Secrecy jurisdictions

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I'm curious at the speed with which people become comfortable with referring to places that they thought of as tax havens as being secrecy jurisdictions once they are introduced to the term.

The redesignation that we have introduced in the Tax Justice Network, and which is being used by some others as well, is important. The term tax haven, or in French paradis fiscaux (fiscal heaven) is of real value to those who want to defend the existence and use of these places. The neo-liberal consensus has created the idea that tax is a bad thing and that attempts to avoid tax have virtuous status. In the mindset of some it is therefore a good thing for a place to be considered a tax haven.

I spend remarkably little time here, or anywhere else come to that talking about tax rates. Curiously they have little to do with my work. So long as tax rates are set in a transparent and accountable way, so long as they are progressive and horizontally equitable and so long as they are not so excessive as to unreasonably distort economic behaviour (and I do, for example, think that rates or more than 50% on income can have that effect) then what tax rates a place uses are something about which I have little to say. That means I can always live with a tax rate of zero per cent on a tax base that might be assessed elsewhere subject always to the condition that this is not designed to induce artificial relocation of the recording of transactions to the place that offers that rate and subject to the condition that secrecy is not offered to assist that relocation.

It is always secrecy that is the issue. The reality is that it is the secrecy and unaccountability through absence of effective information exchange agreements that really identifies a jurisdiction as being abusive. So, having banking secrecy, or refusing to put data on public record, or refusing to exchange information under arrangements such as he EU Savings Tax Directive or refusing g to enter into Tax Information Exchange Agreements (or doing so, and then refusing information exchange requests) that signal abuse. All this has to do with secrecy, not tax rates.

And all of this secrecy is designed to do three things. The first is to permit crime. No government provides this secrecy without realising that criminals will be attracted to its domain. The second is to promote tax evasion, which is not always a crime, so it has to be distinguished from those activities more commonly thought of as such. Third, it is to promote living off the proceeds of crime, whether by the bankers, lawyers or accountants who process these transactions or on the part of the governments and communities they represent.

So let's be explicit: the government of Switzerland deliberately promotes crime, even though it refuses to name it as such. It knowingly benefits from that crime. That is criminal conduct. That is why international sanctions are appropriate against secrecy jurisdictions.