagues the nation today.

Except the results will be even worse in Cayman because the thousands of foreigners who are being targeted easily can shift their operations to other zero-income tax jurisdictions such as Bermuda, Monaco, or the Bahamas. Or they can decide that to set up shop in places such as Hong Kong and Singapore, which have very modest income tax burdens (and the ability to out-compete Cayman in other areas).

As a long-time admirer of the Cayman Islands, I desperately hope the government will reconsider this dangerous step. The world already has lots of examples of nations that are following bad policy. We need a few places that are at least being semi-sensible.

By they way, I started this post with a rhetorical question about the similarities of Greece, the United States, and the Cayman Islands. Let’s elaborate on the answer.

Here’s a post that shows how Greece’s fiscal nightmare developed. But let’s show a separate chart for the burden of federal spending in the United States.

What’s remarkable is that the federal government and the Cayman Islands government have followed very similar paths to fiscal trouble. Indeed, Caymanian politicians have achieved the dubious distinction of increasing the burden of government spending at a faster rate than even Bush and Obama. No mean feat.

This data for the U.S. chart doesn’t include the burden of state and local government spending, so the Cayman Islands still has an advantage over the United States, but I’ll close with a prediction.

Cayman’s proposed income tax

If the Cayman Islands adopts an income tax – regardless of whether they call it a community enhancement fee (to misquote Shakespeare, a rotting fish on the beach by any other name would still smell like crap), it will be just a matter of time before the burden of government spending becomes even more onerous and Cayman loses its allure and drops from being one of the world’s 10-richest jurisdictions.

Which will be very sad since I’ll now have to find a different place to go when America suffers its Greek-style fiscal collapse.

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Exactly 10 days ago, I predicted that the press would attack Mitt Romney for using tax havens. In that post, I wrote that, “…based on the questions, it appears that the establishment media wants to hit Romney for utilizing tax havens… As far as I can tell, none of these reporters have come out with a story. …But I think it’s just a matter of time.”

Sure enough, like the swallows returning to Capistrano, it’s happened. Two hacks at ABC News, Brian Ross and Megan Chuchmach, revealed (brace yourself for a real scoop) that Mitt Romney is a rich guy and some of his investments are based in funds domiciled in the Cayman Islands (gasp!).

Wow, what a revelation! This must be Pulitzer Prize material. Pray tell, what wrongdoing did the story uncover? Well, let’s excerpt the key passages from the article.

Mitt Romney has millions of dollars of his personal wealth in investment funds set up in the Cayman Islands, a notorious Caribbean tax haven. A spokesperson for the Romney campaign says Romney follows all tax laws and he would pay the same in taxes regardless of where the funds are based.  …Romney has as much as $8 million invested in at least 12 funds listed on a Cayman Islands registry. Another investment, which Romney reports as being worth between $5 million and $25 million, shows up on securities records as having been domiciled in the Caymans.  …Romney campaign officials and those at Bain Capital tell ABC News that the purpose of setting up those accounts in the Cayman Islands is to help attract money from foreign investors, and that the accounts provide no tax advantage to American investors like Romney. Romney, the campaign said, has paid all U.S. taxes on income derived from those investments. …Bain officials called the decision to locate some funds offshore routine, and a benefit only to foreign investors who do not want to be subjected to U.S. taxes.

You’re probably thinking you missed something, because there’s nothing to the story. But that’s because the reporters don’t have anything. And if you think I excerpted unfairly, feel free to read the whole article.

The only thing you’ll discover is that Ross and Chuchmach are biased hacks. Because not only did they write a story about nothing, they also quoted two left-wingers, Jack Blum and Rebecca Wilson, and failed to give the other side even an inch of column space.

Blum is a former John Kerry staffer who is most famous for making unsubstantiated claims (which he later admitted were fabricated) that tax havens resulted in $100 billion of lost revenue to the Treasury each year.

And Rebecca Wilson works for Citizens for Tax Justice, a union-funded group so radical that even congressional Democrats usually are reluctant to work with them.

But what about the other side of the story?

  1. Did the article quote me, since I’ve been working on these issues for more than a decade? No.
  2. Did the article quote anybody from the Center for Freedom and Prosperity, the organization most active in the fight to defend low-tax jurisdictions? No.
  3. Did the article quote Richard Rahn, the Cato Institute Fellow who was a Board Member of the Cayman Islands Monetary Authority? No.
  4. Did the article quote any of the academic scholars who have written about so-called tax havens, such as Jim Hines of the University of Michigan or Andrew Morriss of the University of Alabama? No.
  5. Did the article quote Bob Bauman, the former Congressman and offshore expert who serves as Legal Counsel of the Sovereign Society? No.

Fair and competent journalists would have done those things, but not the dynamic duo from ABC News.

Instead, they quote two hard-core lefts. And in a gross display of editorializing, they also referred to the Cayman Islands as a “notorious tax haven.”

Yet what is “notorious” about being a prosperous multiracial society with living standards considerably above American levels?

Moreover, Cayman has a tax treaty with the United States and an overwhelming share of the investment in the jurisdiction is completely legal institutional money – just like the Romney investment funds.

But I guess a place like the Cayman Islands must be bad, at least to biased people from the press. After all, a place with no income taxes, no capital gains taxes, no payroll taxes, and no death taxes must be condemned.

I’m not a Romney fan, as you can see by reading this post, but I believe in honest and intelligent debate. Too bad ABC doesn’t.

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Actually, the answer is all of the above.

He pontificates about debt, but he voted for the fake stimulus and budget-busting Obamacare legislation.

He’s a preening self-styled deficit hawk, but the nation’s four largest deficits have occurred since he became Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee.

As Chairman of the Budget Committee, with a bloated staff and a budget of millions of dollars, his only responsibility – under law – is to produce a budget resolution every year, yet it’s now been more than 800 days since he’s bothered to fulfill this obligation.

You may be asking why I’m going after Senator Conrad. Is it because I’m upset that he has played a key role in tricking some gullible Republicans into supporting tax increases, based on a laughably vague set of talking points?

Sure, that galls me, but I’m used to Republicans engaging in self-immolation. I can’t really get too upset with Conrad for taking advantage of GOP naiveté.

What irks me is that this buffoon went to the Senate floor last night to make an impassioned plea for higher taxes. But rather than honestly say that he wants to take more of our money, he demagogued about a building in the Cayman Islands.

According to our financial-wizard friend from North Dakota, there is something inherently criminal about this structure (offices of a top-flight international law firm) because it is the home of more than 18,000 companies.

Here’s an image I captured from one of Conrad’s earlier speeches, where he made the same accusation.

So why am I irritated about his speech? Is it because Senator Conrad lied about the number of companies at Ugland House? No, the Senator is correct (unlike Obama, who demagogued about the same building during the 2008 campaign, but said there were 12,000 companies).

What bothers me is that Conrad presumably is educated enough to understand that he is being disingenuous. While he’s been sucking on the public teat his entire life, surely he knows that a company’s home is merely the place where it is chartered for legal purposes. A firm’s legal domicile has nothing to do with where it does business or where it is headquartered.

But just to make things clear, here’s a picture of another building. This building is smaller than Ugland House, yet it is the home of more than 200,000 companies.

So why isn’t the empty suit from North Dakota attacking this building? Maybe we should ask the Vice President. After all, this building is in Wilmington, Delaware.

The moral of the story is that companies like to make their legal homes in jurisdictions that have honest courts, sensibly light levels or red tape, and business-friendly reputations. The Cayman Islands is such a place, as is Delaware.

To Kent Conrad, that’s de facto evidence of criminal activity. To normal and honest people, that’s evidence that good policy generates more economic activity.

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If misery loves company, we can be very happy with these two stories about over-compensated bureaucrats from outside our borders. The first comes from Europe, where the Daily Telegraph reports that pension costs are skyrocketing for bureaucrats with the European Commission and other European Union entities. With the average pension being more than $88,000 per year, that’s hardly a surprise. This adds injury to injury since EU bureaucrats already get paid much more than workers in the productive sector of the economy.

Internal estimates, seen by The Daily Telegraph, show huge cost increases as growing numbers of officials in an expanded EU qualify for retirement, often at a younger age than the taxpayers who fund their generous pensions. Over the next three years alone, the cost of EU civil service pensions is expected to rise by 16 per cent to an annual bill for taxpayers of £1.3 billion. … EU officials are allowed to retire at the age of 63, younger than Britons who have just had their retirement age increased from 65 to 66 by 2016. …According to unpublished Commission figures, the pension bill will by 2040 risen 97 per cent to over £2 billion, with a British contribution of over £350 million. …The average annual pension pocketed by the 17,471 retired eurocrats benefiting from the scheme is £57,194, while the highest ranking officials can pocket pensions of over £102,000.

Our second story comes from the Cayman Islands, where bureaucrats (as well as some politicians) have figured out the double-dipping scam, getting a lucrative pension while still receiving a salary. But the Cayman Islands at least deserve credit for limiting the damage. All bureaucrats hired after 1999 participate in a mandatory savings system, thus limiting the long-run risk for taxpayers.

A significant number of employees in the Cayman Islands Civil Service receive a monthly pension as well as a salary, according to records obtained by the Caymanian Compass. There are 65 people who have retired from the civil service under the defined benefit pension programme – which means they are receiving a monthly pension while continuing to work in government, according to information from a Freedom of Information request made by the Compass. Those workers are typically employed on a fixed-term contract and, therefore, also receive a salary. …There were 171 employees working in the civil service who were age 60 or over at the date the Compass made its open records request. The ability of civil servants and Cayman Islands legislators to ‘double dip’ is not to the liking of at least one lawmaker, who raised the issue in the Legislative Assembly in June. North Side MLA Ezzard Miller told the assembly that a change in the parliamentary pensions law in recent years has allowed elected officials to receive the same benefit as civil servants – to retire while continuing to serve in the assembly. In essence, Mr. Miller said, those lawmakers can “get a double dip” – continue to receive their salaries while earning a pension at the same time. …Cayman Islands civil servants who joined the service after mid-April 1999 no longer receive defined benefit pension payments. In other words, the newer civil service employees will receive a lump sum payment from their pension funds rather than a monthly pension.

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I’m now relaxing in the warm sunshine of the Cayman Islands, having given a speech to an International Funds Conference.

My speech was a standard critique of high-tax governments and international bureaucracies for trying stifle tax competition and create a global tax cartel – sort of an OPEC for politicians.

The most interesting part of the conference was when an expert from Hong Kong equated the tax system of the United States with North Korea and Libya. A bit of hyperbole, to be sure, but our tax system has totalitarian aspects that are far worse than anything found even in places such as France. And now Obama wants to further increase the power of the IRS and strip away even more of our freedoms.

For those who want more information on the topic, here’s my video on tax competition, followed by a video castigating Obama’s anti-tax haven demagoguery.

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Tax competition is an issue that arouses passion on both sides of the debate. Libertarians and other free-market advocates welcome tax competition as a way of restraining the greed of politicians. Governments have lowered tax rates in recent decades, for instance, because politicians are afraid that the geese that lay the golden eggs can fly across the border. But collectivists despise tax competition – for exactly the same reason. They want investors, entrepreneurs, and companies to passively serve as free vending machines, dispensing never-ending piles of money for politicians. So when a left-wing group puts together a ranking of the world’s “top secrecy jurisdictions” in hopes of undermining tax competition, proponents of individual freedom can use that list as a guide to world’s most investor-friendly nations. The good news is that an American state, Delaware, is number one on the list. And since being a tax haven is a magnet for investment, this is good news for U.S. competitiveness. The bad news is that American taxpayers are not allowed to benefit from many of Delaware’s “tax haven” policies. Here’s what a left-wing columnist in the United Kingdom wrote about the issue:

You’re a billionaire but you don’t want anyone, least of all the taxman, to know. What do you do? Head for a palm-fringed island paradise or a snow-covered Alpine micro-state? Wrong. The world’s most opaque jurisdictions – the ones that will best shield you and your cash from the light – are mostly in the heart of the most sophisticated and powerful global financial centres. London, Luxembourg and Zurich are in the top five most secretive jurisdictions, according the first comprehensive index of financial transparency ever compiled. Yet top of the pile, beating the British Virgin Islands, Belize or Liechtenstein as the best place to hide wealth, is Delaware. One of the smallest states in the US, it offers the best protection for anyone who does not want to disclose their identity as a beneficial owner of a company. That is one very good reason why the East Coast state hosts 50% of the US’s quoted firms and 650,000 companies – almost equivalent to one company per Delaware resident. …Delaware – the political power-base of the US vice-president, Joe Biden – offers high levels of banking secrecy and does not make details of trusts, company accounts and beneficial ownership a matter of public record. Delaware also allows companies to re-domicile within its borders with minimal disclosure, and allows the existence of privacy-enhancing “protected cell” or “segregated portfolio” companies, among many other stratagems useful for protecting the identity of those who do business there.

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