Tax Justice Blog

Links Oct 24

UN Expert Urges Next UN Chief to Focus on Ending Tax Havens ABC News

France: Constitutional Council rejects register of trusts Challenges (In French)

The anatomy of the Cayman Islands offshore financial centre: Anglo-America, Japan, and the role of hedge funds Review of International Political Economy

Tax experts call for integration of women’s concerns in fiscal policies CSBAG

BVI Premier to say if he accepts blame for banking mess BVI News
Local banks closing accounts of trust companies where beneficial owners are unknown. The trust companies may face closure.

Companies Engaged in Offshore Shell Games Spending Millions Lobbying Congress Citizens for Tax Justice & ITEP

French parliamentarians react to trade union revelations that show McDonald’s is still not paying its taxes EPSU

Zombie EU Tax Plan Haunts Ireland After Brexit Bloomberg

Bad Apples: What will it take to end favourable tax treatment for multinationals? The Nation

UK: The Offshore Game goes to Parliament – and so can you

Jersey set for tax amnesty and vow to get tough on ‘dodgers’ International Investment

The Kleptocracy Curse: Rethinking Containment By Ben Judah – Hudson Institute

Tax haven UK is a domestic and international economic disaster in the making Tax Research UK

U.S.: Offshore Voluntary Compliance Efforts Top $10 Billion; More Than 100,000 Taxpayers Come Back into Compliance IRS
Hat tip: @JesseDrucker

Billionaire Art Dealer Is Awaiting Verdict in Tax Fraud Case The New York Times



Links Oct 21

Number 1 recommendation of Independent UN Expert’s report is for a UN Global Tax Body Global Alliance for Tax Justice

BRICS on #taxjustice Global Alliance for Tax Justice

European commission to resurrect overarching corporate tax proposals The Guardian

UK’s failure to rein in tax havens hinders global corruption battle, say MPs The Guardian
See also: MPs: UK tax haven secrecy remains a global menace Christian Aid

Pakistan Supreme Court issues notice to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, others in Panamagate petition The Nation
See also: The Gift Of Transparency The Nation

HSBC to wind up P-note business in India Business Standard
See also: Child Rights and Tax Justice in India: Tackling DTAAs and P-Notes, essay by Abdul Muheet Chowdary @abdulmc in the TJN & Oxfam 2016 Tax Justice and Human Rights Essay Competition

Nigeria Labour Congress Demands Tax Justice in Africa & Probe of Those Indicted in #PanamaPapers Bella Naija

Panama hires crisis communications firm The Hill

EU’s anti-money laundering risk list ignores Panama Papers havens CCH Daily

Country-by-country reporting is about much more than tax Tax Research UK

We Need a Victory of Ideas, Says Jeffrey Sachs On Meeting the Sustainable Development Goals The Wire
‘It should also involve global efforts to stamp out tax havens and associated capital flight.’

U.S. Senator wants IRS to show what it’s done about tax fraud since Panama Papers reports Miami Herald

Credit Suisse agrees to $110 million deal to settle Italy tax case Reuters

Experts dismiss HMRC’s shrinking tax gap estimate ExecReview



Podcast: Iceland: offshorisation, collapse and recovery. What are the lessons?

October 20, 2016   Blog, Regular Features

In the October 2016 Tax Justice Network podcast: we look at the offshorisation of Iceland’s economy, its collapse and recovery. What are the lessons? Also, Brazil adds Ireland to its tax haven black list and Panama threatens anyone who dares call it a tax haven with a new law…plus more scandal and unique analysis you won’t find anywhere else. Produced by Naomi Fowler for the Tax Justice Network and featuring Sigrun Davidsdottir, journalist, blogger and podcaster, journalist Ingólfur Sigfússon and John Christensen of the Tax Justice Network.

Brexit, Pound Sterling, and the Finance Curse

You're going down

You’re going down

The significant fall in the value of the pound Sterling since the Brexit vote is likely to increase retail price inflation in Britain in the coming year.  Many low income households will suffer steep rises in their costs of living.  But in the long run might Sterling’s decline help rebalance the UK’s economy, which is burdened with an over-sized financial sector and increasingly geared towards being a tax haven for the world’s rich and powerful?

TJN’s John Christensen and Nick Shaxson have long argued that Sterling has been over-valued for decades, harming the real productive economy while boosting the City of London.  They cite the City as an example of what they term the Finance Curse, a Political economic phenomenon comparable to the Resource Curse which afflicts mineral and oil and gas exporting economies.  Contradicting the entrenched orthodoxy that what is good for the City is good for Britain as a whole, Christensen, Shaxson and Duncan Wigan have argued that hosting the City has harmed Britain’s development:

“The accelerated rise of finance in recent decades has damaged Britain’s alternative economic sectors, as productive activity cedes ground to financial rent extraction.  Many of the harms, in cause and effect, are similar to those of a widely studied Resource Curse afflicting mineral-rich countries.  Under the Resource Curse rents are extracted from the earth – but under the Finance Curse rents are extracted from the economy and society more broadly.”

Evidence of what are known as the Dutch Disease effects of Sterling’s over-valuation can be seen in Britain’s current account and trade deficits, both of which have worsened significantly in recent years.  As Simon Head notes in an article, ominously titled The Death of British Business:

“The UK has long depended on heavy flows of investment from abroad to make up for the weaknesses in its own corporate and financial institutions. In 2015 the UK ran a deficit in its external trade in goods and services of 96 billion pounds ($146 billion in 2015), or 5.2 percent of GDP, the largest percentage deficit in postwar British history and by far the largest of any of the G-7 group of industrialized economies.”

Evidence of rent-seeking can be seen in the ways in which large global financial institutions, including banks, pension funds, hedge funds have been able to overcharge their clients, and extract subsidies through being ‘too-big-to-fail’.  As economists Gerald Epstein and Juan Antonio Montechino argue in their recent study of financial services in the United States:

“These mechanisms (for overcharging) include the monopoly or oligopoly power of large banks in important financial sub-markets; overly complex, non-transparent financial products that allow financial institutions to overcharge and underperform; government subsidies that allow banks to borrow funds at subsidized rates from investors who believe they are ‘too-big-to-fail’; and a lax monetary and regulatory environment that allows finance to operate with too much leverage and too little capital at risk, thereby generating asset bubbles that feed both outsized financier income and dangerous instability.”

Epstein and Montechino’s analysis of the US economy applies to the UK economy, with extra bucketloads of adverse outcomes.  These include state capture at least as great as that Wall Street imposes on the Hill; the criminalisation of Britain’s banks to the extent that Bill Black, a leading criminologist in the U.S. describes London as the “financial cesspool of the world”; and a long term preference on the part of banks to direct lending towards the property markets and short term trading in highly liquid assets.

Productivity is arguably the key crisis facing the UK economy, which by most measures has one of the lowest productivity levels amongst major economies.  We would cite this as evidence of how the Finance Curse has afflicted Britain by lowering investment in infrastructure, training, research, and developing technologies of the future. The combination of a passive state tradition and a financial sector obsessed by short term returns has starved the economy of the long term investment needed to boost productivity.  In this context a Sterling depreciation is unlikely, by itself, to be sufficient to improve productivity and achieve the desired boost to exports.

The question is whether Sterling’s decline will be sufficient in the longer term to induce a reverse of the Finance Curse by boosting investment in non-financial exporting sectors and attracting more high flying graduates away from the massively over-rewarded jobs in the City.  An alternative scenario suggested by Simon Wren-Lewis in a recent blog is that the British government succumbs to the overweening political influence of the financial sector (itself an important feature of the Finance Curse) and pampers the City with further tax cuts and de-regulation.

Most economists are agreed about the short term inflationary impact of Sterling’s post-Brexit fall.  Britain is a major importer of goods and services and the currency shift has caused a serious deterioration of the terms of trade between Britain and most of the rest of the world.  In theory, the changed terms of trade should boost the export sectors – including the City of London – but it takes a long time for investment-starved export non-financial sectors to rebuild productivity and expand market share at a time when global demand is highly constrained by weak consumer demand. To make matters worse, uncertainty over access to the EU’s single market, especially for financial services suppliers who will need a ‘passport’ to ply their wares across the single market, has seriously impacted investor confidence.

The passport issue is a potential nightmare for the City.  Even before the Brexit vote the European Commission and major Eurozone governments were pushing for banks trading in Euro denominated bonds and securities to do this business in financial centres where the Euro is the domestic currency.  That excludes London.  With the UK at the table, the City was able to resist these pressures.  Brexit changes that political dynamic, leaving London (and its satellite tax havens in the Channel Islands) highly vulnerable to regulatory changes adopted in Brussels.  To give some idea of the scale of this vulnerability, according to newly released data from Britain’s Financial Conduct Authority, approximately 5,500 UK registered companies, mostly engaged in financial services, depend on EU passport rights and stand to lose them as a result of Brexit.

Former IMF Deputy Director Ashoka Mody argues that Sterling’s fall might be a blessing in disguise.  He agrees the regressive impact of the short term inflationary effect, but shares TJN’s view that the over-sized City of London has created an unbalanced economy (and an overpriced currency) to the immense disadvantage of most other industries – real estate being an exception since so much inwards investment heads into the property markets of London and other major metropolis.  As Mody notes:

“The banking-property complex has been a parasite on the British economy, creating pathologies of financial vulnerability and exchange rate overvaluation.”

Indeed.  And we would argue that the pathologies run deeper since overdependence on a single sector leads to state capture, constant lobbying to remove the social protections needed to protect citizens from corrupt financial practices, and path dependence on a mobile industry – financial services – which is largely rent-seeking in its outlook and short-termist in its actions.

It suits the City and its property-owning clients to boost Sterling’s value in order to attract offshore investment into the UK property market, which has become another must-have asset class alongside artworks and luxury yachts in the investment portfolio of the high net-worth class of global investors.  Yet at some stage in the near future the latest UK property market bubble will inevitably pop, probably causing financial market crisis on at least the same scale as the 2008 collapse.  The uncertainty caused by Brexit may well have brought that inevitable collapse forward, further exposing the structural weaknesses of the UK economy.

At this stage it is impossible to predict how long Brexit uncertainty will dampen investment and the value of Sterling.  Some argue it might take as long as a decade for the dust to settle.  A lot can be achieved over that period towards rebalancing the British economy.  The focus of infrastructure investment can move away from the capital towards the regions which host productive sectors.  Research and development funding can be boosted to attract more graduates away from the financial services.  Property market inflation could be abated by adopting a land value tax and dropping subsidies to the buy-to-let owners.  The City’s speculative impulses could be dampened by raising capital adequacy requirements and applying a financial transactions tax.  Labour productivity could be boosted through investment in training and applying a living wage across all sectors (which would also reduce the huge wealth transfers from taxpayers to employers whose underpaid staff are forced to rely on housing benefits).

None of this is likely to happen, however, without an activist state willing to pursue a development strategy that will require a significant pruning back of Britain’s over-sized financial services sector and its role as the world’s largest tax haven.  This will require a sharp and politically courageous break from a development strategy that has placed tax haven London and its spiderweb of offshore secrecy jurisdictions at the very heart of the British economy.

Like Wren-Lewis, we fear that the City, and its cheerleaders within the government, will react to the Brexit fallout by demanding further subsidy (tax cuts and deregulation, underwritten by the too-big-to-fail compact), and key policymakers will shy away from the long, hard slog of tackling the Finance Curse.  For this reason, we share Wren-Lewis’ conclusion that it remains “hard to see any silver lining in the Brexit decision.”

With thanks to Andrew Baker at SPERI for comments and suggestions



TJN’s work on the Finance Curse is part of a wider EU funded research programme, Enlighten, looking at slow-burn crisis in the European Union


Links Oct 19

UN wants to abolish tax havens worldwide Dawn

GUE/NGL MEPs – blog on the European Parliament’s Committee of Inquiry into the Panama Papers

Deltour: We need EU-level protection for whistleblowers

Rudolf Elmer: Multinationals and rich individuals are cheating civil society

BNP Paribas executives at the heart of a tax scandal in Argentina Libération (In French)
See also: BNP Paribas implicated in billion dollar scandal Mediapart (In French), and (from Sep 2015) The Role of Global Banks, Financial Asset Management by “Private Banking”. Contribution for the Think 20. By CEFID, authors Jorge Gaggero and Magdalena Belén Rua

Brazil gets access to Swiss accounts of politicians, Petrobras executives Reuters

India seeks BRICS mechanism to nail Tax dodgers The EconomicTimes

South Korea: Wealth drain – tax haven investments should be subject to close monitoring The Korea Herald

Pakistan: Supreme Court full bench to hear Panama Leaks pleas on Oct 20 Pakistan Observer

Panama hires PR firm amid ongoing Panama Papers fallout ICIJ

Wall Street Breaks With Business Lobby Over Corporate Registration Rules Inside Sources

Eva Joly: Iceland has a corruption problem Iceland Monitor

Hundreds of properties could be seized in UK corruption crackdown The Guardian

HSBC winds down Monaco operations as principality loses lustre The Wall Street Journal

The Tax Code for the Ultra-Rich vs. the One for Everyone Else The Atlantic



Links Oct 17

UN urged to hold conference on abolishing tax havens The Nation

Inequality, business and human rights: the new frontier? Open Democracy

FACT Coalition Welcomes Rule to Stem Multinational Corporate Tax Avoidance

BRICS countries keen on reining in tax-dodging MNCs says India’s Economic Relations Secretary Business Standard

Luxembourg in a tricky position Delano
“Luxembourg is cooperative only on the surface, but it doesn’t want to change its business model”: Sven Giegold

Ireland: Revenue chairman disputes Apple claims of 2% tax deal The Irish Times

MEPs to hear economist Stiglitz on Panama Papers EUObserver

British Virgin Islands: have they cleaned up since the Panama Papers? Transparency International

Panama Papers: Top arms dealer and son linked to offshore firms in Panama, BVI, Seychelles The Indian Express

Swiss Banking’s Reputational Wipeout finews

Swiss banking watchdog says about 15 Swiss banks in money laundering ‘red zone’ Reuters
See also: Big fines for banks not effective, says Switzerland’s financial regulatory body FINMA’s head swissinfo

Two Quarrelsome Sheiks and Their Swiss Bank Accounts finews

Human Rights And Tax In An Unequal World Avi-Yonah & Shaviro TaxProf Blog

Transfer Pricing Money – The Chevron Case Social Science Research Network

Cadbury’s American owners under fire for paying no UK corporation tax Daily Mail

The super-rich could survive on a bit less Oxfam, letter to The Guardian



Back to Top