Give us better data then

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Dow Jones reports via NASDAQ that:

Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Doug Shulman on Tuesday pressed House lawmakers to enact President Barack Obama's proposals to fight offshore tax evasion, as well as other proposed IRS tools, at a hearing on the agency's fiscal year 2010 budget request.

But Shulman dismissed an allegation often made by Levin that offshore tax evasion costs the U.S. Treasury as much as $100 billion per year in lost revenue. "There have been some wild estimates thrown out by academics that we don't agree with," he said. "Those are broad numbers that don't have much basis."

Shulman didn't provide his own estimate of the annual cost of offshore tax evasion, but said IRS officials are working on quantifying that problem.

Wild? The figure is in terms of scale less than the figure I have estimated for losses to the UK of £18.5 billion — which seems by the day to be increasingly conservative.

And my previous work, estimating losses to high net worth individuals of $255 billion a year — now probably the most widely quoted number on this subject ever — was based on data from people who should know — like Merrill Lynch, Cap Gemini and Boston Consulting Group.

Remember revenue authorities have a bested interest in under-reporting this data: it’s very existence does not make them look good.

I stick by the numbers. They’re not wild. They’re the best there is. And it’s notable that tax authorities really are not willing to give us better data. Is that because the resulting figure is worse than we say?