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Posts Tagged ‘Sovereignty’

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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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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I don’t often have reason to praise the White House. But the Administration occasionally winds up fighting on the right side when dealing with the statists on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.

I lauded the Obama Administration two years ago when the Treasury Department was fighting against a scheme from the Europeans to impose a tax on financial transactions.

And now it’s time to praise the White House again. In this case, they are fighting against a proposal by the European Union to impose an emissions tax on airliners. And even though the proposed tax is similar to the cap-and-trade scheme supported by Obama, the Administration is on the right side, as noted in this AP story.

The House voted Monday to exclude U.S. airlines from an emissions cap-and-trade program that the European Union plans to impose on all airlines flying to and from the continent beginning next year. With the legislation, which passed by voice vote, lawmakers joined the airline industry and the Obama administration in opposing the EU Emissions Trading Scheme scheduled to go into effect on Jan. 1. The bill now goes to the Senate, where there is currently no companion legislation. The measure directs the transportation secretary to prohibit U.S. carriers from participating in the program if it is unilaterally imposed. It also tells other federal agencies to take steps necessary to ensure that U.S. carriers are not penalized by the emissions control scheme. …The U.S. aviation industry says the cost between 2012 and 2020 could hit $3.1 billion. It says it is unfair that a flight from the United States, for example from Los Angeles, would have to pay for emissions for all parts of flights to Europe, including time spent over the United States and the Atlantic. “It’s a tax grab by the European Union,” Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., said. “The meter starts running the minute the plane departs from any point in the U.S. until it reaches Europe.” …That drew fire from Krishna R. Urs, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of State for transportation affairs, who repeated the U.S.’s “strong legal and policy objections to the inclusion of flights by non-EU carriers” in the EU program.

Individual nations have the right, of course, to impose tax on activities that take place inside national borders. And a group of nations, such as the European Union, has the right to impose taxes on things that take place within their combined borders.

In this case, however, the EU wants to levy the tax based on miles flown inside the United Stats and over international waters. This type of extraterritorial tax grab should be strongly resisted.

Fiscal sovereignty is a very important principle, one that is necessary to preserve tax competition and constrain the greed of the political class.

As such, even though the Obama Administration often is guilty of supporting schemes to impose bad US tax law on a worldwide basis, I’m glad they are fighting this European Union tax grab.

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Earlier this year, President Obama’s IRS proposed a regulation that would force banks in America to report any interest they pay to accounts owned by non-resident aliens (that’s the technical term for foreigners who don’t live in the U.S.).

What made this regulation so bizarre, however, is that Congress specifically has exempted these account from taxation for the rather obvious reason that they want to attract this mobile capital to the American economy. Indeed, Congress repeatedly has ratified this policy ever since it was first implemented 90 years ago.

So why, you may be asking, would the IRS propose such a regulation? After all, why impose a regulatory burden on a weakened banking sector when it has nothing to do with enforcing American tax law?

The answer, if you can believe it, is that they want American banks to help enforce foreign tax law. And the bureaucrats at the IRS want to impose this burden even though the regulation is completely contrary to existing U.S. law.

Not surprisingly, this rogue behavior by the IRS already has generated considerable opposition. Senator Rubio has been a leader on the issue, being the first to condemn the proposed regulation.

Both Senators from Texas also have announced their opposition, and the entire Florida congressional delegation came out against the IRS’s regulatory overreach.

And now we have two more important voices against the IRS’s rogue regulation.

The Chairman of the Oversight Subcommittee in charge of the IRS, Congressman Charles Boustany of Louisiana, just sent a very critical letter to Treasury Secretary Geithner, and these are some of his chief concerns.

If the regulation were to take effect, it would not only run counter to the will of the Congress, but would potentially drive foreign investments out of our economy, hurting individuals and small businesses by reducing access to capital.  I write to request that IRS suspend the proposed regulation. …As the Internal Revenue Code imposes no taxation or reporting requirements on this deposit interest, the proposed regulation serves no compelling tax collection purpose.  Instead, it is my understanding that the IRS seeks this new authority to help foreign governments collect their own taxes abroad.  …It is disappointing to see the IRS once again try to impose unnecessary regulations and costs on U.S. banks. To attract investment of foreign dollars into the U.S. economy, the Internal Revenue Code generally exempts these deposits from taxation and reporting requirements.  These foreign investments in turn help to finance a variety of products essential to economic growth, such as small business loans and home mortgages.  Imposing reporting requirements on these deposits through regulatory fiat threatens to drive significant investments out of our economy by undermining the rules Congress has set in place specifically to attract it, and at exactly the time when our economy can least afford it.

But criticism is not limited to Capitol Hill. The Center for Freedom and Prosperity has spearheaded opposition from think tanks, taxpayer organizations, and public policy groups.

And now the business community has become involved. Here’s some of what the Chamber of Commerce recently said, and you can click this PDF file (USCC S1506) to read the entire letter.

Given the fragile state of America’s economic recovery, it is disturbing to see actions by the Treasury that could jeopardize deposits at U.S. banks and credit unions held by nonresident aliens. These deposits, which are not subject to U.S. taxes, are at risk of being abruptly withdrawn and future deposits deterred, which could lead to a reallocation of deposits out of the U.S. banking system and, thus, reduce lending to businesses. Furthermore, complying with the proposed regulation places additional reporting requirements and expenses upon financial firms. Without any real benefit stemming from the collection of this information, imposition of this reporting requirement seems to be a solution in search of a problem.

This may seem like an arcane issue and international tax matters often are not terribly exciting, but a couple of minutes of watching this video will make you realize there are some very important principles at stake.

Only the IRS could manage to combine bad tax policy, bad regulatory policy, bad human rights policy, and bad sovereignty policy into one regulation.

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I’ve already confessed that I have very abnormal fantasies. And I have admitted on TV that my fantasies are rarely fulfilled.

But that doesn’t stop me from my dreams. And since I’m in a sharing mood today, here’s my latest fantasy.

You may have followed on the news that the state of Texas just executed a child rapist/murderer. This caused some consternation on the left, and not just from those who are against the death penalty (which is a very defensible position, as I have acknowledged).

Many people, including officials from the Obama Administration and the Mexican government, wanted the execution halted because on an international agreement giving governments certain rights to intervene on behalf of citizens who get in legal trouble in other nations. I’m not a lawyer, so I’m not competent to address those issues, but suffice to say that the U.S. Supreme Court was not impressed by the specific argument in this case and turned down a request to block the execution.

My fantasy, however, has nothing to do with the legal argument. I just figured it was important to provide some background information before I divulge my innermost dreams and desires.

What sparked my fantasy was this article, featuring some bureaucrat from the United Nations who is very agitated that Texas officials didn’t acquiesce to “international law.” Here are the important passages.

The United States broke international law when it executed a Mexican citizen, the United Nations’ top human rights official said Friday. The Texas execution of Humberto Leal “raises particular legal concerns,” including whether he had access to consular services and a fair trial, said U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay. …Texas Gov. Rick Perry also declined to block the execution. Texas, the nation’s most active death penalty state, has executed other condemned foreign nationals who raised similar challenges, most recently in 2008. “Texas is not bound by a foreign court’s ruling. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that the treaty was not binding on the states and that the president does not have the authority to order states to review cases of the then 51 foreign nationals on death row in the U.S,” said Katherine Cesinger, a spokeswoman for Perry. But what Texas did also “places the U.S. in breach of international law,” said Pillay, who visited Mexico this week. “What the state of Texas has done in this case is imputable in law to the U.S. and engages the United States’ international responsibility.” …Pillay also cited a 2004 International Court of Justice ruling saying the U.S. must review and reconsider the cases of 51 Mexican nationals — including Leal — who were sentenced to death. She said those reviews never happened. She said the execution undermined “the role of the International Court of Justice, and its ramifications are likely to spread far beyond Texas.”

Because of my disdain for international bureaucracies and my belief in sovereignty, you won’t be too surprised to learn that Ms. Pillay’s comments rubbed me the wrong way.

So I started thinking about the good people of Texas and how they would react if some pampered, overpaid U.N. bureaucrat started hectoring them about their supposed failure to kowtow to “international law.” And then the fantasy began…

I envisioned a press conference, featuring Texas Governor Rick Perry. He’s answering an important question from the Amarillo Globe-News about the state trap shooting competition, when he is interrupted by a sunken-chested dweeb from the New York Times, who shouts out, “Governor, how do you respond to Ms. Pillay, the U.N. official who says you broke international law by executing the poor, misunderstood child rapist/murderer?”

In this fantasy, the Governor’s expression darkens (sort of akin to the look Clint Eastwood would get in the Dirty Harry movies). He gives the reporter a withering stare, ponders whether to even answer, and then gives an answer that earns Dan Mitchell’s heartfelt admiration.

Boy, why don’t you tell Ms. Pillay to round up a bunch of those blue-helmeted pansies and try to come arrest me. If they can make it past the JV football team from Permian High School, she can have me.

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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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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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I’m not a foreign policy expert, so perhaps I’m missing something, but a quick glance at the Constitution reveals that Congress has the power to declare war, as specified in Article I, Section VIII. Nobody else has that power, not even the President.

Notwithstanding this clear language, the United States may (or may not, depending on Obama’s mood) participate in military action against Libya merely because of a resolution at the United Nations.

This is rather troubling in the short run because it risks another messy entanglement in the Middle East – and it blatantly disregards the procedure created by our Founding Fathers for making such choices.

But it is equally troubling in the long run because it implicitly restricts the ability of the United States to unilaterally act if there is a time when America’s national security is genuinely threatened.

If we attack Libya because of a resolution from the U.N. Security Council, does that mean we can’t attack some terrorist stronghold in the future if we don’t get a resolution from the U.N.? Don’t kid yourself, the international bureaucrats and their multilateralist sympathizers all around the world think the answer to that question is yes, and they are delighted that the United States is acting in ways that strengthen their position.

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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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I’m in Singapore for two days to help fight the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a statist international bureaucracy based in Paris. The OECD has something called a global tax forum, the purpose of which is to harass so-called tax haven in hopes of coercing them into acting as tax collectors for Europe’s decrepit welfare states. Here’s the executive summary from the memo I wrote, which warns low-tax jurisdictions that the OECD may push even harder to undermine fiscal sovereignty because of fears that a GOP takeover of Congress will make it more difficult to push for tax harmonization policies in the future.

The Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has an ongoing project to prop up Europe’s inefficient welfare states by attacking tax competition in hopes of enabling governments to impose heavier tax burdens. This project received a boost when the Obama Administration joined forces with countries such as France and Germany, but the tide is now turning against high-tax nations – particularly as more people understand that such an approach inevitably leads to Greek-style fiscal collapse. Looming political changes in the United States will further complicate the OECD’s ability to impose bad policy. Because of these developments, low-tax jurisdictions should be especially wary of schemes to rush through new anti-tax competition initiatives at the Singapore Global Forum.

The good news is that nothing dramatic took place on the first day of the two-day conference. the OECD continued to bully low-tax jurisdictions to sign information-sharing agreements and the low-tax jurisdictions kept asking for double-taxation agreements so they could get some benefit in exchange for weakening their human rights/financial privacy laws. The OECD and high-tax nations have been ignoring these requests for a two-way street, thus continuing their bad-faith behavior.

For more information on this issue, here’s a link to my video on tax competition, and here are a handful of TV appearances where I discuss the issue. This is a challenging issue to debate, so I’d welcome feedback on which arguments you think are most effective.

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I wish the title of this blog post referred to the President of the United States, but instead our praise is directed across the Atlantic, to the President of the Czech Republic, who wisely has warned against giving “global governance” powers to the international bureaucrats at the United Nations. President Vaclav Klaus is a great man, who has battled against immense odds to preserve national sovereignty, resisting statist initiatives such as the new EU Constitution (aka, the Lisbon Treaty) and global warming schemes. Klaus understands that international bureaucracies are staffed by leftist ideologues who reflexively distrust markets. Equally important, he recognizes that governments will use “global governance” as a scheme to create tax and regulatory cartels that inevitably expand the burden of government and reduce competition among nations. Here’s a Reuters report on the strong speech Klaus gave to the kleptocrats at the United Nations.

Czech President Vaclav Klaus on Saturday criticized U.N. calls for increased “global governance” of the world’s economy, saying the world body should leave that role to national governments. The solution to dealing with the global economic crisis, Klaus told the U.N. General Assembly, did not lie in “creating new governmental and supranational agencies, or in aiming at global governance of the world economy.” “On the contrary, this is the time for international organizations, including the United Nations, to reduce their expenditures, make their administrations thinner, and leave the solutions to the governments of member states,” he said. …Klaus, a free-market economist who oversaw a wave of privatization in the 1990s after communism collapsed in his homeland, also said the world was “moving in the wrong direction” in combating the economic crisis. “The anti-crisis measures that have been proposed and already partly implemented follow from the assumption that the crisis was a failure of markets and that the right way out is more regulation of markets,” he said. Klaus said that was a “mistaken assumption” and it was impossible to prevent future crises through regulatory interventions and similar actions by governments. That will only “destroy the markets and together with them the chances for economic growth and prosperity in both developed and developing countries,” he said.

A couple of years ago, I had the honor of introducing Klaus at a conference in France. Very rarely do I meet a politician that exudes philosophical integrity. Klaus was one of those unusual cases. And if you want to know why it is important to preserve jurisdictional competition, here is a video on the specific issue of tax competition. This is rather timely since I leave tomorrow for Singapore, where I will be doing everything I can to undermine the pampered bureaucrats at the OECD and their sinister plans to create a global tax cartel to prop up Europe’s inefficient welfare states.

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Europe’s economy is stagnant, the euro currency is in danger of collapse, and many nations are on the verge of bankruptcy. But one thing you can count on in this time of crisis is for prompt, thoughtful, and intelligent action by the super-bureaucrats of the European Commission. Right? Well, maybe not. You can be confident, however, that they will generate idiotic regulations that increase costs and trample national sovereignty. The latest example is some new red tape that will prohibit grocers from selling items based on numerical quantity. I’m not joking. Here’s a blurb from the UK-based Telegraph:
Under the draft legislation, to come into force as early as next year, the sale of groceries using the simple measurement of numbers will be replaced by an EU-wide system based on weight. It would mean an end to packaging descriptions such as eggs by the dozen, four-packs of apples, six bread rolls or boxes of 12 fish fingers. …The changes would cost the food and retail industries millions of pounds as items would have to be individually weighed to ensure the accuracy of the label. Trade magazine, The Grocer, said food industry sources had described the move as “bonkers” and “absolute madness”. Its editor, Adam Leyland, said the EU had “created a multi-headed monster”. Caroline Spelman said: “This goes against common sense. Shopkeeping is a long standing British tradition and we know what customers want. They want to buy eggs by the dozen and they should be allowed to – a point I shall be making clear to our partners in Europe.” …Andrew Opie, food director of the British Retail Consortium, which represents 90 per cent of UK shops, said: “This is a bad proposal – we need to help consumers, not confuse them.”

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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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President Andrew Jackson is believed to have said that “One man with courage makes a majority.” Well, let’s hope this statement also applies to women. The incoming Prime Minister of Slovakia, Ms. Iveta Radicova, has the power to stop the corrupt and misguided European bailout scheme. At one point, Irish voters had the power to stop more centralization, bureaucratization, and harmonization in Brussels. Then the President of the Czech Republic had the opportunity to derail the movement to a socialist superstate in Brussels. In both cases, the forces of statism eventually prevailed. The bailout is a different issue, but the underlying issues are the same. Should nations have both the sovereign right to determine their own policies and should they also have the responsibility of dealing with the consequences of those actions? Here’s a blurb from the EU Observer about whether Slovakia will save Europe from the political elites:

The emerging new leadership in Slovakia has said the country will not contribute its share of the €110 billion rescue package for Greece. In addition, Bratislava is likely not to add its signature to the €750 billion eurozone support mechanism – something that could put the entire project on ice. …”It would be a serious blow to the EFSF and the euro area’s ability to stand behind its members [if a member does not sign],” a senior eurozone official told this website. He explained that all 16 signatures on the document – which specifies provisions on how to issue loan guarantees if necessary – are required to bring the emergency mechanism to life. …Conservative politician Iveta Radicova, the likely next prime minister, described the bloc’s €750 billion rescue fund during the pre-election debates as “bad, dangerous and [the] worst possible solution.” On Tuesday (15 June), Ms Radicova also re-iterated that she is against Slovakia providing any financial support to Greece.

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David Ignatius continues his odd habit of drawing wrong conclusions from Europe’s fiscal crisis. In a previous post, we made fun of one of his columns because he said America needed a value-added tax to avoid a Greek-style crisis. Yet since Greece has a VAT, he was, for all intents and purposes, arguing that we should copy Greece’s policies to avoid Greece’s problems. Now he has a column saying that Europe needs fiscal centralization to make the euro work. This is a rather interesting assertion since Ignatius comes from a nation that shows that it is possible to have a common currency with 50 different states with 50 different fiscal policies. Perhaps this is why he wrote an entire column on the topic without ever offering any analysis or evidence for his position. Here’s an excerpt:

…there’s a radical mismatch between the ideal of economic integration and the reality that the eurozone has 16 different fiscal regimes — a disconnect that helped produce this crisis. …With this crisis, [Italian President Giorgio Napolitano] argued, Europeans must finally accept that union “implies a partial transfer of national sovereignty.” The current halfway integration simply isn’t strong enough to support a common currency, he suggested. …Investors keep pounding Europe in part because they don’t yet see the mechanisms that will enforce discipline. The European Union just established a trillion-dollar bailout fund, but what happens when it runs out? There’s a pledge to impose strict conditions on Greece, Portugal and the rest in exchange for loans, but it still isn’t clear how Brussels will make this austerity regime work. …What worries me is that the dictates of economics and politics are now in conflict in Europe. To sustain its common currency, Europe needs integrated fiscal policies that are enforceable on all members.

Given his reliance on empty assertions, let’s step into the vacuum and make two observations. First, letting Greece officially default would have been the best way to enforce fiscal discipline. A default would have radically curtailed Greece’s ability (and the ability of other European nations) to overspend by borrowing cheap money and leaving the bill for future generations. The bailout, by contrast, rewarded profligacy and sent a signal to other European nations that it is possible to over-tax and over-spend and send the bill to taxpayers in other nations.

Second, a centralized fiscal policy would exacerbate Europe’s fiscal problems by creating a tragedy of the commons. The existence of a pot of money in Brussels would encourage every nation to maximize its share of the loot, in the same way that a bloated federal government in Washington subsidizes bad fiscal behavior by state politicians. It wouldn’t matter whether the centralized fiscal policy replaced a portion of national budgets or (more likely) represented an additional source of government largesse. Europe’s problems exist because too many people have learned to try to live off the labor of too few people. Another layer of government makes that problem worse, not better – especially since it would open up the possibility of having people from other nations bear the burden.

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Here’s a very disturbing report from Foxnews.com about a scheme at the United Nations to impose global taxes. This has been a long-time dream of the bureaucrats, who (naturally) are exempt from paying tax themselves. Here’s a link to a study I wrote on a separate UN tax threat nearly 10 years ago, and here’s an excerpt from the Foxnews.com story:

The World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations’ public health arm, is moving full speed ahead with a controversial plan to impose global consumer taxes on such things as Internet activity and everyday financial transactions like paying bills online — while its spending soars and its own financial house is in disarray. The aim of its taxing plans is to raise “tens of billions” of dollars for WHO that would be used to radically reorganize the research, development, production and distribution of medicines around the world, with greater emphasis on drugs for communicable diseases in poor countries. The irony is that the WHO push to take a huge bite out of global consumers comes as the organization is having a management crisis of its own, juggling finances, failing to use its current resources efficiently, or keep its costs under control — and it doesn’t expect to show positive results in managing those challenges until a year from now, at the earliest. …the proposals are headed for the four-day annual meeting of the 193-member World Health Assembly, WHO’s chief legislative organ, which begins in Geneva on May 17. …What truly concerns the experts, however, is how to get the wealth transfers that will make the R and D transfers possible — on a permanent basis. The panel offers up a specific number of possibilities. Chief among them: • a “digital” or “bit” tax on Internet activity, which could raise “tens of billions of U.S. dollars”; • a 10 percent tax on international arms deals, “worth about $5 billion per annum”; • a financial transaction tax, citing a Brazilian levy that was raising some $20 billion per year until it was canceled (for unspecified reasons); • an airline tax that already exists in 13 countries and has raised some $1 billion. Almost casually, the panel’s report notes that the fundraising effort would involve global changes in legal structures — and policing. As the report puts it: “Introducing a new tax or expanding an existing tax may require legal changes, nationally and internationally and ongoing regulation to ensure compliance.”

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Price fixing is illegal in the private sector, but unfortunately there are no rules against schemes by politicians to create oligopolies in order to prop up bad government policy. The latest example comes from the bureaucrats at the International Monetary Fund, who are conspiring with national governments to impose higher taxes and regulations on the banking sector. The pampered bureaucrats at the IMF (who get tax-free salaries while advocating higher taxes on the rest of us) say these policies are needed because of bailouts, yet such an approach would institutionalize moral hazard by exacerbating the government-created problem of “too big to fail.” But what is particularly disturbing about the latest IMF scheme is that the international bureaucracy wants to coerce all nations into imposing high taxes and excessive regulation. The bureaucrats realize that if some nations are allowed to have free markets, jobs and investment would flow to those countries and expose the foolishness of the bad policy being advocated elsewhere by the IMF. Here’s a brief excerpt from a report in the Wall Street Journal:

Mr. Strauss-Kahn said there was broad agreement on the need for consensus and coordination in the reform of the global financial sector. “Even if they don’t follow exactly the same rule, they have to follow rules which will not be in conflict,” he said. He said there were still major differences of opinion on how to proceed, saying that countries whose banking systems didn’t need taxpayer bailouts weren’t willing to impose extra taxation on their banks now, to create a cushion against further financial shocks. …Mr. Strauss-Kahn said the overriding goal was to prevent “regulatory arbitrage”—the migration of banks to places where the burden of tax and regulation is lightest. He said countries with tighter regulation of banks might be able to justify not imposing new taxes.

I’ve been annoyingly repetitious on the importance of making governments compete with each other, largely because the evidence showing that jurisdictional rivalry is a very effective force for good policy around the world. I’ve done videos showing the benefits of tax competition, videos making the economic and moral case for tax havens, and videos exposing the myths and demagoguery of those who want to undermine tax competition. I’ve traveled around the world to fight the international bureaucracies, and even been threatened with arrest for helping low-tax nations resist being bullied by high-tax nations. Simply stated, we need jurisdictional competition so that politicians know that taxpayers can escape fiscal oppression. In the absence of external competition, politicians are like fiscal alcoholics who are unable to resist the temptation to over-tax and over-spend.

This is why the IMF’s new scheme should be resisted. It is not the job of international bureaucracies to interfere with the sovereign right of nations to determine their own tax and regulatory policies. If France and Germany want to adopt statist policies, they should have that right. Heck, Obama wants America to make similar mistakes. But Hong Kong, Switzerland, the Cayman Islands, and other market-oriented jurisdictions should not be coerced into adopting the same misguided policies.

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Greece is in trouble for a combination of reasons. Government spending is far too excessive, diverting resources from more efficient uses. The bureaucracy is too large and paid too much, resulting in a misallocation of labor. And tax rates are too high, further hindering the productive sector of the economy. Europe’s political class wants to bail out Greece’s profligate government. The official reason for a bailout, to protect the euro currency, makes no sense. After all, if Illinois or California default, that would not affect the strength (or lack thereof) of the dollar.

To understand what is really happening in Europe, it is always wise to look at what politicians are doing and ignore what they are saying. Political union is the religion of Europe’s political class, and they relentlessly use any excuse to centralize power in Brussels and strip away national sovereignty. Greece’s fiscal crisis is simply the latest excuse to move the goalposts. The Daily Telegraph reports that Germany and France are now conspiring to create an “economic government” for the European Union. Supposedly this entity would only have supervisory powers, but it is a virtual certainty that a European-wide tax will be the next step for the euro-centralizers.

Germany and France have [proposed] controversial plans to create an “economic government of the European Union” to police financial policy across the continent. They have put Herman Van Rompuy, the EU President, in charge of a special task force to examine “all options possible” to prevent another crisis like the one caused by the Greek meltdown. …The options he will consider include the creation of an “economic government” by the by the end of the year. “We commit to promote a strong co-ordination of economic policies in Europe,” said a draft text expected to be agreed by EU leaders last night. “We consider that the European Council should become the economic government of the EU and we propose to increase its role in economic surveillance and the definition of the EU’s growth strategy.” …Mr Van Rompuy, the former Prime Minister of Belgium, is an enthusiastic supporter of “la gouvernement économique” and last month upset many national capitals by trying impose “top down” economic targets. Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, has called for the Lisbon Treaty to be amended in order to prevent any repetition of the current Greek crisis, which has threatened to tear apart the euro.

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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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In a rational world, Switzerland would be a role model for other nations. It is quite prosperous thanks largely to a modest burden of government. There is remarkable ethnic and religoius diversity, but virtually no tension because power is decentralized (sort of what America’s Founders envisioned for the United States). Yet despite these – and many other – attractive features, Switzerland is being persecuted because of strong human rights laws that protect financial privacy. Money-hungry politicians from other nations resent Swtizerland’s attractive policies, and they would rather trample Swiss sovereignty rather than fix their own oppressive tax laws. An official from the Swiss Bankers Association provides some background in a New York Times column:

In Switzerland, this tradition of treating a client’s financial affairs in confidence became law in 1934 when it was codified in Article 47 of the country’s first-ever federal banking act as a contemporary reaction to the economic crisis, various domestic political considerations and well-publicized cases of espionage involving France and Germany. …Banking secrecy, therefore, is not some gimmick the Swiss devised to attract foreign clients to their banks. It reflects the very high degree of trust that exists between the Swiss state and its citizens and it has strong democratic foundations. …The Swiss are proud of their system and they reward it with a high level of taxpayer honesty. It works because the Swiss vote their own taxes, they have a high degree of control over the way tax revenues are spent and over all they believe their tax system to be reasonable, comprehensible, transparent and fair. The principle of self-declaration backed up with withholding taxes and, if necessary, stiff fines supports this “honesty box” system. …Doesn’t Switzerland hear the snapping jaws and cracking whips of foreign finance ministers, tax collectors, O.E.C.D. bureaucrats, cash-dispensing government agents and other denizens of the encroaching real world as they circle round Mother Helvetia intent on biting huge chunks out of her banking secrecy, if not swallowing it whole? …In March last year the Swiss announced they would give up the evasion-fraud distinction for foreign bank clients and adopt  the O.E.C.D. standards on information exchange in tax matters. …However, requests for assistance must be made with regard to a specific individual, and “fishing expeditions” — any indiscriminate trawling through bank accounts in the hope of finding something interesting — remain ruled out. …Switzerland demonstrates to the world that it is possible for a state to collect taxes with a high degree of taxpayer honesty and without the authorities being corroded with suspicion about the financial activities of their citizens. Citizens in a democracy would never allow their police force to have an automatic right of forced entry into their homes just on the off-chance of finding some stolen goods, so why on earth should the state have an automatic right of forced entry into citizens’ banks accounts just on the off-chance of discovering some tax evasion? There must be a limit to the extent to which respect for an individual’s privacy is sacrificed on the altar of international cooperation in tax matters.

Sadly, the United States is part of the effort to create a global tax cartel. An “OPEC for politicians” would be terrible news for taxpayers, though, much as a cartel of gas stations would be bad for driviers. So-called tax havens play a valuable role in curtailing the greed of the political class. Ask yourself a simple question: Would politicians be more likely or less likely to raise tax rates if they knew taxpayers had no escape options?

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The Adam Smith Institute in London has released my paper entitled “The Economics of Tax Competition.” If you want to understand why it is very important to prevent international bureaucracies from crippling national tax sovereignty in order to create an “OPEC for politicians,” you should spend 20 minutes reading this report. If you went to a government school and don’t like reading, this three-part video series covers the same material. Here’s an excerpt from the introductory section:

Tax competition exists when people can reduce tax burdens by shifting capital and/or labour from high-tax jurisdictions to low-tax jurisdictions. This migration disciplines profligate governments and rewards nations that lower tax rates and engage in pro-growth tax reform. …from an economic perspective, economic performance is enhanced because of lower tax rates on work, saving, and investment. …The thought of losing sources of tax revenue worries government officials from high tax nations, who vociferously condemn tax competition (particularly the role of so-called tax havens) and would like to see it reduced or eliminated. Working through international bureaucracies like the European Commission (EC), the United Nations (UN), and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), high-tax governments are promoting various tax harmonization schemes to inhibit the flow of jobs and capital from high-tax jurisdictions to low-tax jurisdictions. These proposals are fundamentally inconsistent with good tax policy. Tax harmonization means higher tax rates, but it also means discriminatory and destructive double taxation of income that is saved and invested. …Tax competition should be celebrated, not persecuted. It is a powerful force for economic liberalization that has helped promote good tax policy in countries around the world.

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The United States fortunately is not part of the ICC, but that is not stopping the court’s chief prosecutor from threatening to prosecute American soldiers. This is not a debate about U.S. policy in Afghanistan, but rather a critical fight over national sovereignty vs. global governance. The international bureaucrats presumably would like to seduce the United States into becoming a signatory. The second option, from their perspective, would be to slowly but surely constrain U.S. sovereignty by getting America to behave as if it was bound by the court. The potentially explosive final option is what would happen if the ICC explicitly went after an American serviceman without the prearranged acquiescence of Washington. Ideally, any President – even Obama – would defend the Constitution in that situation and tell the ICC bureaucrats to go jump in a lake:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed “great regret” in August that the U.S. is not a signatory to the International Criminal Court (ICC). This has fueled speculation that the Obama administration may reverse another Bush policy and sign up for what could lead to the trial of Americans for war crimes in The Hague. The ICC’s chief prosecutor, though, has no intention of waiting for Washington to submit to the court’s authority. Luis Moreno Ocampo says he already has jurisdiction—at least with respect to Afghanistan. …the chief prosecutor says he is already conducting a “preliminary examination” into whether NATO troops, including American soldiers, fighting the Taliban may have to be put in the dock. …Asked repeatedly whether the examination of bombings and torture allegations refers to NATO and U.S. soldiers, Mr. Ocampo finally stated that “we are investigating whoever commits war crimes, including the group you mentioned.” …Mr. Ocampo remained tight-lipped about the specifics of his preliminary examination. Asked whether waterboarding—a practice that simulates drowning without causing lasting physical harm—is a form of torture produced a telling “no comment.” Yet if the Obama administration considers this practice torture, one has to wonder if the ICC’s chief prosecutor would give it his stamp of approval. There is also the issue of whether Predator strikes of unmanned drones targeting terrorist leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan—as carried out in the very first week of the Obama presidency—are part of the bombings he’s looking into. Mr. Ocampo chuckled and answered evasively. “We have people around the world concerned about this,” he said… Although the prosecutor’s preliminary examination may not result in a formal investigation of Americans, the mere potential of a legal confrontation between the court in The Hague and Washington should be disconcerting to the White House, not to mention to all Americans.

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Although it gets scant attention in America, the proposed EU Constitution (somethimes called the Lisbon Treaty) is a significant threat to economic freedom and national sovereignty (in this case, these are related concepts). One of the few heroes in this inter-European battle is the President of the Czech Republic, who is doing everything possible to avoide signing the treaty. This is irritating the pro-centralization, pro-harmonization, pro-bureaucratization apparatchiks, who are afraid that Klaus’ refusal to surrender may destroy their dreams of a socialist superstate governed by Brussels. But rather than engage in honest debate, the political elite is resorting to jaw-dropping dishonesty and (presumably) petty threats. Klaus has been told to surrender of “face the consequences” (what, are they going to shun him at cocktail parties?). But the award for Orwellian deceit goes to the German diplomat who accused Klaus of  “obstructing the democratic process,” when only one out of 27 nations (not Germany, of course) allowed voters to make a decision about the unpopular pact. Indeed, the entire European project is fundamentally anti-democratic as elected governments cede power to a technocratic ruling class in Brussels. The UK-based Times reports:

In faraway Brussels furious diplomats were calling for his impeachment and even his country’s expulsion from the European Union because of his obstinate refusal to sign the Lisbon treaty. Klaus, now the only European leader holding out against ratifying the document, made it clear he did not give a damn. …On Klaus’s return to Prague he dropped a political bombshell. At a press conference in his official residence the Czech leader announced that he would sign the treaty only if his government negotiated an opt-out from the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which is incorporated in the treaty. …“I have always considered this treaty a step in the wrong direction,” Klaus said. As he is well aware, the slightest change to the treaty, which was first proposed in 2001, would require all 27 EU member countries to agree. His remarks were greeted with outrage in Europe. German and French diplomats, in talks with their Czech counterparts, explored two ways of removing the Klaus obstacle: impeach him or change the Czech constitution to take away his right of veto. “If the president is obstructing the democratic process and opposing the decision of parliament as well as the will of the people, he is moving beyond the law and will need to face the consequences,” a German diplomat told The Sunday Times. …Opponents of the treaty hope that Klaus will be able to stall ratification until the British general election in May. David Cameron, the Tory leader, has promised a referendum if his party wins and the treaty is still unsigned. Klaus is unlikely to give in without at least some concessions. He is said to want to be seen as the leader who derailed the European project. A comparison is being drawn in Prague with Edvard Benes, the pre-war Czech leader who in 1938 had to flee to Britain after refusing to cede territory to Hitler under the Munich agreement.

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There’s no sugar-coating the election results. Irish voters, hit hard by the global recession and plunging property values, inexplicably decided that these factors somehow justified voting for the Lisbon Treaty (a.k.a., the EU Constitution) and giving more power to the statist bureaucracy in Brussels. The Wall Street Journal Europe is appropriately skeptical about whether this was the right decision:

The people of Ireland approved the treaty 67.1% to 32.9%, with a 59% turnout—higher participation and wider margins than the “No” camp had been able to muster when the Irish rejected the same charter last year. …Brussels now tells us the vote was a resounding Yes for further centralization of power in the EU’s 27 member states, and represented satisfaction that Ireland had secured guarantees for its neutrality and abortion laws. A more convincing explanation is the global recession, which has hit the Celtic Tiger particularly hard. Irish unemployment now runs to 12.6%. Standard & Poor’s has yanked the country’s triple-A credit rating, which in turn has ratcheted up borrowing costs. All this made voters more susceptible to the argument that another “No” could have jeopardized Ireland’s membership in the euro club and its access to the EU’s single market—a baseless scenario that nonetheless was bound to have an effect on an electorate with pocketbook worries. …one wonders how much economic authority the Irish are really prepared to hand over to Brussels, especially if that means giving it an effective veto (in the name of eradicating “unfair tax competition”) over Dublin’s pro-growth tax policies. It was those policies—and not membership in the EU, which dates to the early 1970s—that were chiefly responsible for transforming Ireland from one of the poorest countries in Europe in the early 1990s to one of the richest. All the more remarkable is that Ireland did this in the teeth of resistance from the same Brussels bureaucracy in which it now puts its trust.

This means President Klaus of the Czech Republic is the only meaningful barrier standing in the way of further centralization of the European Union. This is the man who has resisted the fanatics on global warming hysteria, so he has backbone. On behalf of the 26 nations that were denied a vote, let’s hope he holds firm.

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The French are upset that Roman Polanski, the fugitive child rapist, has been detained by Swiss authorities at the request of the U.S. government. The Justice Department wants Polanski extradited because he fled America for France to avoid jail time. Other people have properly condemned the French government for wanting to defend this sleazeball, who anally raped a 13-year old girl, but I have a different complaint. French politicians are the leading agitators for the OECD campaign against so-called tax havens. According to Sarkozy and company, low-tax jurisdictions should be obliged to enforce the punitive tax laws of OECD member nations. Yet France refused to send Polanski back to America because it did not feel any need to help enforce America’s laws against molesting and raping children. I’m glad Polanski was dumb enough to travel to Switzerland. I’m glad the Swiss authorities had the moral decency to detain Polanski. And I’m overjoyed the French are getting a taste of the medicine their trying to impose on others.

P.S. The last sentence is a horribly flawed comparison on my part. It is a good thing when nations cooperate to investigate and prosecute criminals who violate the rules of all civilized societies. It is not a good thing, however, for high-tax nations to try to impose their tax laws on economic activity that takes place in low-tax jurisdictions. In other words, France is trying to coerce international cooperation where it is not appropriate, but is fighting international cooperation to protect child rape. Amazing.

P.P.S. The French also give protection to murderers who escape America. The French government position (shared by all European Union nations!) is that it will not extradite murderers to the United States if they might face the death penalty.

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The title of this post is a joke, but not really. As mentioned in an earlier post, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) tried to categorize tax avoidance as something to be fought as part of its anti-tax competition project. This implies, of course, that any decision we make to lower our taxes is suspect, even if we are following the law! For those who care about tax competition, fiscal sovereignty, and financial privacy, I explore the implications of what happened in Mexico City in this Strategic Memorandum.

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