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Ownership Avoidance, the Great Escape in the Tax Justice Network December 2016 Podcast

In our December 2016 Taxcast: In trusts we trust? We look at the new game in town: beneficial ownership avoidance, the booming industry in alternative escape vehicles from public registers and why we must shine the spotlight on all of them.

Plus: we discuss two big stories we think will define 2017: the race to the bottom between nations on tax aka a transfer of wealth to the corporate community, and how the world’s biggest havens are increasingly having to account for the devastating effect their tax and/or financial secrecy policies are having on human rights around the world… We also report from the appeal of tax justice heroes Antoine Deltour and Rapahel Halet in Luxembourg.

UN report recommends: go after tax havens, and protect whistleblowers

From the United Nations General Assembly, the fifth report of the Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order. The summary goes like this:

“The report focuses on impacts of taxation on human rights and explores the challenges posed to the international order by widespread tax avoidance, tax evasion, tax fraud and profit shifting, facilitated by bank secrecy and a web of shell companies registered in tax havens. The Independent Expert calls for resolute action by the international community, including through the creation of a United Nations tax cooperation body, the adoption of a United Nations tax convention, the phasing out of tax havens, the revision of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights to include the obligation of corporations to pay their fair share of taxes and the adoption of a financial transactions tax.”

As you can imagine with an introduction like this, here’s a lot of tax justice stuff in here, and TJN gets a number of mentions. It follows our earlier blog on calls by Rafael Correa, head of the G77 group of developing countries, for an international tax body. Among other things, the UN Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order discusses the definition of ‘tax havens’ and refers to TJN’s alternative term ‘secrecy jurisdiction’ while providing further details on TJN’s Financial Secrecy Index (FSI) and the top listed jurisdictions on the FSI 2015 here (p9 and in the annex).

We’ll highlight only this section below for now, which is a recommendation for the following:

Report: new data disproves US corporations’ false narrative on taxes

From Americans for Tax Fairness, a major new report about corporate taxes in the United States. It’s called Corporate Tax Chartbook: How Corporations Rig the Rules to Dodge the Taxes They Owe, and it contains many useful facts, such as this:

  • Corporate profits are way up, and corporate taxes are way down. In 1952, corporate profits were 5.5 percent of the economy, and corporate taxes were 5.9 percent. Today, corporate profits are 8.5 percent of the economy, and corporate taxes are just 1.9 percent of GDP.

Report: why we need to tax corporations now, more than ever

Update: now on Naked Capitalism, where it’s attracted a lot of interesting commentary

Last year we published a document entitled Ten Reasons to Defend the Corporate Income Tax, outlining how the tax is under constant attack, in country after country, and explaining why it is one of the most precious of all taxes. Now there’s another fascinating paper, rich in insight and detail, from US economist Kimberly Clausing, entitled “Strengthening the Indispensible U.S. Corporate Tax.

While US-focused, it contains a lot of material that provides extensive further support for our own generic document, and argues that the corporate income tax is becoming more, rather than less, important in our tax system(s). It also argues that tax rates for capital, which is currently taxed at lower rates than labour is, should be harmonised with the labour rate, and supports so-called ‘formulary apportionment‘ approaches to taxing U.S. corporations internationally.

We’ll start by highlighting a graph:

More evidence of the links between tax and inequality

campbell-lusherThe economists Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez, Facundo Alvaredo and Anthony Atkinson have played a big role in helping analyse and popularise the role that tax rate cuts for wealthy folk play in fostering economic inequality, particularly the income shares of the top 1 percent of people compared to everyone else. As they put it in 2013:

“The evolution of top tax rates is strongly negatively correlated with changes in pre-tax income concentration.”

Their findings have of course been attacked, not least by certain players keen for taxes on wealthy people to stay low.

Now there’s a new US-focused study by Douglas Campbell and Lester Lusher, called Drivers of Inequality: Trade Shocks versus Top Marginal Tax Rates. It seeks to check on these findings:

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