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Posts Tagged ‘Fiscal Sovereignty’

I could only use 428 words, but I highlighted the main arguments for tax havens and tax competition in a “Room for Debate” piece for the New York Times.

NYT Tax Haven Room for DebateI hope that my contribution is a good addition to the powerful analysis of experts such as Allister Heath and Pierre Bessard.

I started with the economic argument.

…tax havens are very valuable because they discourage anti-growth tax policy. Simply stated, it is very difficult for governments to impose and enforce confiscatory tax rates when investors and entrepreneurs can shift their economic activity to jurisdictions with better tax policy. Particularly if those nations have strong policies on financial privacy, thus making it difficult for uncompetitive high-tax nations to track and tax flight capital. Thanks to this process of tax competition, with havens playing a key role, top personal income tax rates have dropped from an average of more than 67 percent in 1980 to about 42 percent today. Corporate tax rates also have plummeted, falling from an average of 48 percent to 24 percent. …Lawmakers also were pressured to lower or eliminate death taxes and wealth taxes, as well as to reduce the double taxation of interest, dividends and capital gains. Once again, tax havens deserve much of the credit because politicians presumably would not have implemented these pro-growth reforms if they didn’t have to worry that the geese with the golden eggs might fly away to a confidential account in a well-run nation like Luxembourg or Singapore.

Since I didn’t have much space, here’s a video that elaborates on the economic benefits of tax havens, including an explanation of why fiscal sovereignty is a big part of the debate.

My favorite part of the video is when I quote OECD economists admitting the beneficial impact of tax havens.

I also explain for readers of the New York Times that there’s a critical ethical reason to defend low-tax jurisdictions.

Tax havens also play a very valuable moral role by providing high-quality rule of law in an uncertain world, offering a financial refuge for people who live in nations where governments are incompetent and corrupt. …There are also billions of people living in nations with venal and oppressive governments. To cite just a few examples, tax havens offer secure financial services to political dissidents in Russia, ethnic Chinese in Indonesia and the Philippines, Jews in North Africa, gays in Iran and farmers in Zimbabwe.

To elaborate, here’s my video making the moral case for tax havens.

By the way, many of the issues in this video may not resonate for those of us in “first world” nations, but please remember that the majority of people in the world live in countries where basic human rights are at risk or simply don’t exist.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t worry about the stability of our nations. I close my contribution to the New York Times by warning that the welfare state may collapse.

With more and more nations careening toward fiscal collapse, raising the risk of social chaos and economic calamity, it is more important than ever that there are places where people can protect themselves from bad government. Tax havens should be celebrated, not persecuted.

I didn’t have space to cite the BIS and OECD data showing that most of the world’s big nations – including Germany, the United States, and the United Kingdom – face fiscal problems more significant that Greece is dealing with today. Assuming these nations don’t implement desperately needed entitlement reform, the you-know-what is going to hit the fan at some point. Folks with funds in a tax haven will be in much better shape if, or when, that happens.

For more background information on tax competition, here’s a video explaining the ABCs of the issue.

It’s galling, by the way, that the bureaucrats at the OECD pushing for a global tax cartel get tax-free salaries.

And here’s my video debunking some of the common myths about tax havens.

My favorite part of this video is the revelation that a former John Kerry staffer fabricated a number that is still being used by anti-tax haven demagogues.

And speaking of demagogues misusing numbers, you’ll notice the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has a starring role in this video.

I’ve probably exhausted your interest in videos, but if you’re game for one more, click here to learn more about the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a statist international bureaucracy that is active in trying to undermine tax havens as part of it’s efforts to create a global tax cartel to prop up Europe’s welfare states.

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Back in April, responding to an article written by Ann Hollingshead for the Task Force on Financial Integrity and Economic Development, I wrote a long post defending so-called tax havens.

I went through the trouble of a point-by-point response because her article was quite reasonable and focused on some key moral and philosophical issues (rather than the demagoguery I normally have to deal with when people on the left reflexively condemn low-tax jurisdictions).

She responded to my response, and she raised additional points that deserve to be answered.

So here we go again. Let’s go through Ann’s article and see where we agree and disagree.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blog post criticizing the philosophies of Dan Mitchell, a libertarian scholar from the Cato Institute. I asked for a “thoughtful discussion” and I got it—both from the comments section of our blog and from Dan himself.  On his own blog, Dan replied with a thought-provoking point-by-point critique of my piece.

It has been a polite discussion, which is good because readers get to see that we don’t really disagree on facts. Our differences are a matter of philosophy, as Ann also acknowledges.

Dan made several interesting points in his rebuttal. As much as I’d like to take on the whole post right now, my reply would be far too long and I don’t think our readers would appreciate a blog post that approaches a novella. Rather I’ll focus on a couple of his comments that I find interesting on a philosophical level (there were many) and which demand a continued conversation because, I believe, they are the basis of our differences. We’ll start with a rather offhand remark in which Dan indirectly refers to financial privacy as a human right. This is an argument we’ve heard before. And it is worth some exploration.Unless I am very much mistaken, Dan’s belief that financial privacy is a human right arises out of his fundamental value of freedom. My disagreement with Dan, therefore, does not arise from a difference in the desire to promote human rights (I believe we both do), but rather in the different relative weights we each place on the value of privacy, which Dan (I’m supposing) would call an extension of freedom.

I wouldn’t argue with her outline, though I think it is incomplete. I’m a big fan of privacy as a principle of a civil and just society, but I also specifically support financial privacy as a means to an end of encouraging better tax policy. Simply stated, politicians are much more likely to reduce or eliminate double taxation if they feel such taxes can’t be enforced and simply put a country in a much less competitive position.

Okay, so on to [my] answer of the subject of this post. Privacy—and financial privacy by extension—is important. But is it a human right? That’s a big phrase; one which humanity has no business throwing around, lest it go the way of “[fill in blank]-gate” or “war on [whatever].” And as Dan himself points out, governments have a way of fabricating human rights—apparently some European courts have ruled that free soccer broadcasts and owning a satellite dish are a human rights—so it’s important that we get back to [philosophical] basics and define the term properly. The nearly universally accepted definition of “human rights” was established by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the United Nations adopted in 1948. According to the UN, “human rights” are those “rights inherent to all human beings,” regardless of “nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status.” The Declaration includes 30 Articles which describe each of those rights in detail. “Financial privacy” per se is not explicitly a human right in this document, but “privacy” is, and I think it’s reasonable to include financial privacy by extension. But privacy is defined as a fundamental, not an absolute, human right. Absolute rights are those that there is never any justification for violating. Fundamental freedoms, including privacy and freedom from detention, can be ethically breached by the government, as long as they authorized by law and not arbitrary in practice. The government therefore has the right to regulate fundamental freedoms when necessary.

I’m not sure how to react. There are plenty of admirable provisions in the U.N.’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but there are also some nonsensical passages – some of which completely contradict others.

Everyone hopefully agrees with the provisions against slavery and in favor of equality under law, but Article 25 of the U.N. Declaration also includes “the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services.”

That sounds like a blank check for redistributionism, similar to the statism that I experienced when I spoke at the U.N. last month, and it definitely seems inconsistent with the right of property in Article 17.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I don’t care that the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights includes a “right to privacy” because I don’t view that document as having any legal or moral validity. I don’t know whether it’s as bad as the European Union’s pseudo-constitution, but I do know that my support for privacy is not based on or dependent on a document from the United Nations.

As an aside, I can’t help noting that Articles 13 and 15 of the U.N. Declaration guarantee the right to emigrate and the right to change nationality, somethings leftists should keep in mind when they demonize successful people who want to move to nations with better tax law.

Getting back to Ann’s column, she confirms my point that you can’t protect property rights for some people while simultaneously giving other people a claim on their output.

That’s important because it means, that when it comes to freedom and privacy, we need to make choices. We can’t always have them all at once. To use a hideously crude example that gets back to the issue of tax evasion, in a developing country, a rich person’s right to financial privacy might be at odds with a poor person’s right to “a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family.”

For those who are not familiar with the type of discussion, it is the difference between “negative rights” promoted by classical liberals, which are designed to protect life, liberty, and property from aggression, and the “positive rights” promoted by the left, which are designed to legitimize the redistributionist state.

Tom Palmer has a good discussion of the topic here, and he notes that “positive rights” create conflict, writing that, “…classical liberal ‘negative’ rights do not conflict with each other, whereas ‘positive’ rights to be provided with things produce many conflicts. If my ‘right to health care’ conflicts with a doctor’s ‘right to liberty,’ which one wins out?”

Continuing with Ann’s article, she says values conflict with one another, though that’s only if true if one believes in positive rights.

I started this post with a discussion of values, because at the core that’s what we’re talking about. Values are relative, individual, and often in conflict with one another. And they define how we rank our choices between human rights. Dan values freedom, perhaps above most else. He might argue that economic freedom would lead to an enrichment of human rights at all levels, but he probably wouldn’t disagree that that thesis remains untested. My views are a little more complicated because I don’t get to enjoy the (albeit appealing and consistent) simplicity of libertarianism.

I’m tempted to say, “C’mon in, Ann, the water’s fine. Libertarianism is lots of fun.” To be a bit more serious, libertarianism is simple, but it’s not simplistic. You get to promote freedom and there’s no pressure to harass, oppress, or pester other people.

As my colleague David Boaz has stated, “You could say that you learn the essence of libertarianism — which is also the essence of civilization –  in kindergarten: don’t hit other people, don’t take their stuff, keep your promises.”

The world would be a lot better if more people rallied to this non-coercive system.

One more point. Dan mentioned he does “fully comply” with the “onerous demands imposed on [him] by the government.” But as Dan insinuates, irrespective of an individual’s personal values, those demands are not optional. In the United States, we have the luxury of electing a group of individuals to represent our collective values. Together those people make a vision for the country that reflects our ideals. And then, we all accept it. If our country got together and decided to value freedom above all else, we would live in a world that looks a lot like Dan’s utopia. But, frankly, it hasn’t. So we respect our tax code out of a respect for the vision of our country. Dan has the right to try to shape that vision, as do I. Neither of us has the right to violate it.

What Ann writes is true, but not persuasive. Libertarians don’t like untrammeled majoritarianism. We don’t think two wolves and a sheep should vote on what’s for lunch.

We like what our Founding Fathers devised, a constitutional republic where certain rights were inalienable and protected by the judicial system, regardless of whether 90 percent of voters want to curtail our freedoms.

Ann, as you can see from her final passage, does not agree.

That, at is heart, is my problem with both tax evasion and tax avoidance. Neither lines up with the spirit of our collective compact; although the latter is not necessarily reflected in the official laws on the books. I’m not saying tax avoiders should be thrown in jail; they’ve done nothing illegal. I’m saying the regulations that confine us should line up with the vision we’ve created and the values we’ve agreed upon. If that vision is Dan’s, I’ll accept it. But I’m glad he’ll (begrudgingly) accept ours too.

I’m not automatically against having a “collective compact.” After all, that’s one way of describing the American Constitution. But I will return to my point about America’s founders setting up that system precisely because they rejected majoritarianism.

So what does all this mean? Probably nothing, other than the less-than-remarkable revelation that Ann and I have different views on the legitimate role(s) of the federal government.

Since I want to restrain the size and scope of government (not only in America, but elsewhere in the world) and avert future Greek-style fiscal nightmares, that means I want tax competition. And, to be truly effective, that means tax havens.

If that appeals to you (or at least seems like a reasonably hypothesis), I invite you to read some writings by Allister Heath of the United Kingdom and Pierre Bessard of Switzerland.

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Over the years, I’ve strenuously objected to schemes that would enable international bureaucracies to levy taxes. That’s why I’ve criticized “direct funding” proposals, most of which seem to emanate from the United Nations.

Interestingly, the American left is somewhat divided on these schemes. House Democrats have expressed sympathy for global taxes, but the Obama Administration has come out against at least certain worldwide tax proposals.

Unfortunately, proponents of global taxes are like the Energizer Bunny of big government, relentlessly pushing a statist agenda. If the world economy is growing, it’s time for a global tax. If the world economy is stagnant, it’s time for a global tax. If it’s hot outside or cold outside, it’s time for a global tax (since “global warming” is one of the justifications for global taxation, I’m not joking).

Given this ongoing threat, I’m glad that Brian Garst of the Center for Freedom and Prosperity has put together a two-page Libertas explaining why international bureaucracies should not get taxing powers or direct funding.

…it would be imprudent to give international bureaucracies an independent source of revenue. Not only would this augment the already considerable risk of imprudent budgetary practices, it would exacerbate the pro-statism bias in these organizations. …The issue of taxing powers and direct funding has become an important issue because international organizations are challenging the contribution model and pushing for independent sources of revenue. The United Nations has been particularly aggressive in pushing for global taxes, seeking to expand its budget with levies on everything from carbon to financial transactions.

He then highlights one of the most dangerous proposals, a scheme by the World Health Organization to impose a “Solidarity Tobacco Contribution.”

Another subsidiary of the United Nations, the World Health Organization (WHO), is also looking to self-fund through global taxes. The WHO in 2010 publicly considered asking for global consumer taxes on internet activity, online bill paying, or the always popular financial transaction tax. Currently the WHO is pushing for increased excise taxes on cigarettes, but with an important condition that they get a slice of the added revenue. The so-called Solidarity Tobacco Contribution would provide billions of dollars to the WHO, but with no ability for taxpayers or national governments to monitor how the money is spent.

I have to give the left credit. They understand that few people are willing to defend tobacco, so proposing a global tax on cigarettes sounds noble, even though the real goal is to give the WHO a permanent stream of revenue.

Brian explains, though, why any global tax would be a mistake.

What all of these proposals have in common – in addition to their obvious intended use in promoting statist policies – is that they would erode the influence of national governments, reduce international accountability, promote waste, and undermine individual sovereignty and liberty. …Before long, international organizations will begin proposing – no doubt in the name of efficiency or reducing the burden on nation states – that affected taxpayers withhold and transfer taxes directly to the international body. This would effectively mean the end of the Westphalian system of sovereign nation states, and would result in a slew of new statist policies, and increased waste and corruption, as bureaucrats make use of their greater freedom to act without political constraint.

He concludes by noting that a global tobacco tax would be the proverbial camel’s nose under the tent. Once the statists succeed in imposing the first global tax, it will simply be a matter of time before additional levies are imposed.

National governments should not be fooled. Any sort of taxing power or direct funding for international bureaucracies would undermine national sovereignty. More importantly, it will further weaken the ability of people to influence and control the policies to which they are subjected. Moreover, once the first global tax is imposed, the floodgates will be opened for similar proposals.

The point about fiscal sovereignty is also important. Not because national governments are keen to adopt good policy, but because nations at least have to compete against each other.

Over the years, tax competition among governments has led to lower tax rates on personal and corporate income, as well as reductions in the double taxation of income that is saved and invested.

Politicians don’t like being pressured to lower tax rates, which is why international bureaucracies such as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, acting on behalf of Europe’s welfare states, are pushing to undermine tax competition. But so long as there’s fiscal sovereignty, governments will have a hard time imposing confiscatory tax burdens.

Any form of global taxation, however, cripples this liberalizing process since taxpayers would have no safe havens.

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A few days ago, I explained why I’m a big fan of tax competition. Simply stated, we need to subject governments to competitive pressure to at least partially offset the tendency of politicians to over-tax and over-spend.

Tax havens play an important role in this liberalizing process, largely because they do not put themselves under any obligation to enforce the bad tax laws of other jurisdictions. They also use privacy laws to protect their sovereign control of what gets taxed inside their borders (this is what separates a “tax haven” from a more conventional low-tax jurisdiction). This means they are fiscal safe zones, particularly for people who want to protect their assets from the pervasive double taxation that exists in so many nations.

Not everybody agrees with my analysis (gee, what a surprise). To cite one example, the petty bureaucrats at the OECD got so agitated at me in 2009 (when I was offering advice to representatives of so-called tax havens while standing in a public lobby of a public hotel) that they threatened to have me thrown in a Mexican jail.

Now I have a new critic, though hopefully someone who would never consider thuggish tactics to suppress dissent. Ann Hollingshead writes for the Task Force on Financial Integrity and Economic Development, which (notwithstanding the name of the organization) seems to favor bigger government.

Anyhow, she wrote an article specifically criticizing my work on tax havens. So I figured it was time for a fisking, while means a point-by-point rebuttal. Here’s how she begins, and I’ll follow up her points with my responses.

Officially Dan Mitchell is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute, a conservative public policy research organization, and a researcher on tax reform. Unofficially, he has (perhaps ironically?) called himself the “world’s self-appointed defender of so-called tax havens.”

No irony on my part. As I have openly stated, tax havens are a key part of tax competition, which is a necessary (though sadly not sufficient) process to restrain the greed of the political class.

Oddly enough, Mitchell and I agree on many of the facts about these havens. We both have observed, for example, that there are buildings in Delaware and the Cayman Islands that house thousands of corporations. Mitchell concludes there is nothing wrong with either; I conclude there is something wrong with both. Mitchell also agrees that the United States“could be considered the world’s largest tax haven.” On that topic, he’s even cited my paper on non-resident deposits in secrecy jurisdictions. In his comment, he does not take issue with my methodology or my results, but rather concludes that my finding that the United States is the largest holder of non-resident deposits “makes the case for pro-market policies.” I, on the other hand, have argued that these findings support across the board reform, rather than that limited to traditional offshore financial centers.

Fair enough. We both recognize that the United States is a big tax haven. But we have different conclusions. I think it is unfortunate that only non-resident foreigners can benefit from these policies, while Ann wants to crack down on small low-tax jurisdictions such as Monaco, Bermuda, Liechtenstein, and the Cayman Islands, as well as big nations such as the United States. Sadly, Ann’s side has somewhat prevailed, and many of the havens have agreed to become deputy tax collectors for nations with bad tax law.

So how is it that two (relatively intelligent?) people can draw such different conclusions? I would argue our differences lie not in our facts, or perhaps even our economics, but in our underlying philosophical and theoretical differences.

I guess I should be happy that she holds out the possibility that I’m “relatively intelligent.”

Mitchell implicitly takes the position that tax havens do enable tax evasion and this helps to lower tax rates. He argues “it is largely globalization—not ideology—that has driven [a] ‘race to the bottom’” where global top corporate tax rates now average about 27 percent, down from 67 percent in 1980. Mitchell does not only believe this has occurred, but also maintains it is a positive development. He argues tax competition drives tax policy in the “right direction” (i.e., lower tax rates), has called these developments “positive,” and has even likened policy makers to “thieves” and tax competition to home “alarm systems.”

Ann makes one minor error. Corporate tax rates have dropped from a high of about 48 percent (and are now down to less than 25 percent). Top personal tax rates, by contrast, used to be more than 67 percent (and have now dropped to about 41 percent).

Regarding these developments, I think they are very positive. And I also think that politicians are akin to thieves, though Godfrey Bloom, a British member of the European Parliament, says it with a much better accent.

Mitchell’s argument that lower tax rates are always better and that those who tax others are thieves, makes several implicit assumptions about the relationship of citizens to their government. From his line of reasoning, Mitchell either believes, on a philosophical level, that governments do not have the right to tax their citizens or, on an economic level, that lower tax rates are always better, or both.

I definitely believe that lower tax rates are better than higher tax rates.

Mitchell may believe that taxation is the equivalent of thievery—and therefore that governments do not have the right to tax their citizens, just a thief does not have the right to steal. But he is also (more than likely) not an anarchist, which is the next logical extension of this reasoning, because on a number of occasions he has advocated a flat tax.

Ann makes a good point here. I’ve already admitted, in this post featuring a funny video mocking libertarianism, that I don’t see how to privatize the justice system and national defense, so I’m not an anarcho-capitalist.

Mitchell also argues lower tax rates are universally better, so at what point does the tax rate become acceptable? Clearly he doesn’t believe the tax rate should be zero, because that would get back to the anarchism theory. And he did once offer tepid support for Herman Cain’s 9 percent rate.

Another fair point. If a 50 percent tax is confiscatory and if politicians who impose such a tax are akin to thieves, then why would a 10 percent tax be acceptable? And would politicians imposing low tax rates still be acting like crooks?

Those are tough questions. But at the risk of dodging thorny philosophical issues, I’ll claim it doesn’t really matter. Government is too big right now and taxes are too onerous and unfair. If I somehow manage to bring government down to 10 percent of GDP, as the Rahn Curve suggests if we want to maximize prosperity for the American people, then I’ll have the luxury of worrying about the moral legitimacy of a limited public sector.

Clearly there’s a disconnect. Taxation cannot both be thievery, but also acceptable at a lower level. There is no evidence that, if tax competition through tax evasion is real, it would cease to drive down tax rates at some level that has been deemed acceptable by Dan Mitchell. So at what point does the “race to the bottom” bottom out? And is that a point where the United States can still maintain services that I’m sure Mitchell doesn’t advocate giving up, like police and law courts?

If I understand this passage correctly, I disagree. Tax competition does not drive tax rates to zero. It just encourages better policy. There’s pressure to lower tax rates, and there’s pressure to reduce double taxation of income tat is saved and invested. But there’s no reason to think that tax competition and/or tax evasion forces the overall tax burden “to the bottom.”

But I would be remiss not to point out some internal inconsistencies in Mitchell’s arguments, in addition to his logical ones. While he argues tax competition through tax evasion in havens has fostered lower tax rates worldwide, he has also reckoned that “only a tiny minority” of people who keep their money in havens “are escaping onerous tax burdens.” First of all, I would be interested to see where Mitchell got that statistic because no one knows how much money is deposited in havens, let alone its origins. Such information isn’t publicly available. That’s actually the whole point. And secondly, and more importantly, I’m unclear on how such a “tiny minority” of oversees deposits could drive international tax policy to such an extent that the average corporate tax rates have dropped by more than half in thirty years.

Actually, there is considerable data about the amount of money in tax havens. The Bank for International Settlements is a good place for those who like to peruse such information.

But that’s a secondary point. Her main criticism is that I’m inconsistent when I say tax evasion is minor, so let me allow me to elaborate. Tax competition works by making politicians fearful that jobs and investment will migrate to jurisdiction with better tax law. It works just as well when people engage in legal tax planning and legal tax avoidance as it does with illegal tax evasion.

Places such as the Cayman Islands, for instance, rely on completely legal and transparent lines of business such as hedge funds and captive insurance companies. Places such as Panama have completely legal shipping registries. Places such as the British Virgin Islands specialize in completely legal company formation. Places such as the Channel Islands focus on completely legal trusts. Places such as Bermuda are known for completely legal reinsurance firms.

The “illegal” part of the offshore business does exist (at least as defined by high-tax nations), and it tends to be in the areas of private wealth management and banking. And even then, only in jurisdictions that have very strong human rights laws protecting financial privacy.

To be sure, there’s no way to precisely state how much tax evasion exists, but I can say with total certainty that the left’s claims are absurd. During the 2008 campaign, for instance, then-candidate Obama said that his anti-tax haven policies would generate $100 billion every year. When his law was enacted in 2010, that huge amount of money shrank to only $870 million per year. And even that estimate is a mirage because the President’s FATCA law is discouraging productive investment in the United States.

It is not my intention to demonize Mitchell and I hope you’ll notice that I’ve neither called him, nor implied that he is, a “careless and know-nothing hack.” I also have no interest in taking easy jabs that imply he is personally benefiting from tax evasion through havens or that he is seeking to destabilize theU.S.government by removing its ability to tax its citizens. Such attacks might generate readers, but they don’t generate thoughtful discussion and I’m much more interested in the latter than the former.

You may be wondering why she included the comment about a “careless and know-nothing hack.” It’s because I used that phrase to describe a journalist who wrote a very sloppy article. But I don’t automatically disparage those with different views. I’ll disagree with people and argue with them, but I don’t mock them if they have serious and substantive views.

I suppose I should also say, just for the record, that I fully comply with all the onerous demands imposed on me by the government. Not because I want to, but rather because I worry that my work on public policy sooner or later will attract some discriminatory and politically motivated attention from the IRS. It hasn’t happened yet, so I hope I’m being needlessly paranoid, but suffice to say that I go out of my way to even declare income that I know isn’t reported to the tax police.

So here are my questions, to anyone who will answer. 1) On what philosophical basis, if any, do governments draw the right to tax their citizens?; 2) Do citizens have a moral or philosophical right to evade taxation by using tax havens under any circumstances?; 3) If so, at what level of taxation do those citizens no longer have a moral right to evade tax?; and 4) what is the philosophical reasoning that justifies this level?

Now we’re back to the hard-to-answer questions. When is government too big and when does it impose so many demands that people are justified in evading taxation? I’m not sure, but I’ll fall back on what former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said about pornography: “I know it when I see it.”

Put in context, I don’t blame people from France for evading confiscatory taxation. I don’t blame people in corrupt nations such as Mexico for evading taxation. I don’t blame people in dictatorial nations such as Venezuela for evading taxation.

But I would criticize people in Singapore,Switzerland, Hong Kong, or Estonia for dodging their tax liabilities. They are fortunate to live in nations with reasonable tax rates, low levels of corruption, and good rule of law.

Let me now circle back to the main point. In a world with vigorous tax competition, especially when augmented by the strong human rights laws of tax havens, nations will face some pressure to move their policies closer to Hong Kong and away from France. That’s something worth protecting and promoting, not something to be stamped out by high-tax nations seeking to create a tax cartel – sort of an OPEC for politicians.

Last but not least, if you haven’t yet overdosed on this topic, here’s my speech to a Capitol Hill audience on the valuable role of tax havens in the global economy.

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Other than my experiment dealing with corporate taxation, the first video I narrated for the Center for Freedom and Prosperity dealt with the issue of tax competition.

It was a deliberate choice because I view competition among governments as one of the few effective restraints on the greed of the political class.

Simply stated, in the absence of competitive pressure, politicians will over-tax and over-spend until the welfare state collapses of its own weight. Some of them self-destruct anyhow because sometimes politicians can’t resist myopic policy decisions even when they know the house of cards will come tumbling down. Greece is a good example, though this cartoon shows the same phenomenon in a more amusing fashion.

But if we want to save other nations from that fate, we need competition among governments so politicians have to worry that the geese with the golden eggs can fly away to nations with better policy.

This is why protecting, promoting, and preserving tax competition is my top issue. Heck, I’ve even run the risk of being thrown in a Mexican jail because of my efforts to defend the right of jurisdictions to compete with decrepit welfare states by implementing pro-growth fiscal policy.

With this as background, you won’t be surprised to learn that I’m a big fan of what Greg Mankiw wrote this weekend in the New York Times.

Here’s some of his column, beginning with the (hopefully) obvious point that competition is what drives an economy and provides benefits to consumers.

Most everyone agrees that competition is vital to a well-functioning market economy. Since the days of Adam Smith, economists have understood that the invisible hand of the marketplace works only if producers of goods and services vie with one another. Competition keeps prices low and provides an incentive to improve and innovate.

He then explains that the same principle of competition can protect the interests of taxpayers just as it protects the interests of consumers.

For much the same reason, competition among governments leads to better governance. In choosing where to live, people can compare public services and taxes. They are attracted to towns that use tax dollars wisely. Competition keeps town managers alert. It prevents governments from exerting substantial monopoly power over residents. If people feel that their taxes exceed the value of their public services, they can go elsewhere. They can, as economists put it, vote with their feet. The argument applies not only to people but also to capital. Because capital is more mobile than labor, competition among governments significantly constrains how capital is taxed. Corporations benefit from various government services, including infrastructure, the protection of property rights and the enforcement of contracts. But if taxes vastly exceed these benefits, businesses can — and often do — move to places offering a better mix of taxes and services.

He also points out that federalism is a way of reducing the monopoly power of central governments.

Conservatives applaud such competition among governments. They are skeptical of government power, and they see competition as a check on its potential abuse. Because people and capital will flee from places where their tax dollars do not deliver commensurate value, government officials have little latitude to pursue personal agendas that are substantially adverse to any group of citizens. This logic leads naturally to the principle of federalism. Because exiting a state or locality is easier than leaving the nation, some policy options should be available to state and local governments but not to the federal government. The founding fathers were no fools.

Not surprisingly, the class-warfare crowd despises competition among governments. That’s why they want fiscal policy determined by Washington – and also why they support the pernicious efforts of international bureaucracies to cripple tax competition among nations.

While conservatives embrace governmental competition, liberals have good reason to worry about it. The left has a more expansive view of the role of public policy. Liberals want the government not only to provide public services but also to redistribute economic resources. In the words of President Obama, they want to “spread the wealth around.” Yet redistribution is harder when people and capital are free to move to other jurisdictions that offer better deals.

Mankiw’s column is worth sharing, so please send this post to friends and colleagues. I’d also recommend these powerful short statements by Dan Hannan and Godfrey Bloom, both British members of the European Parliament. And here’s another video on the topic from the Center for Freedom and Prosperity, but you get to listen to someone more appealing than me.

But if you like listening to me, for inexplicable reasons, here’s my three-part video series on the value of tax havens as part of the tax competition process.

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I fight to preserve tax competition, fiscal sovereignty, and financial privacy for the simple reason that politicians are less likely to impose destructive tax policy if they know that labor and capital can escape to jurisdictions with more responsible fiscal climates.

My opponents in this battle are high-tax governments, statist international bureaucracies such as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and left-wing pressure groups, all of which want to impose some sort of global tax cartel – sort of an “OPEC for politicians.”

In my years of fighting this battle, I’ve has some strange experiences, most notably in 2008 when the OECD threatened to have me thrown in a Mexican jail for the supposed crime of standing in a public area of a hotel and advising representatives of low-tax jurisdictions on how best to resist fiscal imperialism.

A few other bizarre episodes occurred in Barbados, back when I was first getting involved in the issue. Here’s a summary of that adventure.

As part of its “harmful tax competition” project, the OECD had called a meeting in 2001 and invited officials from the so-called tax havens to attend in hopes of getting them to surrender their fiscal sovereignty and agree to become deputy tax collectors for uncompetitive welfare states.

Realizing that the small, relatively powerless low-tax nations and territories would be out-gunned and out-manned in such a setting, I organized a delegation of liberty-minded Americans to travel to Barbados and help fight back (as regular readers know, I’m willing to make big sacrifices and go to the Caribbean when it’s winter in Washington).

One of the low-tax nations asked me to provide technical assistance, so they made me part of their delegation. But when I got to the OECD conference, the bureaucrats refused to let me participate. That initial obstacle was overcome, though, when representatives from the low-tax country arrived and they created a stink.

So I got my credentials and went into the conference. But this obviously caused some consternation. Bureaucrats from the OECD and representatives from the Clinton Treasury Department (this was before Bush’s inauguration)  began whispering to each other, followed by some OECD flunky coming over to demand my credentials. I showed my badge, which temporarily stymied the bad guys.

But then a break was called and the OECD announced that the conference couldn’t continue if I was in the room. The fact that the OECD and some of the high-tax nations had technical consultants of their own was immaterial. The conference was supposed to be rigged to generate a certain outcome, and my presence was viewed as a threat.

Given the way things were going, with the OECD on the defensive and low-tax jurisdictions unwilling to capitulate, we decided to let the bureaucrats have a symbolic victory – especially since all that really happened is that I sat outside the conference room and representatives from the low-tax jurisdictions would come out every few minutes and brief me on what was happening. And everything ended well, with the high-tax nations failing in their goal of getting low-tax jurisdictions to surrender by signing “commitment letters” drafted by the OECD.

While the controversy over my participation in the meeting was indicative of the OECD’s unethical and biased behavior, the weirdest part of the Barbados trip occurred at the post-conference reception at the Prime Minister’s residence.

I was feeling rather happy about the OECD’s failure, so I was enjoying the evening. But not everybody was pleased with the outcome. One of the Clinton Treasury Department officials came up and basically accused me of being disloyal to the United States because I opposed the Administration’s policy while on foreign soil.

As you can probably imagine, that was not an effective argument. As this t-shirt indicates, my patriotism is to the ideals of the Founding Fathers, not to the statist actions of the U.S. government. And I also thought it was rather silly for the Treasury Department bureaucrat to make that argument when there was only a week or so left before Clinton was leaving office.

I’m reminded of this bit of personal history because of some recent developments in the area of international taxation.

The federal government recently declared that a Swiss bank is a “fugitive” because it refuses to acquiesce to American tax law and instead is obeying Switzerland’s admirable human rights policy of protecting financial privacy. Here are some details from a report by Reuters.

Wegelin & Co, the oldest Swiss private bank, was declared a fugitive after failing to show up in a U.S. court to answer a criminal charge that it conspired to help wealthy Americans evade taxes. …The indictment of Wegelin, which was founded in 1741, was the first in which the United States accused a foreign bank, rather than individuals, of helping Americans commit tax fraud. …Wegelin issued a statement from Switzerland saying it has not been served with a criminal summons and therefore was not required to appear in court. “The circumstances create a clear dilemma for Wegelin & Co,” it said. “If it were to adhere to current U.S. legal practice aimed at Swiss banks, it would have to breach Swiss law.” …Wegelin has no branches outside Switzerland.

It’s time for me to again be unpatriotic because I’m on the side of the “fugitive.” To be blunt, a Swiss bank operating on Swiss soil has no obligation to enforce bad U.S. tax law.

To understand the principles at stake, let’s turn the tables. What if the Iranian government demanded that the American government extradite Iranian exiles who write articles critical of that country’s nutjob leadership? Would the Justice Department agree that the Iranian government had the right to persecute and prosecute people who didn’t break U.S. law. Of course not (at least I hope not!).

Or what if the Chinese government requested the extradition of Tiananmen Square protesters who fled to the United States? Again, I would hope the federal government would say to go jump in a lake because it’s not a crime in America to believe in free speech.

I could provide dozens of additional examples, but I assume you get the point. Nations only cooperate with each other when they share the same laws (and the same values, including due process legal protections).

This is why Wegelin is not cooperating with the United States government, and this is why genuine patriots who believe in the rule of law should be on the side of the “fugitive.”

For further information, here’s a video I narrated on tax competition.

The moral of the story is that “tough on crime” is the right approach, but only when laws are just. At the risk of stating the obvious, the internal revenue code does not meet that test – especially when the IRS is trying to enforce it in a grossly improper extraterritorial fashion.

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What’s the worst policy idea that would cause the most damage to society?

I’m tempted to say the value-added tax since our hopes of restraining the federal government will be greatly undermined if we give the buffoons in Washington a new source of revenue. Indeed, this is one of the reasons why Mitt Romney may be an ever greater long-term threat to American exceptionalism than Barack Obama.

But even though the VAT is fiscal poison, it’s not the most dangerous policy proposal.

At the top of my list is global taxation.

I wrote in 2010 about some of the awful global tax schemes being pushed by the United Nations. And I also noted that unrepentant statists such as George Soros are pimping for global taxation.

I even wrote a paper back in 2001 to explain why global taxes are such a bad idea.

The details of the tax don’t matter. It’s the principle.

A supra-national taxing authority inevitably would mean bigger government and more statism. As such, it doesn’t matter whether the new global tax is imposed on financial transactions, carbon emissions, tobacco, the Internet, munitions, foreign exchange, pollution permits, energy, or airline tickets.

And the statists are not giving up. Here are passages from a news report on their latest scheme.

…civil society leaders demanded a basic level of social security as they promoted a “social protection floor” at a preparatory forum for the Commission on Social Development, which began Feb. 1. The focus of the forum was “universal access to basic social protection and social services.” “No one should live below a certain income level,” stated Milos Koterec, President of the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. “Everyone should be able to access at least basic health services, primary education, housing, water, sanitation and other essential services.” These services were presented at the forum as basic human rights equal to the rights of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” The money to fund these services may come from a new world tax. “We will need a modest but long-term way to finance this transformation,” stated Jens Wandel, Deputy Director of the United Nations Development Program. “One idea which we could consider is a minimal financial transaction tax (of .005 percent). This will create $40 billion in revenue.” “It is absolutely essential to establish controls on capital movements and financial speculation,” said Ambassador Jorge Valero, the current Chairman of the Commission on Social Development. He called for “progressive policies of taxation” that would require “those who earn more to pay more taxes.” Valero’s speech to the forum focused on capitalism as the source of the world financial problems.

This is unfettered statism, class warfare, and redistributionism, which is what you might expect from proponents of global taxation. But the part that really stands out is the assertion that government should guarantee a “certain income level” with freebies for things such as healthcare and housing.

If this sounds familiar, you probably saw the post about Franklin Roosevelt’s authoritarian proposal for a “Second Bill of Rights” that would guarantee “rights” to jobs, recreation, housing, good health, and security.

Remember, though, that whenever a leftist asserts the right to be given something, that person simultaneously and necessarily is demanding a right to take from someone else. This is why I deliberately chose to call the proposal authoritarian.

But I’m digressing. Let’s get back to the issue of global taxation.

The most important thing to understand is that leftists want global taxation. To get the ball rolling, they’ll take any tax for any purpose. They simply want to get the camel’s nose under the tent.

Once the precedent of global taxation has been established, then it’s a relatively simple matter for politicians to augment the first levy with additional taxes. Perhaps the camel analogy would be more accurate if we referred to some other part of the animal and warned that taxpayers won’t be happy when they learn where it’s going to be inserted.

The bad news is that some American politicians already have endorsed this scheme, most notably Nancy Pelosi, the former Speaker of the House.

But the good news is that global taxation is a toxic issue, which means politicians who have to get votes from non-crazy people are very reluctant to support taxing powers for the United Nations or any other entity. President Obama, for instance, already has rejected some global tax proposals and his Administration has been resisting other European proposals for global taxation.

But don’t be deluded into thinking the White House actually is good on these issues. This is the Administration, after all, that avidly supports a scheme from an American-funded Paris-based bureaucracy that would result in something akin to an international tax organization. Same bad concept, but different approach.

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I sometimes make fun of the English, for reasons ranging from asinine laws to milquetoast politicians to horrid healthcare policy.

But at least some U.K. elected officials are willing to stand up for tax competition and fiscal sovereignty by defending low-tax jurisdictions. In previous posts, I’ve applauded Dan Hannan and Godfrey Bloom for great speeches at the European Parliament.

There are also some sensible people in the U.K. Parliament, most notably Mark Field.

Here are some excerpts from an article in the U.K.-based Telegraph.

A conservative MP has spoken out in defence of tax havens and against what he called “a one-sided debate that demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding of their role in the global financial market”. …In an attempt to balance the “one-sided” debate on international finance centres (IFCs), Mr Field…advised the UK government to think twice before imposing more regulation on these jurisdictions. …In a bid to dismiss the age-old belief that tax havens attract investors purely because of their tax regimes, Mr Field argued that it is a combination of their political stability, familiar legal systems, quality of service, lack of foreign exchange controls, and tax and legal neutrality that make them ideal locations to deposit money.The current financial crisis, he continued, had more to do with poor regulation and mistakes made onshore rather than offshore, and if the EU pressed ahead with its intention to harmonise tax systems across international borders “it could potentially represent the end for healthy tax competition… Tax harmonisation and cooperation, added Mr Field, was simply Brussels-speak for exporting high tax models on continental Europe to low tax jurisdictions.

These issues are just as relevant for the United States, but how many American politicians stand up and defend free markets and jurisdictional competition as a means of restraining the political predators in Washington?

I’m re-posting my video on The Economic Case for Tax Havens below, for those who haven’t seen it. But I also want to call your attention to this chart from the Treasury Department.

You’ll have to click and enlarge it. You’ll see that it shows the amount of capital invested in America from various parts of the world. The “C” category shows that more money is invested in America via Caribbean banking centers such as the Cayman Islands than from any other source.

And this is just one type of foreign investment. As I’ve explained elsewhere, foreigners have more than $10 trillion invested in the U.S. economy, in part because the United States is a tax haven for foreign investors.

So when Obama climbs into bed with the Europeans to push a global network of tax police, he’s pushing policies that ultimately will do great damage to American competitiveness.

Let’s close by returning to the original theme of wise and astute Englishmen. If you want a good defense of tax competition and tax havens, read what Allister Heath wrote last year.

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I’m not a fan of international bureaucracies.

I’ve criticized the United Nations for wanting global taxes. I’ve condemned the International Monetary Fund for promoting bigger government. I’ve even excoriated the largely unknown Basel Committee on Banking Supervision for misguided regulations that contributed to the financial crisis.

But the worse international bureaucracy, at least when measured on a per-dollar-spent basis, has to be the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

OECD Headquarters: Living the good life at US expense

American taxpayers finance nearly one-fourth of the OECD’s budget, at a cost of more than $100 million per year, and in exchange we get a never-ending stream of bad policy recommendations.

This Center for Freedom and Prosperity study has all the gory details. The OECD bureaucrats (who get tax-free salaries, by the way) endorsed Obamacare, supported the failed stimulus, and are big advocates of a value-added tax for America.

What’s especially frustrating is that the OECD initially was designed to be a relatively innocuous bureaucracy that focused on statistics. Indeed, it was even viewed as a free-market counterpart to the Soviet Bloc’s Council for Mutual Economic Assistance.

My, how things change.

Perhaps the most odious example of bad OECD policy is the campaign against tax competition. Beginning during the 1990s, the OECD has attacked low-tax jurisdiction for the supposed crime of having good tax laws that attract jobs and capital from high-tax nations such as France and Greece.

So why did the OECD launch this project to prop up Europe’s welfare states?  The answer can be found in an excellent new study from Professor Andrew Morriss at the University of Alabama Law School and Lotta Moberg, a Ph.D student in economics at George Mason University.

It’s a publication designed for academic journals, but it avoids jargon and gibberish, so a regular person can read and understand how the OECD has morphed from a harmless (though presumably still wasteful) bureaucracy into a force for global statism. Here are some of the key findings in the study.

…this transition was in part the result of entrepreneurship by a group of OECD staff, who spotted an opportunity to expand their mission, bringing with it a concomitant increase in resources and prestige. They accomplished this by providing a framework for interests within a group of high tax states to create a cartel that would channel competition in tax policy away from areas where those states had a competitive disadvantage and toward areas in which they had a competitive advantage. …These states then sought to restrict tax competition, which in turn required them to create a means of delegitimizing such competition and by preventing each other from defecting from the cartel by lowering tax rates unilaterally. …The French…realized that single-country financial controls were unworkable within a global financial system.

In other words, the bureaucrats at the OECD and governments from decrepit welfare states like France both saw a benefit in creating a tax cartel.

This “OPEC for politicians” is grossly contrary to good tax policy, international comity, and national sovereignty. But those factors didn’t matter.

Unfortunately, it’s quite likely that we will see further schemes from the OECD and other international bureaucracies. The politicians have learned that transnational cartels increase their power.

…the evolution of the OECD from a facilitator of economic competition to a cartel enforcer represents something new in international organization behavior. …The cartelization of tax policy is an important effort to hold off the impact of the forces unleashed by competition on a more level playing field, but it is certainly not the only one. …If the opportunity is provided, it may be better from a politician’s point of view to form a cartel on taxation as a protection. With a cartel, there are fewer constraints on domestic policy, improving the politicians’ welfare by increasing the degrees of freedom available to satisfy domestic constituents and win re-election.

This video has more information on why the OECD is contrary to the interests of American taxpayers.

Needless to say, it is outrageous that the politicians in Washington are sending more than $100 million to Paris every year to subsidize this bureaucracy. For all intents and purposes, we are being coerced into paying for a bunch of European bureaucrats so they can then advocate even bigger government in the United States.

And those bureaucrats get tax-free salaries why pushing for higher taxes for the rest of us!

Can anyone think of a more destructive item in the federal budget, at least when measured on a per-dollar-spent basis? I can’t. That’s why I’ve been fighting the OECD for years, even to the point that the bureaucrats threatened to put me in a Mexican jail for the “crime” of standing in the public lobby of a public hotel.

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Being the world’s self-appointed defender of so-called tax havens has led to some rather bizarre episodes.

The bureaucrats at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development threatened to have me thrown in a Mexican jail for the horrible crime of standing in the public lobby of a hotel and giving advice to low-tax jurisdictions.

On a more amusing note, my efforts to defend tax havens made me the beneficiary of grade inflation and I was listed as the 244th most important person in the world of global  finance – even higher than George Soros and Paul Krugman.

But if that makes it seem as if the battle is full of drama and (exaggerated) glory, that would be a gross exaggeration. More than 99 percent of my time on this issue is consumed by the difficult task of trying to convince policy makers that tax competition, fiscal sovereignty, and financial privacy should be celebrated rather than persecuted.

Sort of like convincing thieves that it’s a good idea for houses to have alarm systems.

And it means I’m also condemned to the never-ending chore of debunking left-wing attacks on tax havens. The big-government crowd viscerally despises these jurisdictions because tax competition threatens the ability of politicians to engage in class warfare/redistribution policies.

Here’s a typical example. Paul Vallely has a column, entitled “There is no moral case for tax havens,” in the UK-based Independent.

To determine whether tax havens are immoral, let’s peruse Mr. Vallely’s column. It begins with an attack on Ugland House in the Cayman Islands.

There is a building in the Cayman Islands that is home to 12,000 corporations. It must be a very big building. Or a very big tax scam.

If lying is immoral, this is a quick black mark on Mr. Vallely rather than tax havens. I’ve already explained, in a post eviscerating an empty-suit Senator from North Dakota, 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.

In other words, there is nothing nefarious about Ugland House, just as there is nothing wrong with the small building in Delaware that is home to more than 200,000 companies. Obama, by the way, demagogued about Ugland House during the 2008 campaign.

Now that we’ve established that the author is a careless and know-nothing hack, let’s see what else he has to say.

Are there any legitimate reasons why anyone would want to have a secret bank account – and pay a premium to maintain their anonymity – or move their money to one of the pink dots on the map which are the final remnants of the British empire: the Caymans, Bermuda, the Turks and Caicos and the British Virgin Islands?

Actually, there are lots of people who have very compelling reasons to keep their money in havens, and only a tiny minority of them are escaping onerous tax burdens.What about:

o Jews in North Africa and the Middle East?

o Persecuted ethnic Chinese in Indonesia and the Philippines?

o Political dissidents in places such as Russia and Venezuela?

o Entrepreneurs in thug regimes such as Venezuela and Zimbabwe?

o Families threatened by kidnapping failed states such as Mexico?

o Homosexuals in murderous regimes such as Iran?

As this video explains, there are billions of people around the world that are subject to state-sanctioned (or at least state-permitted) religious, ethnic, racial, political, sexual, and economic persecution. These people are especially likely to be targeted if they have any money, so the ability to invest their assets offshore and keep that information hidden from venal governments can, in some cases, be a life-or-death matter.

And let’s not forget the residents of failed states, where crime, expropriation, kidnapping, corruption, extortion, and economic mismanagement are ubiquitous. These people also need havens where they can safely and confidentially invest their money.

The author of the column is probably oblivious to these practical, real-world concerns. Instead, he is content with sweeping proclamations.

The moral case against is clear enough. Tax havens epitomise unfairness, cheating and injustice. .

But if he is against unfairness, cheating, and injustice, why does he want to empower the institution – government – that is the source of oppression in the world?

To be fair, our left-wing friend does attempt to address the other side of the argument.

Apologists insist that tax havens protect individual liberty. They promote the accumulation of capital, fair competition between nations and better tax law elsewhere in the world. They also foster economic growth. …Yet even if all that were true – and it is not – does it outweigh the ethical harm they do? The numbered bank accounts of tax havens are notoriously sanctuaries for the spoils of theft, fraud, bribery, terrorism, drug-dealing, illegal betting, money-laundering and plunder by Arab despots such as Gaddafi, Mubarak and Ben Ali, all of whom had Swiss accounts frozen.

But he can’t resist trying to discredit the economic argument by resorting to more demagoguery, asserting that tax havens are shadowy regimes. Not surprisingly, he offers no supporting data. Moreover, you won’t be surprised to learn that the real-world evidence directly contradicts what he wrote. The most comprehensive analysis of dirty money finds 28 problem jurisdictions, and only one could be considered a tax haven.

Last but not least, the author addresses the issue that really motivates the left – the potential loss of access to other people’s money, funds that they want the government to confiscate and redistribute.

Christian Aid reckons that tax dodging costs developing countries at least $160bn a year – far more than they receive in aid. The US research centre Integrity estimated that more than $1.2trn drained out of poor countries illicitly in 2008 alone. …Some say an attack on tax havens is an attack on wealth creation. It is no such thing. It is a demand for the good functioning of capitalism, balancing the demands of efficiency and of justice, and placing a value on social harmony.

There are several problems with this passage, including the (perhaps deliberate) mixing of tax evasion and tax avoidance. But the key point is that the burden of government spending in most nations is now at record levels, undermining prosperity and reducing growth. Why should add more fuel to the fire by giving politicians even more money to waste?

Let’s now shift from the inaccurate ramblings of a left-winger to some real-world evidence. The Wall Street Journal has an article on the Canton of Zug, Switzerland’s tax haven within a tax haven. This hopefully won’t surprise anyone, but low-tax policies have been very beneficial for Zug.

Developed nations from Japan to America are desperate for growth, but this tiny lake-filled Swiss canton is wrestling with a different problem: too much of it. Zug’s history of rock-bottom tax rates, for individuals and corporations alike, has brought it an A-list of multinational businesses. Luxury shops abound, government coffers are flush, and there are so many jobs that employers sometimes have a hard time finding people to fill them. …If Switzerland is the world’s most famous tax haven, Zug amounts to a haven within a haven.

Here’s some of the evidence of how better fiscal policy promotes prosperity. This is economic data, to be sure, but isn’t the choice between growth and stagnation also a moral issue?

Zug long was a poor farming region, but in 1947 its leaders began to trim tax rates in an effort to attract companies and the well-heeled. In Switzerland, two-thirds of total taxes, including individual and corporate income taxes, are levied by the cantons, not the central government. The cantons also wield other powers that enable them compete for business, such as the authority to make residency and building permits easy to get. …businesses moved in, many establishing regional headquarters. Over the past decade, the number of companies with operations of some sort in the canton jumped to 30,000 from 19,000. The number of jobs in Zug rose 20% in six years, driven by the economic boom and foreign companies’ efforts to minimize their taxes. At a time when the unemployment rate in the European Union (to which Switzerland doesn’t belong) is 9.4%, Zug’s is 1.9%.

It turns out that Zug is growing so fast that lawmakers actually want to discourage more investment. What a nice problem to have.

Describing Zug’s development as “astonishing,” Matthias Michel, the head of the canton government, said, “We are too small for the success we have had.” …Zug has largely stopped trying to lure more multinationals, according to Mr. Michel.

Its worth pointing out that the residents of Zug are not some sort of anomaly. The rest of Switzerland is filled with people who recognize the value of limited government.

…the Swiss are mostly holding fast to their fiscal beliefs. Last November, in a national referendum, they overwhelmingly rejected a proposal that would have established a minimum 22% tax rate on incomes over 250,000 francs, or about $315,000.

Sadly, even though the world is filled with evidence that smaller government is good for prosperity (and even more evidence that big government is bad for growth), statism is not abating.

Indeed, the left’s anti-tax haven campaign continues to gain steam. At a recent OECD meeting, high-tax nations (with the support of the Obama Administration) put in place a bureaucratic monstrosity that is likely to become a world tax organization.

This global tax cartel will be akin to an OPEC for politicians, and the impact on taxpayers will be quite similar to the impact of the real OPEC on motorists.

If that’s a moral outcome, then I want to be a hedonist.

To conclude, here are two other videos on tax havens. This one looks at the economic issues.

And here’s a video debunking some of the usual attacks on low-tax jurisdictions.

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I’ve been battling the Organization for Economic Cooperation for years, ever since the Paris-based bureaucracy unveiled its “harmful tax competition” project in the late 1990s. Controlled by Europe’s high-tax welfare states, the OECD wants to prop up the fiscal systems of nations such as Greece and France by hindering the flow of jobs and capital to low-tax jurisdictions.

Guided by a radical theory known as Capital Export Neutrality, the OECD wants to impose global tax rules that would prevent taxpayers from ever having the ability to benefit from better tax law in other jurisdictions. This is why, for instance, the international bureaucrats are anxious to undermine national tax laws – such as America’s favorable treatment of bank deposits from overseas – that enable foreigners to escape onerous tax regimes.

Bolstered by support from the Obama Administration, the OECD now is taking its campaign to the next level. At its Global Tax Forum in Bermuda, which ends later today, the bureaucrats unveiled a new scheme that effectively would result in the creation of something akin to a World Tax Organization.

The vehicle for this effort is a Multilateral Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters. This may sound dry and technical, but the OECD wants all nations to participate in this pact, which has existed for a couple of decades but was radically expanded last year to give high-tax governments sweeping new powers to impose bad tax law on income generated in low-tax jurisdictions.

But the real smoking gun is that the OECD has put itself in charge of a “co-ordinating body” that will have enormous powers to interpret the agreement, modify the pact, and resolve disputes – thus giving itself the ability to serve as judge, jury, and executioner.

This is a profoundly dangerous development with all sorts of very troubling implications. Since I’m in Bermuda trying to destabilize this effort, I don’t have time for extensive analysis, but here’s a press release from the Center for Freedom and Prosperity and here are some of my immediate concerns.

    1. Higher tax burdens. If high-tax governments succeed is imposing this Multilateral Convention (insert “World Tax Organization” whenever you see that term), tax competition will be undermined and politicians will respond by increasing tax burdens. This is why nations such as France have been pushing this scheme, of course, and why left-wing academics have long dreamed of this type of arrangement.

    2. Risk to human rights. Amazingly, the Multilateral Convention is open to repressive regimes, which then would have access to all sorts of sensitive and confidential taxpayer information. Already, the thuggish dictatorship of Azerbaijan has signed up, as well as the unstable nation of Moldova and the corrupt government of Mexico. The implications are grim, including the sale of private data to criminal gangs, the loss of sensitive information to hackers, and the direct misuse of American tax returns.

    3. Loss of sovereignty. For all intents and purposes, the Multilateral Convention outlaws certain pro-growth tax policies and discourages others. Equally worrisome, it creates a system allowing foreign tax collectors to cross borders. The Obama Administration has specifically acquiesced to this provision, so perhaps we will soon see corrupt Mexican tax authorities harassing businesses and individuals on American soil.

    4. Outlawing tax avoidance. The OECD historically has tried to portray its efforts as a fight against tax evasion, but the Multilateral Convention explicitly talks about “combating tax avoidance.” This should not be a surprise since the Capital Export Neutrality ideology is based on the notion that taxpayers should have zero ability to lower their tax burdens. This means we can fully expect an assault on all forms of tax planning, with American companies almost sure to be among the first to be in the OECD’s crosshairs.

The final insult to injury is that American taxpayers are the biggest funders of the OECD, providing nearly one-fourth of the bureaucracy’s bloated budget. So our tax dollars are being used by OECD bureaucrats (who receive tax-free salaries!) to dream up new ways of increasing our tax burdens. In case you need any additional reasons to despise this bureaucracy, here’s a video detailing its anti-free market activities.

And since I’m recycling some videos, here’s one explaining why tax competition is so important.

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I’m back in Bermuda, but not for sun and fun. Instead, I’m like the little Dutch boy with his finger in the dike as part of my ongoing effort to thwart high-tax nations in their attacks against tax competition and tax havens at the “Global Tax Forum” of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

There are some really horrifying developments at the this meeting, most notably the genesis of an International Tax Organization. I’m in the midst of analyzing this wretched proposal, which has the full support of the Obama Treasury Department folks at the conference, so hopefully I’ll be able to post something later today.

In the meantime, here are two videos I just found, featuring a British member of the European Parliament talking about the issue of tax competition. Unlike most politicians, he has the right view of the issue. This one was just released.

And here’s one from last year.

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One of the biggest threats against global prosperity is the anti-tax competition project of a Paris-based international bureaucracy known as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The OECD, acting at the behest of the European welfare states that dominate its membership, wants the power to tell nations (including the United States!) what is acceptable tax policy.

I’ve previously explained why the OECD is a problematic institution – especially since American taxpayers are forced to squander about $100 million per year to support the parasitic bureaucracy.

For all intents and purposes, high-tax nations want to create a global tax cartel, sort of an “OPEC for politicians.” This issue is increasingly important since politicians from those countries realize that all their overspending has created a fiscal crisis and they are desperate to figure out new ways of imposing higher tax rates. I don’t exaggerate when I say that stopping this sinister scheme is absolutely necessary for the future of liberty.

Along with Brian Garst of the Center for Freedom and Prosperity, I just wrote a paper about these issues. The timing is especially important because of an upcoming “Global Forum” where the OECD will try to advance its mission to prop up uncompetitive welfare states. Here’s the executive summary, but I encourage you to peruse the entire paper for lots of additional important info.

The Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has an ongoing anti-tax competition project. This effort is designed to prop up inefficient welfare states in the industrialized world, thus enabling those governments to impose heavier tax burdens without having to fear that labor and capital will migrate to jurisdictions with better tax law. This project received a boost a few years ago when the Obama Administration joined forces with countries such as France and Germany, which resulted in all low-tax jurisdictions agreeing to erode their human rights policies regarding financial privacy. The tide is now turning against high-tax nations – particularly as more people understand that ever-increasing fiscal burdens inevitably lead to Greek-style fiscal collapse. Political changes in the United States further complicate the OECD’s ability to impose bad policy. Because of these developments, low-tax jurisdictions should be especially resistant to new anti-tax competition initiatives at the Bermuda Global Forum.

To understand why this issue is so important, here’s a video I narrated for the Center for Freedom and Prosperity.

And here’s a shorter video on the same subject, narrated by Natasha Montague from Americans for Tax Reform.

Last but not least, here’s a video where I explain why the OECD is a big waste of money for American taxpayers.

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Regular readers know that I’m a big fan of tax competition because politicians are less likely to misbehave if the potential victims of plunder have the ability to escape across borders.

Here is an excerpt from a superb article by Allister Heath, one of the U.K.’s best writers on economic and business issues.

In a modern, global and open world, states have to compete for people. Weirdly, that is something that a large number of commentators have failed to recognise… They assume implicitly that governments remain quasi-monopolies, as was the case throughout most of human history, with citizens mere subjects forced to put up with poor public services, high taxes, crime, misgovernment and a poor quality of life. Yet the reality is that there is now more competition than ever between governments for human capital, with people – especially the highly skilled and the successful – more footloose and mobile than ever before. This is true both within the EU, where freedom of movement reins, and globally. …competition between governments is as good for individuals as competition between firms is for consumers. It keeps down tax rates, especially on labour and capital, which is good for growth and job creation; states need to produce better services at the cheapest possible cost. And if governments become too irritating or incompetent, it allows an exit strategy. It is strange how pundits who claim to want greater competition in the domestic economy – for example, in banking – are so afraid of competition for people between states, decrying it as a race to the bottom. Yet monopolies are always bad, in every sphere of human endeavour, breeding complacency, curtailing innovation and throttling progress. …Globalisation is not just about buying cheap Chinese goods: it also limits the state’s powers to over-tax or over-control its citizens.

For those who haven’t seen them before, here are a couple of my videos that elaborate on these critical issues.

First, here’s a video on tax competition, which includes some well-deserved criticism of international bureaucracies and high-tax nations that are seeking to create global tax cartels.

Here’s a video that makes a powerful economic case for tax havens.

But this is not just an economic issue. Here’s a video that addresses the moral issues and explains why tax havens play a critical role in protecting people subject to persecution by venal governments – as well as people living in nations plagued by crime and instability.

And last but not least, this video punctures some of the myths promoted by the anti-tax haven advocates of global tax cartels.

By the way, since the main purpose of this post is to draw your attention to the superb analysis of a British writer, I may as well close by drawing your attention to a couple of speeches by Dan Hannan, a British member of the European Parliament. In a remarkably limited time, he explains what this battle is all about.

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Here’s a new mini-documentary from the Center for Freedom and Prosperity, narrated by Natasha Montague of Americans for Tax Reform, that explains why the process of tax competition is a critical constraint on the propensity of governments to over-tax and over-spend.

The issue is very simple. When labor and capital have the ability to escape bad policy by moving across borders, politicians are more likely to realize that it is foolish to impose high tax rates. And they oftentimes compete for jobs and investment by lowering tax rates. This virtuous form of rivalry helps explain why so many nations in recent years have lowered tax rates and adopted simple and fair flat tax systems.

Another great feature of the video is the series of quotes from winners of the Nobel Prize. These economists all recognize competition between governments is just as desirable as competition between banks, pet stores, and supermarkets.

The video also discusses how politicians are attacking tax competition. It mentions a privacy-eroding scheme concocted by governors to tax out-of-state purchases (how dare consumers buy online and avoid state sales tax!).

And it also discusses a very destructive tax harmonization effort by a Paris-based bureaucracy (the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, subsidized with American tax dollars!), which would undermine fiscal sovereignty by punishing jurisdictions that adopt pro-growth tax systems that attract labor and capital.

The issues discussed in this video generally don’t get a lot of attention, but they are critical for the long-run battle to restrain government. Please share widely.

P.S. This speech by Florida’s new Governor is a good example of how tax competition encourages governments to do the right thing.

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There’s a supposed expose in the U.K.-based Daily Mail about how major British companies have subsidiaries in low-tax jurisdictions. It even includes this table with the ostensibly shocking numbers.

This is quite akin to the propaganda issued by American statists. Here’s a table from a report issued by a left-wing group that calls itself “Business and Investors Against Tax Haven Abuse.”

At the risk of being impolite, I’ll ask the appropriate rhetorical question: What do these tables mean?

Are the leftists upset that multinational companies exist? If so, there’s really no point in having a discussion.

Are they angry that these firms are legally trying to minimize tax? If so, they must not understand that management has a fiduciary obligation to maximize after-tax returns for shareholders.

Are they implying that these businesses are cheating on their tax returns? If so, they clearly do not understand the difference between tax avoidance and tax evasion.

Are they agitating for governments to impose worldwide taxation so that companies are double-taxed on any income earned (and already subject to tax) in other jurisdictions? If so, they should forthrightly admit this is their goal, notwithstanding the destructive, anti-competitive impact of such a policy.

Or, perhaps, could it be the case that leftists on both sides of the Atlantic don’t like tax competition? But rather than openly argue for tax harmonization and other policies that would lead to higher taxes and a loss of fiscal sovereignty, they think they will have more luck expanding the power of government by employing demagoguery against the big, bad, multinational companies and small, low-tax jurisdictions.

To give these statists credit, they are being smart. Tax competition almost certainly is the biggest impediment that now exists to restrain big government. Greedy politicians understand that high taxes may simply lead the geese with the golden eggs to fly across the border. Indeed, competition between governments is surely the main reason that tax rates have dropped so dramatically in the past 30 years. This video explains.

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Regular readers know that I am a tireless advocate for tax competition, which exists when governments are encouraged to adopt better tax policy in order to attract/retain jobs and investment. In other words, I want governments to compete with each other because that leads to better policy, just as we get better results as consumers when banks, pet stores, hairdressers, and grocery stores compete with each other.

There is powerful evidence that tax competition has generated very good results in the past 30 years. Top personal income tax rates averaged more than 67 percent back in 1980, but thanks in large part to tax competition, the average top tax rate on individuals has fallen to about 41 percent. Corporate tax rates also have dropped dramatically, from an average of around 48 percent (this data is not as easy to pin down) in 1980 to 25 percent today. And we now have more than 30 flat tax nations today, compared to just 3 in 1980.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that greedy politicians don’t like being constrained by tax competition. Politicians didn’t lower tax rates because they wanted to. They only made their tax systems better because they were afraid that jobs and investment would escape to lower-tax jurisdictions. They resent the fact that tax competition makes it hard to engage in class-warfare tax policy.

That’s why many of these politicians are seeking to replace tax competition with some sort of tax cartel. They want to impose rules on the entire world that will make it hard for taxpayers to benefit from better tax policy in another jurisdiction. In effect, they want some form of tax harmonization, which would create an “OPEC for politicians.” And just as the real OPEC extracts more money from energy consumers, a tax cartel would grab more money from taxpayers.

One aspect of this battle is the way proponents of higher taxes try to demonize so-called tax havens. Many of these jurisdictions are very small, but the smart ones nonetheless defend themselves against the attacks coming from the world’s major welfare states. Here’s a good example. Tony Travers of Cayman Finance, the association representing the financial services industry in the Cayman Islands, recently spoke about the left’s campaign against low-tax jurisdictions.

Travers said he believed the widespread negativity was part of well organised and powerful public relations campaigns driven by onshore Treasury, and supranational and domestic regulatory bodies. British politicians such as Emma Reynolds and former Prime Minister Gordon Brown and even US President Barack Obama were, he said, examples of politicians that were “blame deflecting … and anxious to obfuscate the failures of their domestic regulatory systems … by suggesting that in some way it is the tax or regulatory system of the offshore financial centre that is at fault.” He claimed the problems they were trying to conceal by their demonisation of offshore centres had their source onshore. He described various socialist activist movements, such as the trade unions, major charities such as Oxfam, and Travers arch nemesis, Richard Murphy of the Tax Justice Network as the “Tax Taliban” .

This fight is occurring at all levels. A new scholarly study from the Instituto Bruno Leoni in Italy digs into the academic debate about tax competition. Written by Dalibor Rohác of London’s Legatum Institute, the report debunks the argument that tax competition somehow is economically inefficient.

The first common argument is that tax competition distorts the allocation of mobile factors of production across countries. The second argument recurrent in the literature says that tax competition can reduce tax revenue and endanger the stability of public finances. The troublesome feature of both of these arguments is that they start from the assumption of government benevolence and omniscience. For instance, the first argument presupposes that the initial allocation of capital between the two countries was optimal and that tax competition is driving it away from the optimum. Likewise, the second argument implicitly assumes that the initial amount raised in taxes corresponded to some well-defined social optimum and therefore that tax competition drives revenue below that optimal level. Hence neither of these arguments holds in the light of basic public choice theory which convincingly demonstrates that governments do have a tendency to overspend and overtax.

Rohác cleverly exposes the other side’s statist agenda. He explains that their main argument is based on the idea that different tax rates in different nations will lead to an inefficient allocation of investment. He then points out that there is a pro-growth way and an anti-growth way of dealing with this supposed problem.

…if the problem of capital misallocation is caused by differences in tax rates among countries, than introducing a maximal rate is a solution that would be equally appropriate. …tax competition might well offer a solution to the alleged problem of misallocation of capital caused by tax differentials. If tax competition was a “race to the bottom,” then the final outcome would actually be a tax rate harmonized across countries and harmonized at a rate of zero per cent, thus eliminating capital tax distortions altogether.

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It’s been amusing, in an I-told-you-so fashion, to follow the fiscal crises in Greece, Spain, and other European welfare states.And I feel like a voyeuristic ghoul as I observe the incredibly misguided bailout policies being adopted by the political elites (who are trying to bail out the business elites who made silly loans to corrupt nations in Southern Europe). But I’m not sure how to describe my emotions (dumbfounded fascination?) about the latest bad idea emanating from Europe – to have a fiscal federation that would give bureaucrats in Brussels power over national budgets. It’s quite possible that this would result in some externally-imposed discipline for a basket case such as Greece, so it would not always lead to terrible results. But most of the decisions would be bad, particularly since the Euro-crats would use new powers to curtail tax competition in order to enhance the ability of governments to impose bad tax policy in order to seize more money. Moreover, fiscal centralization would exacerbate the main problem in Europe by creating a new avenue – cross-border subsidies – for people who want to mooch by getting access to other people’s money. The Wall Street Journal Europe has a good editorial on the issue:
Of all the possible responses to Europe’s sovereign debt woes, the notion of centralizing fiscal authority in Brussels may well be the most destructive. But that was exactly what European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet proposed in testimony before the European Parliament Monday. Mr. Trichet’s idea is that an independent body within the European Commission should have broad power to sanction national governments for fiscal or macroeconomic policies that threatened the stability of the euro. This would amount, in Mr. Trichet’s words, to the “equivalent of a fiscal federation” for the euro zone. Mr. Trichet has spent nearly 40 years as a civil servant in one form or another, which may explain his belief that Europe’s budgetary problems can be solved by technocrats. …Fiscal centralization would also undermine competition between different fiscal and macroeconomic policies within the euro zone. That would delight some countries, and probably some at the European Commission as well. During this crisis, French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde has criticized Germany for becoming too competitive for the euro zone’s own good. And a decade ago, France was among the euro-zone countries that attacked Ireland for lowering its corporate income-tax rate to 12.5% to attract investment. …Ireland’s 12.5% corporate tax rate was an experiment that contributed to a lowering of rates around the world in the succeeding years.

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One of my main issues at the Cato Institute (and one of the reasons I was a founder of the Center for Freedom and Prosperity) is protecting and promoting fiscal sovereignty. I don’t want international bureaucracies such as the United Nations or Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development telling nations what kind of tax systems they’re allowed to have – especially since those bureaucracies want to undermine tax competition in order to prop up high-tax welfare states. While I realize international tax issues are not that exciting, there is an excellent column in the Wall Street Journal Europe that shows the negative impact when nations (in this case, the United States) seek to tax economic activity in other nations. When foreigners no longer want to invest in America and when Americans are compelled into giving up U.S. citizenship, that’s a sign of a bad tax code:

American expatriates are fast becoming the world’s financial refugees. Onerous legislation from the U.S. government is making it too difficult – and too expensive – for banks to service U.S. citizens that live abroad. …An increasing number are taking the most drastic step and renouncing their citizenship. …bankers, lawyers and accountants are waking up to the wider implications of the new rules. American expats, it seems, may only be the first to suffer. …Foreign banks are, in effect, being asked to act as the international enforcement arms of the Internal Revenue Service. Those banks that don’t comply will be subject to a 30% withholding tax on all payments made to them in the U.S. Many banks and wealth managers have decided it is far easier to politely show their U.S. clients the door. Earlier this month, the law firm Withers conducted a survey of bankers, accountants, independent financial advisers, trust companies and other private client advisors to analyze the impact of the HIRE Act. Over half said they have seen instances where Americans were denied investment and banking services in the last two years. And 95% expect this to increase as a result of the HIRE Act. …The U.S. government already taxes expatriate citizens on their worldwide income regardless of where it is earned or where they live, making them the only people in the developed world who are taxed in both their country of citizenship and country of residence. …there has been an explosion in the time it takes us to keep U.S. expat clients compliant with the U.S. tax regime. He says that their bills have “at least doubled” in the past couple of years. …A number of banks decided that the concept of U.S. citizenship was too nebulous for them to police. Darlene Hart, the chief executive of U.S. Tax & Financial Services says that when the rule came out in 2001 many of her U.S. clients received letters from their wealth managers telling them that their investment portfolios had been liquidated. Now a second wave of banks – especially in Switzerland but increasingly in the UK and the Channel Islands – are closing their doors to Americans because of the added burden of the HIRE Act. …What then are U.S. expats to do if even more banks cut them adrift as a result of those reviews? A small but growing number have decided that the best way to avoid the rules is to hand in their passports. According to U.S. government figures, twice as many Americans renounced their citizenship in the last quarter of 2009 than in the whole of 2008. The numbers are still only in the hundreds but are expected to rise now that the HIRE Act has been signed. Ms. Hart says the last time she checked it was not possible to get an appointment at the U.S. embassy in London to renounce citizenship until 2012. In Bern, you couldn’t get an appointment until June next year. …Those that don’t want to take such a drastic step can move their investments back to the U.S. However, this can be tricky without an address in the U.S. because of the Patriot Act, which tightened up the procedures by which banks verify their clients’ identities. …although it is the U.S. expats that are suffering the most at the moment, the impact of the new law could eventually be felt far more widely. The banks that sign up to the new rules are likely to pay for the required upgrades to their systems by increasing the bank fees for their rest of their customers. And eventually the reverberations from the HIRE Act may also be felt back in the U.S. …Nearly three-quarters of respondents to the Withers survey said they expected to see investment into the U.S. decrease in the coming years because of the HIRE Act. Wegelin & Co. is, for one, advising its clients to exit all direct investments in U.S. securities.

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I think it is very nice when left-wing groups help make the case for pro-market policies A recent example is a report from the Center for International Policy, which wants to demonize so-called tax havens, but their report shows that the United States is actually the biggest beneficiary of tax haven policies, with more than $2 trillion of non-resident deposits in American financial institutions (the Cayman Islands is in second place, with $1.55 trillion of deposits compared to $2.18 trillion in the U.S.). This augments a report from another left-wing group, which found that Delaware is the world’s best tax haven. In other words, America’s tax haven policies (sadly, only available to non-resident aliens) are enormously beneficial to U.S. financial markets, which means capital that boosts investment and job creation. It’s also worth noting that even non-U.S. tax havens benefit the American economy. As this Treasury Department chart illustrates, Caribbean banking centers have about $2 trillion invested in the U.S. economy. The left-wing groups would like to destroy tax competition and set up a global tax cartel, sort of an “OPEC for politicians,” but the numbers they report underscore how important it is for American policymakers to preserve the open flow of capital and why tax havens are great news for the U.S. economy. Which is exactly what we argued in our video on the Economic Case for Tax Havens.

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