A breed apart

  • “Businesses invest only where they really see future technological and market opportunities. If you bring their tax to zero, you’ve just made them richer, they will golf more. They will not invest.”
    – Mariana Mazzucato, Financial Times 2015


  • “The poor have sometimes objected to being governed badly. The rich have always objected to being governed at all.”
    – G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936)


  • ”Real rich people figure out how to dodge taxes.”
    – George W. Bush, 2004


  • ”We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes”
    – Leona Helmsley, property heiress


  • ”I’m not prepared to re-enact the French revolutionary renunciation of the rights of the nobility.”
    Lord Conrad Black,disgraced publishing tycoon


  • (News Corp’s) profits, declared in Australian dollars, were A$364,364,000 in 1987, A$464,464,000 in 1988, A$496,496,000 in 1989 and A$282,282,000 in 1990. The odds that such figures were a happy coincidence are 1,000,000,000,000 to one. That little grace note in the sums is accountant-speak for ‘Fuck you.’ Faced with this level of financial wizardry, all the ordinary taxpayer can do is cry ‘Bravo l’artiste!’
    – John Lanchester, London Review of Books, February 2004


  • We are not the successor of, we are not a continuation of, Western civilisation. We are a unique and different civilisation.
    – Grover Norquist, cited in Perfectly Legal by David Cay Johnston, p3


  • We now live in a separate economy. We don’t send our kids to the same schools, we have more choice over schools, we have more choice over health, we have more choice over where we live, we have more choice over where we go on holiday and what we do for our jobs. And we live in a completely different world to the people we live next door to.
    – Wealthy lawyer quoted in Unjust Rewards, by Polly Toynbee and David Walker


  • These élites “have little need for national loyalty, view national boundaries as obstacles that thankfully are vanishing, and see national governments as residues from the past whose only useful function is to facilitate the elite’s global operations.”
    – Samuel Huntingdon , inventor of the term “Davos Man,” on Davos Man


  • There is something new afoot, a huge imbalance in the global distribution of power that concentrates great influence in among informal clusters of elites. These elites often transcend or supplant the insititutions of the past: national governments, systems of law that could not keep pace with global realities, and even the earnest but incomplete efforts of the past half century at creating effective multinational organisations.
    David Rothkopf, “Superclass


  • What this boils down to – and this is one of the most Postmodern things about Murdoch – is that he is in a sense not located anywhere.
    – John Lanchester, London Review of Books, February 2004


  • The very existence of the resident but non-dom category is an outrageous sop to a small number of highly vocal and well-connected rich folk and their lobbyists. [This] undermines respect for the law among the tax paying public at large.
    Willem Buiter, Financial Times, February 2008


  • We can either have democracy in this country or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few. But we can’t have both.
    – Louis Brandeis
    , U.S. Supreme Court justice, 1916-1939


  • We thought until now that crime lived in the shadows of our societies. We find them intimately connected to the great companies or to the most honourable European political leaders.
    Eva Joly, from her 2000 book Notre Affaire à Tous.


  • The accountancy firm Grant Thornton worked out that the UK’s 54 billionaires paid income tax totalling just £14.7m (0.01%) on their £126bn combined fortunes. The Observer, 2007


  • The rich are different when it comes to paying taxes: They hide more of their income.
    Forbes magazine, reporting on a U.S. Internal Revenue Service study estimating that those with true incomes of $200,000 or more accounted for 40% of net underreported income in 2001


  • The superclass is super-rich – the top 1,000 are billionaires – is super-influential and super-confident. There has not been a gap between the rich and poor on the current scale ever in history, warns Rothkopf. It is unstable. Sooner or later, there will be popular outrage and a political response. For the moment, though, it seems that a spell has been cast over the political process.
    Will Hutton, 2008


  • A society in which commas — it takes three to be a billionaire — count more than character.
    David Cay Johnston, Tax Notes, October 2010, on latest U.S. inequality data

Accountable states and tax

See also our web section “Aid, Tax and State-building.

  • For imposing taxes on us without our consent
    – American Declaration of Independence


  • The payment of taxes gives a right to protection.
    – James M. Wayne


  • Taxes are the primary platform for political negotiations amongst a country’s stakeholders.
    – African Economic Outlook, 2010


  • Tax is the new frontier for those concerned with state-building in developing countries. The political importance of taxation extends beyond the raising of revenue. We argue in this book that taxation may play the central [their emphasis] role in building and sustaining the power of states, and shaping their ties to society. The state-building role of taxation can be seen in two principal areas: the rise of a social contract based on bargaining around tax, and the institution-building stimulus provided by the revenue imperative. Progress in the first area may foster representative democracy. Progress in the second area strengthens state capacity. Both have the potential to bolster the legitimacy of the state and enhance accountability between the state and its citizens.
    – Taxation and State-Building in Developing Countries: Capacity and Consent, January 2008





  • We can either have democracy in this country or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few. But we can’t have both.
    – Louis Brandeis
    , U.S. Supreme Court justice, 1916-1939


  • In conditions of civic rights without duties the citizen asserts rights without awareness of duty, and equates liberty with claims to unimpeded satisfaction of demands.
    David LOCKE, Two Treatises of Civil Government book 2 para 59


  • Corporate tax shelters are our number one problem (in enforcing the tax laws), not just because they cost money but because they breed disrespect for the tax system. Lawrence Summers, 2000.


  • It is the duty of the civic order to deny all other claims to dutiless right, demand satisfaction, and self-realisation through unimpeded freedom of action – generally made in the name of liberty itself – where such claims, if allowed, would harm the interests of the citizen-body as a whole.”
    David Selbourne,The Principle of Duty  pp 213-214


  • The heart and soul can find fulfilment in doing worthwhile work, in making a modest personal income and in contributing to the wealth of the whole community through taxation. Christians should take a lead in a public campaign to change the assumption that everyone pays their taxes grudgingly and unwillingly.
    – Bishop of Liverpool, Right Rev David Shepherd, “Bias to the Poor” (p133).


  • “Never be afraid to attack wrong, whether by predatory plutocracy or predatory poverty.”
    Joseph Pulitzer, Crusading newspaper publisher, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 1907


  • Democracy rests on the perception of fair treatment of its citizens. Most people accept the wealth earned by successful business activity. Far less acceptable, however, is the ability of the rich to avoid almost all taxation.
    Financial Times editorial, 2007


  • ‘One part of the community pays the taxes and votes; another receives the benefits and does not vote.
    J.K. Galbraith, The Culture of Contentment  1992  p49


  • Offshore represents a new and significant division of labour in regulation: ‘private’ regulation for the corporate citizen and ‘public’ regulation (the law, prisons and social welfare) for individuals.
    Ronen Palan


  • Perhaps, as we move into the new millennium, governments will need to reach out and develop a social compact with citizens. They would undertake to provide the service requested by citizens in an efficient and cost-effective manner and to minimise the complexity and compliance costs of tax systems. In turn, citizens would seek to meet their tax obligations. Civil society would put peer pressure on those who wish to avoid their obligations. Illegal tax behaviour would be seen for the crime that it is. Aggressive tax planning by tax advisers would be considered sociably unacceptable. This would help governments to break out of the vicious circle of each new tax loophole, leading to more complex tax legislation that in turn generates further loopholes.
    Jeffrey Owens, head of OECD tax department, 2002

Accountants, lawyers, enablers

  • ‘Without reservation they think advisers had undermined spending plans by governments.”
    – Dave Hartnett, Director-General of UK Revenue & Customs, July 2007.


  • “Our investigation revealed a culture of deception inside KPMG’s tax practice.”
    – Senator Carl Levin, the senior ranking member of the US Senate, 2004


  • Offshore companies bled Guinea’s resources, facilitated by western lawyers, accountants, advisers
    – Alpha Condé, president of Guinea, Jan 2014


  • Some businesses are essentially audit-proof.
    Tax Analysts on some hedge funds, private equity, oil and gas partnerships, 2014


  • The adage that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush is now old hat. A conservative accountant counts the bag at the end of the shoot and a less conservative one registers the numbers as the birds fall from the sky. But the modern accountant not only eats what he kills but also takes credit for the expected cull as soon as the hunters’ guns are primed.
    – John Kay, Financial Times, Oct 14, 2008


  • There are “a couple thousand people in the world who run this industry, and if they were to be prosecuted, tax collections would rise without an increase in tax rates.
    – John Moscow , veteran crime-fighting lawyer, 2009


  • Men have to do some awfully mean things to keep up their respectability
    – George Bernard Shaw


  • I have talked to somebody who works in PwC, and they say you will approve a tax product if there is a 25% chance—a one-in-four chance—of it being upheld. That means that you are offering schemes to your clients—knowingly marketing these schemes—where you have judged there is a 75% risk of it then being deemed unlawful.
    Margaret Hodge, chair of UK parliamentary commission into corporate tax



  • The industry is going to crap.
    – David Kelley, U.S. attorney in New York in charge of a case against KPMG on selling fraudulent tax shelters.


  • The commercialisation of the professional ethos in accountancy has been singularly unfortunate. The fact that the big accountancy firms franchised their brand names outside the US and Europe without maintaining the quality of their audits has contributed to corporate scandals in the emerging market and transition economies. 
    – John PlenderGoing off the Rails: Global Capital and the Crisis of Legitimacy, Wiley, 2003


  • At some point . . . such conduct passes from clever accounting and lawyering, to theft from the people.
    – US Internal Revenue Service, in a case dealing with KPMG’s “phoney tax losses.”


  • “Too many clients want to hide behind the institutional name of the law firm – “my lawyer is X”.  It gives a level of approval the client might not otherwise get.”
    – Charles Lubar, London partner, Morgan Lewis & Bockius


  • “The agents who create and maintain this secrecy space include some of the most powerful and privileged elites with society.  It is bankers, lawyers and accountants who create and operate the corruption interface linking illicit activities to the mainstream economies.”
    – John Christensen, Director, Tax Justice Network


  • “In 1995, Congress adopted legislation intended to limit securities litigation … insulated from suits, the accountants are now willing to take more ‘gambles’.
    – Joseph Stiglitz, in his book The Roaring Nineties


  • Enron’s Jeff Skilling, in a fit of uncharacteristic generosity, once ordered champagne for all his colleagues. The toast was in appreciation of a letter from the Securities and Exchange Commission agreeing that Enron could make wide use of mark-to-market accounting.
    – John Kay, Financial Times, Oct 14, 2008


  • A $1,000 fine is like a jaywalking ticket for robbing a bank.
    US Senator Carl Levin, Feb 2007, on the current level of fines for lawyers who help tax evaders head off questioning from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS.)


  • “[O]ur average deal would result in KPMG fees of $360,000 with a maximum penalty exposure of only $31,000.” He then recommended the obvious: going forward with sales of the abusive tax shelter on a cost-benefit basis.
    US Senator Carl Levin, February 2007


  • The greater the loss, the greater the profit. How’s that for turning capitalism on its head!
    US Senator Carl Levin, Feb 2007, on tax shelter fees typically paid in proportion to the size of projected paper losses which can be used to shelter income from tax.


  • This is a picture of a sewer system in Europe.  What does a sewer system in Europe have to do with the budget of the United States?  Unfortunately, a lot because wealthy investors and companies bought this sewer system in Europe, depreciated it on the books in the United States to reduce their tax in America, and then they leased the sewer system back to the European city that built it in the first place.
    U.S. Senate Chair Kent Conrad, 2007.


  •  The Jersey ‘sprat’ had served its purpose now that the UK ‘mackerel’ had been landed.
    – Prem Sikka on how major accountancy firms used Jersey as a crowbar to weaken British legislation on auditor liability.

Avoidance, evasion, cheating

  • We have allowed the word avoidance to gain too much respectability.  It is just a smarter form of evasion.
    – Pravin Gordhan, South African  Minister of Finance, Nov 2009


  • I cannot comprehend how we have got to the point where nation states have so profoundly trivialised tax evasion
    Bertrand Bertossa , crime-fighting Swiss magistrate, 2002


  • “The difference between tax avoidance and tax evasion is the thickness of a prison wall.”
    Denis Healey, a former British chancellor.


  • Abusive tax shelters are usually tough to prosecute. Crimes such as terrorism, murder, and fraud produce instant recognition of the immorality involved. Abusive tax shelters, by contrast, are often “MEGOs,” meaning “My Eyes Glaze Over.” Those who cook up these concoctions count on their complexity to escape scrutiny and public ire.
    Carl Levin, introducing the Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act in the U.S.


  • Offshore tax evasion is exacerbated by the longstanding “revenue rule,” which, put crudely, is a common law rule that says no government should help enforce the tax laws of another government. . . .  That proposition has no place in today’s world. Mexico cannot pay its police enough to keep them honest because it lacks the tax revenue. We have an all out drug war on the Mexican border and little hope that the Mexican government can end it. Helping Mexicans avoid Mexican tax is not benign. It has a direct impact here. Likewise, having an offshore industry ready to serve U.S. tax cheats is not benign.
    Jack Blum , TJN senior adviser, testifying before the US Sentate committee on finance July 24, 2008.


  • The advanced tax planning undertaken today by most global companies is as intelligible to the average person as particle physics.
    Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian, writing about a huge libel case.


  • The City believes that if no tax is due after they have undertaken their shenanigans then there could not have been avoidance. This is what I have already called the ‘Philip Green’ defence. It is summarised as ‘no tax was due, so how could it have been avoided?’ The reality is that it is the shenanigans to ensure no tax is due that constitute the avoidance.
    Richard Murphy , May 2008


  • Partly because the very complexity of banking, the way in which, sometimes just investment banks and sometimes others have sought to develop instruments in order to avoid pay taxes has in itself posed a systemic threat to the system
    Alistair Darling, UK Chancellor, March 2009

Banking and finance

  • There are over 1700 financial lobbyists working at EU level – four for every financial civil servant
    Corporate Europe report, 2014


  • Self-regulation stands in relation to regulation the way self-importance stands in relation to importance and selfrighteousness to righteousness.
     Maverecon blog, Financial Times, 2008


  • There can be few fields of human endeavor in which history counts for so little as in the world of finance. Past experience, to the extent that it is a part of memory at all, is dismissed as the primitive refuge of those who do not have the insight to appreciate the incredible wonders of the present.
    John Kenneth Galbraith, A short history of financial euphoria


  • If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issuance of their currency, first by inflation and then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around them will deprive the people of all their property until their children will wake up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered.
    Thomas Jefferson


  • The tax avoidance was so big it became the engine of growth for the whole of the investment banking arm.
    Barclays whistleblower, March 2009


  • Regulators have to ensure that excessive risk-taking is not going on, with the gains once again privatised and the losses shifted on to taxpayers.
    Financial Times editorial, June 25, 2007


  • A group of Mexicans, supported by the private banks, have taken more money out of Mexico in the past two years than imperialists ever exploited during the entire history of our country.
    José Lopez Portillo, Mexican president, September 1982


  • The world’s financial markets seem shocked and surprised, like Bagpuss being disappointed to learn that the mice from the mouse organ couldn’t really create an endless supply of chocolate biscuits from thin air.
    Charlie Brooker, following the Dubai fiasco, November 2009.


  • No agency in the US or the UK has the resources or the commitment to challenge SCM (Barclays’ Structured Capital Markets division). SCM has huge amounts of resources, the best minds rewarded by millions of pounds. Compare this with HMRC [Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs] recently advertising for a tax and accounting expert with the pay at £45,000. . . . HMRC will never, in its current state, be up to the job of combating this business.
    Anonymous Barclays whistleblower, March 2009


  • Securitization was based on the premise that a fool was born every minute. Globalization meant that there was a global landscape on which they could search for those fools — and they found them everywhere.
    Josep Stiglitz, October 2008


  • The process by which banks create money is so simple that the mind is repelled
    J.K. Galbraith, (see here)


  • When you’re a banker, you have to know how to have blinkers.
    Jean-Didier Maille, on trial in Paris explaining his involvement in the “Angolagate Affair”. Oct 2008.


  • The liberal who understood why free finance is capitalism’s greatest enemy
    Will Hutton on John Maynard Keynes, November 2008


  • Since 1980, regulations have been progressively relaxed until they have practically disappeared. George Soros, Jan 22, 2008



  • There will be no regulatory review or oversight of the terms or conduct of such unregulated funds
    Jerseyfunds.org, on new unregulated fund possibilities offered by Jersey, 2008


  • Financial elites argue that global financial markets and markets in new securities should remain “self-regulating” (how many of them would hop into a self-regulating taxicab?) then when crisis comes have persuaded governments to cauterise their wounds. David Rothkopf,  2008


  • Innovation, like “change,” has no inherent value. It can be bad as well as good. Joseph Stiglitz, December 2008


  • Candy floss money.
    Gillian Tett, Financial Times, January 2007, on securitised loans.


  • I may like many bankers, but I rather dislike banks. No industry has a comparable talent for privatising gains and socialising losses.
    Martin Wolf, Financial Times, Jan 15, 2008.


  • People like this shouldn’t simply get away with this and carry on playing golf
    Marcel Ospel, Swiss politician, on the former head of UBS bank after a giant government bail-out


  • The financing plague is wreaking greater and greater havoc throughout the world. As in Medieval times, it is scourging country after country. It is transmitted by rats and its consequences are unemployment and poverty, industrial bankruptcy and speculative enrichment.
    José Lopez Portillo , Mexican president, September 1982


  • Bad money drives out good.
    Sir Thomas Gresham (c1519-1579), coining “Gresham’s Law”


  • The whole culture of Anglo-American finance is increasingly subversive of regulation, taxation and democratic values, even where it remains within the law.
    John Plender,The hijack that made Enron happen“, Financial Times, 28 January 2003


  • Now that you are in receipt of taxpayers’ money, will you stop implementing tax avoidance schemes?
    – UK Liberal Democrat MP Colin Breed challenges Lloyds Bank, Feb 2009


  • If farming were to be organised like the stock market, Keynes once wrote, a farmer would sell his farm in the morning when it was raining, only to buy it back in the afternoon when the sun came out.
    Will Hutton, November 2008


  • Partly because the very complexity of banking, the way in which, sometimes just investment banks and sometimes others have sought to develop instruments in order to avoid pay taxes has in itself posed a systemic threat to the system Alistair Darling, UK Chancellor, March 2009


  • So capitalism is for poor people and socialism is for capitalists. This view is not just offensive. It is catastrophic.
    Martin Wolf in August 2007, on calls by a hedge fund manager for the US Federal Reserve to bail him and his colleagues out.


  • Fines being paid by the banks are a form of transfer from the banks to the real economy: picture Smaug in The Hobbit, lying on his mountain of gold, being reluctantly forced to part with a few coins by Middle Earth’s version of the Financial Conduct Authority.
    John Lanchester, London Review of Books, 2014


  • There is one key difference between the situation today and that in the Middle Ages. Then, the biggest risk to the banks was from the sovereign. Today, perhaps the biggest risk to the sovereign comes from the banks
    Andrew Haldane


Britain and dependencies

  • Over and over again we have seen that there is in this country another power than that which has its seat at Westminster.  The City of London, a convenient term for a collection of financial interests, is able to assert itself against the Government of the country.  Those who control money can pursue a policy at home and abroad contrary to that which has been decided by the people.
    Ex UK Prime Minister Clement Attlee


  • One inhabitant of Sark was found to be on the board of as many as 2,400 companies, most of which he knew almost nothing about. Another was a nominee director of the Mil-Tec Corporation, registered in the Isle of Man, which was involved in supplying arms to the Rwandan Hutu militias at the time of the 1994 genocide.
    New Statesman, 1998


  • Most of these were former British colonies.  Unquestionably it has been the collapse of the British Empire which has bequeathed most micro-states to the New International Order or Disorder.
    Tom Nairn, Faces of Nationalism, 1997   p146


  • For a generation, the City and Wall Street have assumed an inalienable right to make as much money as possible, in whatever way they saw fit, while paying as little tax as possible. Policy-makers accepted that such unchallenged greed served the greater good. That consensus must end.
    The Observer, September 2008


  • 4,000 directors of British companies on global lists of fraudsters, launderers, terror financiers, corrupt officials


  • It may be helpful to think of the financial networks that converge on London as a recharged version of the British Empire, held together by modems rather than gunboats and overseen by the mother of all anachronisms, the British political system. Daniel Finn, London Review of Books, July 2009


  • London has long been a thriving centre for the washing of foreign riches and reputations – a place for autocrats and oligarchs to deposit their cash and scrub up their images. As long, of course, as they can afford the sizeable fees.
    Philip Stephens, Financial Times, March 2011


  • Have you ever examined UK trust law? All our bankers and financial lawyers say that if you really, really want to hide money, go to London and set up a trust
    Luxembourg politician talking to UK MP Dennis MacShane, after he had complained about bank secrecy


  • “It has taken me a long time to understand that there is a connection between colonial powers and corruption. “The United Kingdom has maintained its privileges by allowing British companies to operate from their own tax havens. The expansion in the use of these jurisdictions has a link to decolonisation. It is a modern form of colonialism,” Eva Joly, investigating magistrate who broke open the “Elf Affair”, Europe’s largest fraud investigation since World War 2. Interview in Development Today.


  • It seems totally inappropriate for banks funded by the taxpayer to be systematically avoiding British tax or helping customers to do so.
    Vince Cable, UK opposition spokesman.


  • Swiss justice has frequently collided with a lack of co-operation from British justice, demonstrating a duplicitous gap between what it says and what it does.
    Bertrand Bertossa, former Geneva magistrate, Feb 2009


  • “It is notorious that this particular territory, in common with Bermuda, attracts all sorts of financial wizards, some of whose activities we can well believe should be controlled in the public interest”
    – Memorandum concerning the Bahamas dated 3rd November 1961 submitted by Mr W.G.Hulland of the Colonial Office to Mr B.E.Bennett at the Bank of England. (From the Bank of England archive.)


  • The HMRC would not generally be able to compel information to be disclosed by Jersey subsidiaries and/or branches of UK institutions . . . Strict confidentiality provisions in the agreement preclude any information being passed to third parties.
    Jersey Finance, Dec 2008, as it denies being a secrecy jurisdiction.


  • The UK’s 54 billionaires paid income tax totalling just £14.7m on their £126bn combined fortunes.
    The Guardian, March 2007


  • The libel laws of England and Wales are tilted so heavily against the defendant and involve such monumental costs that they amount, in effect, to censorship by private interests: a sedition law for the exclusive use of millionaires. . . English libel law is an international menace, a national disgrace, a pre-democratic anachronism. It defends crooks, terrorists and tyrants from investigation. It threatens the free speech of people all over the world and causes untold damage to the reputation of this country.
    George Monbiot, July 2008


  • Britain’s legal system allows people depositing money to hide their identities behind a trust system. The consequence of this is that the authorities’ investigations reach no conclusions, because the banks really don’t know who their customers are.
    Pierre Mirabaud, president of the Swiss Banking Association, 2004, after Swiss investigators into Sani Abacha’s loot followed paper trails that consistently led to the City of London. He called Britain’s exchange of information “a farce.”


  • They provide an easily accessible, English speaking, comfortable bolt-hole for every type of avoidance of UK tax . . (and that they are) besmirching the name of the offshore British Islands by attracting tax dodgers that bleed of vital revenue from the UK.
    Labour MP George Foulkes, Hansard, 1981 (quoted in Hampton p78)



  • However hard it is for them to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, the super-rich have no difficulty entering the United Kingdom of Tax Haven.
    – Michael Meacher, UK Labour MP writing about Britain’s domicile rule, 2007.


  • The City of London,that state within a state which has never transmitted even the smallest piece of usable evidence to a foreign magistrate.
    Eva Joly, investigating magistrate who broke open the “Elf Affair,” Europe’s biggest corruption investigation. In her book Notre affaire à tous, page 243


  • New Labour set out to fail. Its tax policy was designed to be unfair. There was one tax policy for the rich, another for the rest.
    Richard Murphy on Britain’s “New Labour” government, 2008


  • London is the front office for the global tax avoidance industry. In my experience some 80% of structuring is tax-driven.
    John Butler, former Managing Director at Lehman Brothers and Deutsche Bank (tweeted on 13th Feb 2015)


Competitiveness: “a not very good yet widely accepted excuse for crushing labour.”
Yves Smith, Naked Capitalism

Also see Tax Wars and the Fools’ Gold blog.

Corporate responsibility

  • “Businesses invest only where they really see future technological and market opportunities. If you bring their tax to zero, you’ve just made them richer, they will golf more. They will not invest.”
    – Mariana Mazzucato, Financial Times 2015


  • “All of the technologies in the iPhone ­– things like touch-screen technology, GPS, and so on — originated with government spending, funded by taxpayer money. That’s why a company like Apple should be using a substantial portion of its super-profits to support government investment in the next generation of innovation. Instead, the company runs an entire division devoted to finding ways to avoid taxation.”
    – Prof. William Lazonick, a widely renowned U.S. analyst of what makes successful companies



  • “We especially need statesman CEOs who are as committed to a prosperous nation as they are committed to themselves and their shareholders and who live their lives with a lot more grace than seems to be the norm today.” 
    – Leo Hindery, Jr.


  • Tax shelters are to democracy what pollution is to the environment
    – David Cay Johnston, in his book Perfectly Legal


  • You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police-forces and fire-forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory — and hire someone to protect against this — because of the work the rest of us did.“Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea. God bless — keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is, you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.
    Elizabeth Warren, 2011


  • Corporate responsibility begins with paying tax; that means paying the right tax in the right place at the right time.
    – John Christensen, March 2004


  • One of the reasons we’ve seen an erosion of trust, broadly, in big companies is they’ve allowed themselves to be seen as detached from society, and they will float in and out of societies according to what the tax regime is. I don’t buy that you can be this mid-Atlantic floating entity with no allegiance to anybody except the lowest tax rate. . . . It’s completely wrong to play fast and loose with your connections with society in that way.
    – Andrew Witty, head of GlaxoSmithKline. Original here.


  • ‘Without reservation they think advisers had undermined spending plans by governments.”
    – Dave Hartnett, Director-General of UK Customs, July 2007.


  • Tax is not a cost to a company. It is a distribution out of profits. That puts tax in the same category as a dividend – it is a return to the stakeholders in the enterprise. This reflects the fact that companies do not make profit merely by using investors’ capital. They also use the societies in which they operate, whether that is the physical infrastructure provided by the state, the people the state has educated, or the legal infrastructure that allows companies to protect their property rights. Tax is the return due on this investment by society from which companies benefit.
    – Richard Murphy, The Guardian, November 2007


  • Too many boards right across Britain tick the green and diversity boxes, then reward their finance or tax director for cheating their customers, the taxpayer
    Lord Oakeshott, UK Liberal Democrat spokesman, Feb 2009


  • Tax will soon prove as challenging for business as the early days of fair-trade campaigning.
    SustainAbility “Taxing Issues: Responsible business and tax”


  • The raison d’être behind the whole system has been achieved – revenue for the state of Delaware . . . necessary high standards of conduct cannot be maintained by courts shackled to public policy based upon the production of revenue; pride in being ‘number one;’ and the creation of a ‘favorable climate’ for new incorporations.
    William L. Cary, former head of the Securities and Exchange Commission, in a seminal 1974 article exploring Delaware’s lead in a regulatory “race to the bottom” between U.S. states.


  • Sustainable development can only happen when national economies are strong. Fair tax is at the heart of this equation. It requires multinational companies to turn away from tax schemes and tax havens, treating their tax obligations as part of the “corporate social responsibility” that they are so keen to advertise.
    Richard Brooks, The Guardian, Nov 2010


  • “The corporation is a rent extraction vehicle for the shortest-term shareholders.”
    Prof. Colin Mayer of Oxford’s Saïd Business School, 2014


  • “The missing money means schools not funded properly, hospitals not built. For Russian people it’s not funny money, it’s literally killing them.”
    – Elena Panfilova, the Moscow head of Transparency International, on élite Russian money stashed in Europe


  • “I see so many similarities, in France and overseas, between state corruption and all kinds of mafia. The same networks, the same henchmen, the same banks, the same marble villas.”
    Eva Joly, Notre affaire à tous, 2000


  • Joly says the expansion of tax havens in recent years has also become a problem for the market. She calls dealing with tax havens “phase two” in the corruption debate.
    Development Today, in an interview with Eva Joly.


  • Singapore’s success came mostly from being the money laundering center for corrupt Indonesian businessmen and government officials. . . to sustain its economy, Singapore is building casinos to attract corruption money from China.
    Andy Xie, Morgan Stanley economist, in an internal e-mail that cost him his job


  • 53 per cent of countries said to be least corrupt by the Transparency International Index are offshore tax havens, where most of the corrupt money goes. There is a lack of political will in the leading tax haven States to part with information required to trace such assets as they are all too aware of the extent to which their own economies have become geared to this flow of illegal capital from the poorer countries.
    AP Singh, director of India’s Central Bureau of Investigations, Feb 2012


  • The same mechanisms allow tax evasion, tax avoidance, corruption, and organized crime money to flow — it’s all the same. While we’ve left these loopholes open because it’s beneficial to multinationals and to the rich, to be able to structure their money to minimize tax, we let a hell of a lot more go on under this.
    Anthea Lawson, Global Witness


  • “I don’t know a single big business in Ukraine which is owned transparently and doesn’t use non-resident companies.”
    Yaroslav Lomakin, of Honest & Bright, a Moscow consulting firm.


  • ‘Almost the last thing (Adam Smith) wrote..was a passage he added to the sixth edition of the Theory of Moral Sentiments.  In it he describes the admiration accorded to the rich and the contempt meted out to the poor not just as a fault but as the “great and most universal cause of the corruption of moral sentiments.”‘
    James Buchan  LRB vol 17 no 24  Dec 1995


  • A study of the development impact of off-shore financial centers would be a valuable contribution to the governance and anti-corruption agenda.
    Robert Zoellick , World Bank president, September 2008


  • We must reconsider what constitutes corruption.  It is right to be concerned by bribery and embezzlement of public assets, but tax evasion is generally overlooked even though it represents theft of public assets and, in terms of orders of magnitude, has far greater impact on public revenues. Tax evasion involves abusive behaviour at the intersection between private activity and the public interest.  It involves minorities bypassing accepted social norms, and provides one set of rules for the rich and well connected, and another set of rules for the poor and weak. More insidiously, it involves privileged elites, who use secrecy jurisdictions to undermine the will of elected parliaments.  It is time that secrecy jurisdictions are recognised for what they really are: a full-on assault on the sovereignty of nation states, a direct attack on democracy, and a cancer running through the veins of contemporary capitalism.
    John Christensen, director, Tax Justice Network, September 2008

Country by Country reporting

A year or so ago I had a meeting at Euston tower with the HMRC [the UK tax authorities]officials who deal with transfer pricing matters. They said it would help them to have a relatively simple form to provide information about the companies into which they enquire so they know where those companies make their profits and where they pay tax. The officials said it would help them to have high-level information that could tell them, for example, that a high proportion of profits were being transferred to a low-tax jurisdiction. They said that type of information would enable them to assess risks and determine where to put their resources. That conversation and others resulted in our proposal for the high-level tool.
David Gauke, UK Exchequer Secretary, March 2014


  • We’re all bandits here. You can be accepted as long as you bring a lot of money.”
    Geneva oilman on Switzerland


  • Let’s be serious about where the big money is. If you look at the trail of cocaine, you’ll find that 5% of the profits remain in the producing countries; 95% is in the distribution networks and laundered. The big money is in the big banks in the big countries; the big money is in the US, Europe and Asia.
    Mauricico Rodríguez, Colombia’s ambassador to London, July 2011, original here.


  • “If Swiss banking secrecy were abolished, a large part of Switzerland’s private banking business would disappear.”
    – Dr Gunter Woernle, author of Wernlim directory of Swiss private banking – FT, 1997


  • “There is very little evidence that the reports banks are required to submit have been a deterrent to illegal activity or a method of identifying criminal behavior.”
    Florida Bankers’ Association, July 2008


  • A highly paid private equity executive paying less tax than a cleaning lady can’t be right. … I have not heard anyone give a clear explanation of why it is justified.”
    Nicholas Ferguson, chair of private equity giant SVG Capital.


  • It can’t be helpful to have your VAT rate as a determinant of where you put your warehouse. It’s a basic distortion to fair competition. [The situation] is absolutely nuts. Just as it’s nuts for digital service providers – like iTunes and Amazon Kindle – to be located in low tax locations. All the high growth digital markets are not delivering the Government tax revenue. It is absolutely idiotic.
    Simon Fox, CEO of entertainment giant HMV, Feb 2012. Original here.


  • Too often research economists seem not to start with the key knowledge gaps facing development practitioners, but rather search for questions they can answer with the industry’s currently favorite tools.
    Robert Zoellick, World Bank President, September 2010


  • Tax havens warp the foundations of market capitalism. David Ricardo’s theory of comparative advantage says that production should gravitate towards geographically relevant areas: cheap manufactures come from China and France or Chile produce fine wines. But now we have thousands of companies operating from one building in the Cayman Islands, and a former Thai prime minister avoids paying tax on a $1.9bn sale through a British Virgin Islands company called Ample Rich Investments. Small wonder that people lack confidence in the global economy.
    John Christensen, director of the Tax Justice Network, May 2007


  • Offshore represents a new and significant division of labour in regulation: ‘private’ regulation for the corporate citizen and ‘public’ regulation (the law, prisons and social welfare) for individuals. Ronen Palan p37 in Offshore Finance Centres and Tax Havens: the Rise of Global Capital, ed. Mark P. Hampton and Jason Abbott.


  • This is a low point in the history of high finance. Because of tax rules, a company absolutely saturated in excess cash must borrow, while small businesses that actually need the money to create jobs cannot access bank credit.
    Martin A. Sullivan, Tax Notes, 2010


  • I’m not sure it is riots on the streets yet. But it may not be far away, the way things are going . . . The industry certainly pays very low tax and that is not easy to justify,” he told the Financial Times. “Buy-out firms are stacking up cash offshore in ways that look bloody wrong to me,” he said, referring to the practice of locating funds in overseas tax havens and keeping carried interest  rolling over.” John Moulton, the founder of the UK buy-out firm Alchemy Partners, July 2, 2007

Dubious words and promises

  • The Chancellor should end the tax abuses which reach to the heart of our public finances by indulging the super rich at the expense of all the rest of us.
    UK shadow chancellor Gordon Brown, later Prime Minister, 1993


  • “A Labour Chancellor will not permit tax reliefs to millionaires in offshore tax havens.” 
    – Gordon Brown, Hansard,  1998


  • We must now build a new global financial order founded on transparency not opacity, rewarding success not excess, responsibility not impunity and which is global not national.
    – Gordon Brown, September 2008, amid financial chaos, while his officials worked to undermine global agreements on taxation.


  • How do I possess that power, that sovereignty? Through privacy. Through the fact that nobody knows. Through the fact that I have to account to no-one.
    – Ian Fleming, Dr No


  • From this trade proceeds benefits far outweighing all mischiefs and inconveniences.
    – Quote from a slave trader, cited in William Snelgrave’s book, A New Account ofthe Slave Trade.


  • “Secrecy is as vital as the air we breathe.”
    – The Swiss Banking Association in half-page advertisements in a number of broadsheet newspapers, in a rearguard action following the Nazi gold scandal.


  • Not just a light touch but a limited touch . . . a million fewer inspections every year
    UK Chancellor Gordon Brown, 2005, as he launches his “Better Regulation Plan.”


  • I do not subscribe to the theory that a company that violates tax and exchange control regulations is a bad corporation.
    John Fedders, former US SEC director of enforcement.


  • The responsibility of the Cayman government was managed by avoiding the concept of prudential regulation.
    Anthony Travers, chair, Cayman Finance


  • I have long dreamed of buying an island owned by no nation and of establishing the World Headquarters of the Dow company on the truly neutral ground of such an island, beholden to no nation or society.
    Carl Gerstacker, Chairman of Dow Chemical, 1972


  • “I don’t want to abolish government.  I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.”
    Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform


  • I find it amusing
    Paul O’Neill, US Treasury Secretary under President George W. Bush, asked about whether the disparity between reported offshore accounts and their actual numbers was significant


  • German tax evasion is a legitimate defense by citizens attempting to “partially escape the current grasp of the administrators of a disastrous social welfare state and its fiscal policies. . . . Swiss-style saving outside the system” is something to which not only the wealthy, but also productive small and mid-sized businesses are entitled.
    Konrad Hummler, a partner in Wegelin & Co, Switzerland’s oldest private bank, later brought to its knees in a U.S. tax evasion scandal.


  • The true measure of a career is to be able to be content, even proud, that you succeeded through your own endeavors without leaving a trail of casualties in your wake.
    Alan Greenspan, June 1999


  • We are only selling the instruments to the clients. Whether they would play correctly, or use them for illegal purpose, is their own business. We don’t see and we don’t want to see this.
    Ivanna Pylypiuk, managing partner with International Consulting Group, which promotes offshore accounts for “tax minimalization.”


  • The City believes that if no tax is due after they have undertaken their shenanigans then there could not have been avoidance. This is what I have already called the ‘Philip Green’ defence. It is summarised as ‘no tax was due, so how could it have been avoided?’ The reality is that it is the shenanigans to ensure no tax is due that constitute the avoidance.
    Richard Murphy , May 2008


  • Yukos “exercised its constitutional right to manicure its tax affairs”
    Bruce Misamore, Yukos CFO, quoted in Platt’s, 2003


  • The last ten years in particular have been good years for the world economy as a whole. They have been characterised by two massively favourable trends. The first is an era of easy money. The main central banks worldwide have opted for low interest rates, the ready creation of credit, and tolerance of innovatory means of financing public and private sector activity through big increases in debt. It has been the era of public/private partnerships, specialised credit-based funds and funds of funds, collateralized debt obligations, collateralized loan obligations, credit default swaps, special purpose vehicles and many other similar ways of raising borrowing throughout the financial system.
    Britain’s Conservative Party, “Freeing Britain to compete”, Aug 2007.


  • Let’s face it. Nobody pays more tax than they have to. We’re all tax dodgers aren’t we
    Edmund Vestey, one of Britain’s richest citizens, 1980.


  • If your wallet’s taken a bit of beating over the festive season, an unsecured loan from Northern Rock could be the perfect way to sort things out.
    Northern Rock promotion, not long before the UK-based bank collapsed at the leading edge of a global economic crisis.


  • Congress can swear on two stacks of Bibles that it’ll never do it again, but they’ve lost their virginity
    David Rosenbloom, New York University, on the U.S. Congress’ enthusiasm for tax amnesties



“If you can’t explain it to your mother, or at least to your non-economist friends, there’s a good chance that you yourself don’t really know what you’re doing.”
Paul Krugman, 2014

Ethics and religion

  • We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics. Out of the collapse of a prosperity whose builders boasted their practicality has come the conviction that in the long run economic morality pays. Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1937


  • This is why you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Pay to all their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, toll to whom toll is due, respect to whom respect is due, honour to whom honour is due.
    Romans 13: 6 & 7


  • A code of conduct can help create a climate of opinion where tax cheats cannot successfully pose as refugees from oppressive government but instead are seen for what they are—selfish, self-absorbed people who undermine good government and help keep two thirds of the world locked in poverty.
    Michael J. McIntyre, author of a UN Code of Conduct on tax evasion and avoidance, 2008


  • Tax evasion should not be a sport, but an offence. The needs of nations are not diminishing. Do you think it is normal that only the honest taxpayers should be counted? This calls into question the very foundations of democratic states.
    – Bertrand Bertossa, crime-fighting Swiss magistrate, 2002

Finance Curse

See here for our full section on the Finance Curse.


  • Beyond a certain point, financial development is bad for an economy. Instead of supplying the oxygen that the real economy needs for healthy growth, it sucks the air out of the system and starts to slowly suffocate it.
    Stephen Cecchetti, Economic Adviser, Bank for International Settlements, 2012, reporting on landmark study


  • The institutions that prospered on the upside expect rescue on the downside. How does one sustain broad public support for what appears so one-sided a game?
    Martin Wolf, Financial Times, February 2008


  • I wonder how long it will be found necessary to pay City men so entirely out of proportion to what other servants of society commonly receive for performing social services not less useful or difficult.
    – John Maynard Keynes


  • Such a high proportion of our talented young people naturally look at the City and think it is the only place to work in. It shouldn’t be. It should be one of the places, but not the only one.
    Mervyn King, Bank of England Governor, 2008


  • “The entire UK economy has become, in effect, a giant hedge fund with a massive one-way bet on financial services – and no Plan B.
    Simon Caulkin, The Observer, before the big banks started collapsing.


  • “If some of that (the banking sector) were to migrate overseas that would be unfortunate but given the costs of carrying that financial system around, it may be a price worth paying.”
    Andrew Haldane, Bank of England, December 2009


  • Jersey is an island that until two decades ago lived off boat-building, cod-fishing, agriculture and tourism.  It is run by a group who, although they form a social and political elite, are mostly small business owners and farmers who now find themselves overseeing an industry of global scope involving billions of dollars.  ‘By and large’ says the senior civil servant, ‘they are totally out of their depth’
    – Wall Street Journal , Sept 17, 1996


  • Experience is accumulating that remoteness between ownership and operation is an evil in the relations among men, likely or certain in the long run to set up strains and enmities which will bring to nought the financial calculation.
    John Maynard Keynes , pre-dating the securitisation crisis by 74 years.


  • The theory of  comparative advantage assumes that  economic activities tend to gravitate towards geographically relevant areas; offshore has the opposite effect.
    – Ronen Palan p35 in Offshore Finance Centres and Tax Havens: the Rise of Global Capital, ed. Mark P. Hampton and Jason Abbott.


  • This shift towards more `open’ national economies did not create a  unified and free world market. Instead, like an outgoing tide, it revealed a craggy landscape of  diverse national and local regulations. Trying to deal with these differences has generated an exponential growth of networks of regulatory cooperation, coordination and harmonization. . . . The apparent shift to `freer markets’ has meant more rules.
    Sol Picciotto, 2006


  • Regulation must be global. Moreover, such regulation must include taxation. As finance goes global, so must the depth of co-operation among fiscal authorities. A world in which a global plutocratic class pays little or no tax, while benefiting from the stability generated by taxes imposed on the “little people”, will prove unsustainable.
    Financial Times editorial, June 25, 2007
  • Most of today’s tax arrangements were developed in an era when tax authorities could rely upon exchange controls, highly regulated capital markets and technological constraints to protect them from the negative fiscal effects of global activities. These barriers to cross-border activities protected tax authorities from the full implications of the interaction between national tax systems. While corporations globalised, tax authorities remained constrained by national frontiers. Jeffrey Owens, head of OECD Fiscal Affairs department, 2002


  • All successful revolutions are the kicking in of a rotten door
    – JK Galbraith, a quote appropriated by the Tax Justice Network to explain the movement’s remarkable success


  • You cannot get – not at a meeting sponsored by the International Monetary Fund, not from the participants at the Institute for New Economic Thinking – any serious discussion of contract law and fraud. I’ve tried, repeatedly. No one will deny, in response to the question, the role that fraud played in the financial debacle. How could they? But they won’t discuss it either.”
    J. K. Galbraith, 2011


  • Our research shows that economic papers that rely on mathematics are not scientifically valid. . . we need to rebuild the world to make it resistant to the economist’s mystifications Nassim Nicholas Taleb and Mark Spitznagel , July 2009


  • A new, invisible and at times virtual, tyranny is established, one which unilaterally and irremediably imposes its own laws and rules. Moreover, indebtedness and credit distance countries from their real economy and citizens from their real buying power. Added to this, as if it were needed, is widespread corruption and selfish fiscal evasion which have taken on worldwide dimensions.
    Pope Francis, May 2013


  • The present system of tax agreements creates the anomaly of aid in reverse – from poor to rich countries
    – Charles Irish, 1974

“Once you realise that trickle-down economics does not work, you will see the excessive tax cuts for the rich as what they are – a simple upward redistribution of income, rather than a way to make all of us richer, as we were told.”

Ha-Joon Chang, 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism

      • An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics.
        Plutarch, ancient Greek historian


      • “It is the ‘horse and sparrow’ theory of income distribution and its taxation. If you feed a horse enough oats, some will pass through to the road for the sparrows.”
        – J. Kenneth Galbraith on trickle-down economics


      • When I was poor and I complained about inequality, they said I was bitter. Now I’m rich and I complain about inequality, and they call me a hypocrite. I am beginning to think they don’t want inequality on the agenda because it’s a real problem that needs to be addressed.
        Russell Brand, British comedian


      • No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable.
        Adam Smith


      • An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics.
        Plutarch  (c. 46 – 120 CE)


      • Raise my taxes. And raise them now.
        Edgar M. Bronfman, Montreal-born philanthropist


      • Much of what politicians say about our tax system ignores 2,500 years of history, dating to when the athenians jettisoned their flat tax and with it tyranny, in favour of a tax system based on ability to pay.
        David Cay Johnston, Perfectly Legal


      • Such inherited economic power is as inconsistent with the ideals of this generation as inherited political power was inconsistent with the ideals of the generation which established our country.
        Franklin Roosevelt, U.S. President, 1933-1945


      • There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.
        Warren Buffett , November 2006


      • For the first time in the 200-year run of the free-market system, we have built and expanded an entire integrated global financial structure, the basic purpose of which is to shift money from poor to rich.
        Raymond Baker, June 2007, speaking about the offshore world.


      • There wasn’t anyone in the office, from the receptionist up, who paid a lower tax rate. And I have no tax planning, I don’t have an accountant, I don’t have tax shelters. I just do what Congress tells me to do.
        Warren Buffett, billionaire, 2008


      • If the income distribution in the United States were the same today as it was in 1979, the bottom 80 percent of the population would have about $670 billion more, or about $8,000 per family. And the top one percent would have about $670 billion less, or about $500,000 per family.
        Larry Summers, former US Treasury Secretary, 2007.


      • The necessaries of life occasion the great expense of the poor. They find it difficult to get food, and the greater part of their little revenue is spent in getting it. The luxuries and vanities of life occasion the principal expense of the rich, and a magnificent house embellishes and sets off to the best advantage all the other luxuries and vanities which they possess. A tax upon house-rents, therefore, would in general fall heaviest upon the rich; and in this sort of inequality there would not, perhaps, be anything very unreasonable. It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion.
        Adam Smith on progressive taxation


      • The superclass is super-rich – the top 1,000 are billionaires – is super-influential and super-confident. There has not been a gap between the rich and poor on the current scale ever in history, warns Rothkopf. It is unstable. Sooner or later, there will be popular outrage and a political response. For the moment, though, it seems that a spell has been cast over the political process.
        Will Hutton, 2008


      • A society in which commas — it takes three to be a billionaire — count more than character.
        David Cay Johnston, Tax Notes, October 2010, on latest U.S. inequality data


      • It is easy for the rich, in an arbitrary government, to conspire against them [the poor], and throw the whole burthen of the taxes on their shoulders.
        – David Hume, 1752


      • ‘It is a basic but rarely articulated feature of the modern economic system that the highest pay is given for the work that is most prestigious and most agreeable.’
        – JK Galbraith, 1992


      • ‘The US is the odd man out: as a more diverse and physically dispersed society, its voters are willing to tolerate the creation of an underclass which European voters are prepared to pay to prevent.’
        Richard Layard (LSE)  taken from ‘The real reasons for public expenditure.’ Financial Times,  1 November 1993


      • “There will be howls of anguish from those who are rich enough to pay the highest rate of income tax – but you never hear a word of sympathy from them for those who are too poor to pay tax at all.”
        Denis Healey


See also our webpage on inequality and tax havens.

Laffer Curve

      • The president and his advisers seemed to believe that tax cuts, especially for upper-income Americans and corporations, were a cure-all for any economic disease—the modern-day equivalent of leeches
        Joseph Stiglitz, December 2008, on the Bush tax cuts


      • No serious academic, including Mr. Bush’s own economists, has argued that tax cuts produce enough additional economic growth to make up for lost revenue. Washington Post, “The Tax Fairy, Debunked”, November 2007


See also our webpage analysing the scale of the problem.

      • The wealth, power, and illegality enabled by this hidden system are now so vast as to threaten the global economy’s legitimacy
        Jeffrey Sachs, April 30, 2011


      • Nobody picked it up! What buttons do you press, who do you call? Whose consent do you seek? John Le Carré, speaking about a U.N. report in 2009 that leading banks absorbed over $350bn of drugs profits into the global economic system.

Race to the bottom

      • In Belize you can be the grantor, the trustee, and the beneficiary, and have the trust considered valid. You can include provisions allowing you to redraw the trust instrument and add a flee clause which allows a change in situs for the trust in case of criminal or tax investigation. Jersey trusts can be administered outside of Jersey by non-citizens, and with no records kept in Jersey. Jurisdictions in search of financial services business are engaged in a race to the bottom to provide tools for people trying to hide money.
        Jack Blum, TJN senior adviser, testifying before the US Sentate committee on finance, July 24, 2008.


See also our webpage on financial secrecy

      • Offshore service providers pretend to own or control the offshore trusts, corporations, and accounts they help establish, but what they really do is whatever their clients tell them to do. In truth, the independence of offshore entities is a legal fiction.
        Senator Carl Levin, introducing the Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act, Feb 2008


      • Each year, the (United) States allow persons to form nearly 2 million corporations and limited liability companies in this country without knowing – or even asking — who the beneficial owners are behind those corporations. . . . our law enforcement officials have too often had to stand silent when asked by their counterparts in other countries for information about who owns a U.S. corporation committing crimes in their jurisdictions. The reality is that the United States is as bad as any offshore jurisdiction when it comes to responding to those requests – we can’t answer them because we don’t have the information.
        Senator Carl Levin, May 2008


      • There is not a crime, there is not a dodge, there is not a trick, there is not a swindle, there is not a vice which does not live by secrecy
        Joseph Pulitzer


      • Truth never damages a cause that is just
        Mahatma Gandhi


      • As in battling vampires – in taking on tax havens, what is really needed is a great blast of daylight
         Guardian editorial , April 3, 2009


      • If corruption is a disease, then transparency is a central part of its treatment.
        Kofi Annan, 2013


      • Identifying tax shelter activity can be as difficult as finding objects trapped inside a black hole — their presence is known only through inference.
        Tax Analysts, 2008


      • In the Gospel of John, Jesus states that those who do what is right do so in the light, while wrong-doers shroud their deeds in secrecy and darkness.
        Peg Chamberlain, President, National Council of Churches of Christ, USA, May 2010


      • “Secrecy is as vital as the air we breathe.”
        Swiss Banking Association in half-page advertisements in a number of broadsheet newspapers, in a rearguard action following the Nazi gold scandal.


      • Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants and the area of income tax accounting could use more sunlight.
        Donald Nicolaisen, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s chief accountant, Nov 2004


      • “A company is basically an alternative identity. If you form a company for one or two thousand dollars, that’s a whole new identity and it can’t be linked back to anything or anyone,” Professor Jason Sharman


      • The standard OECD information exchange agreement is nearly worthless.
        Lee Sheppard, tax expert, in “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Part 4: Ineffectual Information Sharing,” Tax Notes, March 23, 2009


“In Formula One, everyone cheats. The trick is not to get caught”
Bernie Ecclestone

Tax and state-building

      • Pay your taxes, and set your country free
        – Michael Waweru, head of Kenya Revenue Authority, Nov 2007


      • The real spelling of aid is t.a.x.
        – Jeffrey Owens, head of tax at the OECD, Nov 30, 2008.


      • Support for revenue and customs sectors has attracted a minimal share of aid, of around 0.1% of official development assistance annually.
        Jeffrey Owens, head of tax at the OECD, 2010


      • We have built and expanded an entire integrated global financial structure, the basic purpose of which is to shift money from poor to rich. . . this is the ugliest chapter in global economic affairs since slavery.
        – Raymond Baker, author of Capitalism’s Achilles Heel, June 2007


      • Developing countries are estimated to lose to tax havens almost three times what they get from developed countries in aid.
        – Angel Gurría, OECD Secretary-General, November 2008


      • Tax havens have a bigger impact on developing countries than on developed countries . . . there is an enormous drainage of revenues to tax havens. This is equivalent to around 7 to 8 percent of gross domestic product for the African continent and a multiple of the aid it gets from developed countries.
        Jeffrey Owens, tax director at the OECD, November 2008



      • It is a contradiction to support increased development assistance, yet turn a blind eye to actions by multinationals and others that undermine the tax base of a developing country.
        – Trevor Manuel, South African Finance Minister, January 2008
      • Revenue collection is the one which can emancipate us from begging, from disturbing friends… if we can get about 22 percent of GDP we should not need to disturb anybody by asking for aid….instead of coming here to bother you, give me this, give me this, I shall come here to greet you, to trade with you.
        – Yoweri Museveni, President of Uganda (then collecting 11% of GDP in taxes, along with 11% in aid), Washington DC, September 2005.


      • Officials who had not even completed a school education were negotiating contracts worth billions of dollars with the best lawyers in the world.
        David McNair, Christian Aid, April 2010


      • “One might have thought that money would flow from rich countries to the poor countries; but year after year, exactly the opposite occurs. One might have thought that the rich countries, being far more capable of bearing the risks of volatility in interest rates and exchange rates, would largely bear those risks when they lend money to the poor nations. Yet the poor are left to bear the burdens. Of course, no one expected that the world market economy would be fair; but at least we were taught that it was efficient. Yet these and other tendencies suggest that it is neither.
        – Joseph Stiglitz.


      • Smaller, poorer countries with tax administrations that are less sophisticated cannot be expected to develop the expertise required to unravel the complex structures that multinationals and other large companies put in place to minimise tax.
        – Trevor Manuel, South African Finance Minister, January 2008


      • For every $1 that we have been generously handing out across the top of the table, we in the West have been taking back some $10 of illicit money under the table. There is no way to make this formula work for anyone, poor or rich.
        – Raymond Baker, author of Capitalism’s Achilles Heel, June 2007


      • Poorer countries who are often the victims of organised efforts to undermine their tax bases.
        – Trevor Manuel, South African Finance Minister, January 2008


      • Evidence suggests that income redistribution, via taxes and transfers – the latter of which are key to social protection – are more efficient for poverty reduction than economic growth per se.
        World Health Organisation , Commission on Social Determinants of Health, 2008.


      • Aggressive tax avoidance is a serious cancer eating into the fiscal base of many countries Pravin Gordhan, South African finance minister, May 2009


      • Economic agreements between rich and poor countries that require tariff reduction can reduce available domestic revenue in low income countries before alternative streams of finance have been established. Measures to combat the use of offshore financial centres could provide resources for development at least comparable to those made available through new taxes.
        World Health Organisation , Commission on Social Determinants of Health, 2008.


      • This is a seductive idea: freeing up trade is good, why not also let capital move freely across borders? But the claims of enormous benefits from free capital mobility are not persuasive. Substantial gains have been asserted, not demonstrated. . . The myth  has been created by what one might christen the Wall Street-Treasury complex
        Jagdish Bhagwati, Foreign Affairs, 1998

Taxes, tax cuts and incentives

      • “Once you realise that trickle-down economics does not work, you will see the excessive tax cuts for the rich as what they are – a simple upward redistribution of income, rather than a way to make all of us richer, as we were told.”
        Ha-Joon Chang, 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism


      • “Tax cuts are fun, but I never saw a tax cut put out a fire. I never saw a tax cut make a bridge”
        Democrat Rep. Barney Frank, 2011


      • When there is an income tax, the just man will pay more and the unjust less on the same amount of income
        Plato, The Republic.


      • It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expence, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion.
        Adam Smith on progressive taxation


      • Taxation, in reality, is life. If you know the position a person takes on taxes, you can tell their whole philosophy. The tax code, once you get to know it, embodies all the essence of life: greed, politics, power, goodness, charity. Everything’s in there. That’s why it’s so hard to get a simplified tax code.
        Sheldon Cohen, former IRS Commissioner


      • Tax is not a pleasant subject and never will be. Neither are the responsibilities of child care, like calming bedtime fears about imagined monsters lurking in the shadows. Parents who perform these duties, showing their love by their actions, make for productive adults, while those who shirk the unpleasant realities of parenting often discover what a nightmare a child can grow up to become.
        David Cay Johnston, Tax Analysts, July 2011 (also here.)


      • Paying taxes is a pain, no doubt about it, but its less of a pain if everyone bears their fair share.  Its intolerable, however, when not everyone pays their contribution: and the poor end up paying for the rich.  Worse still when the rich choose every now and then to raise the level of taxes, but the poor are made to pay for them.  What a scandalous confiscation!  A powerful minority deciding what the unfortunate masses must pay!  Can you tell me amongst which races such a scandalous situation prevails: not amongst the Francs, nor the Huns, and neither amongst the Goths or the Vandals.  One thing that amazes me, in these conditions, is that all the poor and the native peoples haven’t simply switched sides to the Barbarians.  But they certainly would if it was possible for them to take their homes and families.
        Salvien of Marseille, a priest who had studied the underlying causes of the fall of the Roman empire and concluded that the general public had little incentive to struggle for the empire. 5th Century. Translated from the original French, Lucien Jerphagnon, “Les Divins Césars. Idéologie et pouvoir dans la Rome impériale”, Ed. Tallandier, 2004, pp.481-82.


      • Tax havens are to those engaged in tax evasion what fences are to thieves.
        Willem Buiter, FT columnist and former chief economist of the EBRD.


      • If Boeing is not naturally inclined, in the absence of a tax incentive, to make its planes safe, you might want to consider that before you book your next flight.
        Citizens for Tax Justice, 2014


      • It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion.
        – Adam Smith on progressive taxation


      • I have worked with investors for 60 years and I have yet to see anyone — not even when capital gains rates were 39.9 percent in 1976-77 — shy away from a sensible investment because of the tax rate on the potential gain.
        Warren Buffett, August 2011. Original here


      • I never made an investment decision based on the tax code. . . If you are giving money away I will take it. If you want to give me inducements for something I am going to do anyway, I will take it. But good business people do not do things because of inducements, they do it because they can see that they are going to be able to earn [at least] the cost of capital out of their own intelligence and organization of resources.
        –  Paul O’Neill Former Alcoa CEO, at  confirmation hearing to be President George W. Bush’s first Secretary of the Treasury, 2001


      • Google will continue to invest in the UK no matter what you guys do because the UK is just too important for us.
        Eric Schmidt, Google’s boss, on the possibility of the UK raising taxes.


      • “Our debt crisis began when someone decided to get the joint prize, Nobel Prize, for economics and fiction by putting forward the theory that you could finance two wars with five tax cuts.
        Democrat Rep. Barney Frank, 2011


      • Tax is where the environment was 10 years ago
        Jeffrey Owens, director of the OECD’s centre for tax policy and administration, FT, November 2004. Owens opined in this article that the emergence of NGOs like TJN could eventually achieve a change in attitude comparable to that achieved on environmental and social issues.


      • Taxes, after all, are dues that we pay for the privileges of membership in an organized society
        – Franklin D. Roosevelt


      • A government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend upon the support of Paul –  George Bernard Shaw


      • Every citizen of the state of Washington can proudly say that they pay more taxes than Boeing – Bob McIntyre


      • “The idea of repealing the corporate tax seems to have just one virtue, which is that it’s simplistic enough to fit into a blog post or op-ed. In every other way this idea is terrible.”
        – From Citizens for Tax Justice in the U.S., 2014

Tax havens

      • I consider tax havens the enemy. They’re the enemy of American taxpayers and the things we try to do with our revenues — infrastructure, roads, bridges, education, defense. They help to starve us of resources that we need for all the things we do. And this center is out there helping them to accomplish that.
        Former senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.). Click here


      • The magistrates are like sheriffs in the spaghetti westerns who watch the bandits celebrate on the other side of the Rio Grande… They taunt us—and there is nothing we can do.”
        – Eva Joly, furious about how tax havens stonewalled her judicial probes.


      • We are not a tax haven
        Every tax haven in the world. Click here


      • Offshore (is) a kitchen, where corporate books are cooked.
        Jack Blum, April 2009


      • There’s a building in the Cayman Islands that supposedly houses 12,000 U.S. corporations, which means it is either the largest building in the world or the biggest tax ripoff in the world, and I think we know which one it is.
        Barack Obama, US Senator, 2007


      • Company directors feel under pressure to minimise taxes, but tax is a vital contribution to society, and it is offshore where this all goes wrong.
        John Christensen, director of the Tax Justice Network, in The Guardian, May 2007


      • They serve no socially useful function. They exist only to circumvent norms. They undermine good governance.
        Joseph Stiglitz on tax havens, 2011


      • Tax havens are to those engaged in tax evasion what fences are to thieves.
        Willem Buiter


      • ”It does not surprise anyone when I tell them that the most important tax haven in the world is an island. They are surprised, however, when I tell them that the name of the island is Manhattan. Moreover, the second most-important tax haven in the world is located on an island. It is a city called London in the United Kingdom.”
        Marshall Langer, a leading pro-tax haven analyst, Tax Notes International, 2001


      • It promotes itself as a low-tax zone off north-west Europe, a kind of Cayman Islands in a cold climate and aggressively chases footloose financiers and less scrupulous British companies to move to Dublin to dodge tax. . . . Dublin does not need to be Liechtenstein on the Liffey. If you set out to attract mobile money from around the world, you run much bigger risks when things go wrong.
        Lord Oakeshott, UK Liberal Democrat MP and Treasury spokesman, December 2008


      • Whether it was logging, or diamonds, or oil, we realized it was a missing link – in every single dirty deal we ever looked at, there was a bank and a front company in a secrecy jurisdiction, or more than one.
        Anthea Lawson, Global Witness


      • A former owner of an offshore bank in the Cayman Islands testified that he believed 100 percent of his former bank clients were engaged in tax evasion.
        Carl Levin, US Senator introducing the Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act, February 2007


      • The current initiatives have, in effect, legitimised the illegitimate.
        John Christensen and David Spencer, writing in the Financial Times, March 2008, about weak international initiatives to tackle tax havens


      • So long as one is connected in some way to the modern financial system, it’s safe to say that there’s a little bit of offshore in every one of us.
        Moisés Naím, Illicit: How Smugglers, Traffickers and Copycats are Hijacking the Global Economy


      • ”Offshore tax havens have declared economic war on honest U.S. taxpayers”
        Senators Carl Levin (D-Mich.,) Norm Coleman, (R-Minn.,) and Barack Obama, (D-Ill.), Feb 2007 Link


      • This is an area where the legitimate, rational behaviour of a single country can do considerable damage to the global economy or to specific countries.
        Trevor Manuel, South African Finance Minister, January 2008


      • This parallel economy is a hothouse for crime and corruption, facilitating capital flight from developing countries on a mind-boggling scale, a corollary of the City’s boasts about attracting capital into the UK. The offshore economy distorts markets by providing tax loopholes to some businesses but not others. It corrupts democracy, helping elites to evade their responsibilities to the societies that nurtured them, and breaking fundamental relationships of accountability that are forged when rulers tax citizens. It does not create wealth but redistributes it from poor to rich. Worse, it destroys wealth and slows growth.
        John Christensen, director of the Tax Justice Network, in The Guardian, May 2007

Tax wars

See also our section on Tax Wars, tax competition

      • The notion of the competitiveness of countries, on the model of the competitiveness of companies, is nonsense,” Martin Wolf, in his book “Why Globalisation Works.”


      • Conflating the real gains that arise when things are produced more efficiently with the subzero-sum game that results when exchequers pick each other’s pockets.
        Guardian editorial, March 2009


      • The only genuine safeguard for our national interests lies in international cooperation.
        – Henry Morgenthau
        , US Treasury Secretary, at the Bretton Woods Conference in 1946


      • Lack of competitiveness is nowhere to be found in these highly taxed countries
        Martin Wolf, in his book Why Globalisation Works, p260 (paperback edition)


      • Financial regulation is only one example of where the mantra of needing to be “internationally competitive” has been invoked too often as a reason to cut back on regulation. There has not been enough serious consideration of the alternative – global co-operation to raise standards.
        Lawrence Summers, former US Treasury Secretary, May 2008.


      • The OECD efforts to curb ‘‘harmful tax competition’’ slowly dissolved into a series of toothless pronouncements, a mixture of cheerleading and scorekeeping that continues to this day.
        Martin A. Sullivan, 2007.


      • The OECD’s approach to tax transparency requires information to be exchanged with other jurisdictions only on request. In other words, you must know what you are looking for before you request it. This is shockingly inadequate.
        John Christensen and David Spencer, Tax Justice Network, Financial Times, March 2008


      • Intensifying co-operation is the only appropriate response to the pressures of globalisation.
        Jeffrey Owens , head of OECD Fiscal Affairs department


      • The activities engaged in routinely and as a matter of course by these tax havens are hostile acts towards all countries whose tax bases are undermined by them.
        Willem Buiter.


      • Competition across the globe in offering such incentives is wasteful and foolish.
        Martin Wolf, “Why Globalisation Works.”p240 (paperback edition)


      • Popular incentives, such as tax holidays, subsidised financing or free land, serve only to detract value from those investments that would likely be made in any case’. Mckinsey’s Quarterly, 2004 vol. 1


      • The main beneficiary of that (tax) competition is international business, and often countries suffer large fiscal losses without commensurate gains to either their domestic economy or to the efficiency of the location of international production
        Stiglitz and Charlton, 2005


      • “Trade within multinational corporations is one of several ‘fiscal termites gnawing away at the foundations of tax systems.”
        Vito Tanzi, Director, Fiscal Affairs, IMF


      • Tax is not a key determinant for foreign direct investment
        IMF. Numerous studies find the same result.


      • “The only clear winners are large corporations.  In return for building new facilities in many states, companies are actually getting negative income taxes.  Subsidy packages routinely exceed $100,000 per job.  Guess who’s getting stuck with the tab.”Greg LeRoy, 2005

Transfer pricing

      • It’s the equivalent of asking the Internal Revenue Service to connect the ends of two different plates of spaghetti.
        U.S. Senator Bryan Dorgan, on transfer pricing rules


      • Ask any tax vice president what is the biggest issue on their agenda and 99 percent of them will say it’s transfer pricing. Transfer pricing is where the big bucks lie.
        Jeffrey Owens, ex head of tax at the OECD


      • A cumbersome creation of stupefying complexity” with “rules that lack coherence and often work at cross purposes.
        Experts cited on the subject of the OECD-led “arm’s length” approach to transfer pricing.



      • The problems of implementation appear to be getting worse rather than better. . . combined reporting is vastly superior to the current system, assuming, of course, that nation-states could agree to implement it.
        Professor Michael J. McIntyre, on the “arm’s length” approach


      • The ALS (Arm’s Length Standard) creates a climate of uncertainty and an immense administrative burden for the taxpayers, the IRS and the courts and provides ample opportunity for abuse.
        Reuven Avi-Yonah, 2006


      • Transfer pricing is the corporate equivalent of the secret offshore accounts of individual tax dodgers
        Senator Carl Levin, May 2010


      • Combined reporting would result in a fairer sharing of tax revenue among nation-states, would reduce substantially the opportunities for tax avoidance and evasion that MNEs enjoy under the current system, and would simplify compliance for tax departments and taxpayers.
        Professor Michael J. McIntyre


      • The current system is based on faulty assumptions regarding the way multinational business is conducted, so that the system, no matter how hard one seeks to reform it, simply is not capable of functioning acceptably.
        Michael Durst, a top U.S. transfer pricing expert on the arm’s length principle


      • Current transfer pricing rules have spawned a huge industry of lawyers, accountants and economists whose professional role is to assist multinational companies in their transfer pricing planning and compliance.
        Reuven Avi-Yonah, 2007


      • Once you take on board the fact that more than 60% of world trade takes place within multinational enterprises, the importance of transfer pricing becomes clear.
        OECD, April 2002


      • Mozambique is losing a lot of money in tax to international operations. . . . when there is a request for transfer pricing placed with the tax authorities, nobody knows how to deal with the request
        Unnamed official from a Big Four accountancy firm, via David McNair, Christian Aid, April 2010


      • The head of tax policy at a large multinational recently told me that companies are now allocating more profit and paying more tax to the most aggressive tax authorities to avoid expensive and difficult legal disputes over transfer pricing. As a result, fewer profits are allocated to developing countries.
        David McNair, Christian Aid, April 2010


      • The problems with the current system derive not from rules at its periphery, but instead from a fallacy that lies at the system’s central core.
        Reuven Avi-Yonah on the “arm’s length” method.


      • My overall – if reluctant – view, after years of practice in this field, is that the critics are fundamentally correct; the current system fails utterly in its public role, the appearances created are unseemly, and the system should be replaced.
        Michael Durst , former director of the the US Internal Revenue Service’s “Advanced Pricing Agreement Program, 2010

United States

      • The U.S. should not be financing itself by opening the door to foreign tax cheats
        – Jack Blum, TJN senior adviser, testifying before the US Sentate Committee on Finance, July 24, 2008


      • U.S. tax, securities, and anti-money laundering laws, as well as U.S. information agreements, don’t do much to stop tax evasion.
        – Martin A. Sullivan and Lee A. Sheppard, TaxAnalysts/Tax Notes


      • Each year, the States allow persons to form nearly 2 million corporations and limited liability companies in this country without knowing – or even asking — who the beneficial owners are behind those corporations. . . . our law enforcement officials have too often had to stand silent when asked by their counterparts in other countries for information about who owns a U.S. corporation committing crimes in their jurisdictions. The United States is as bad as any offshore jurisdiction when it comes to responding to those requests – we can’t answer them because we don’t have the information.
        Senator Carl Levin, May 2008

Wealth taxes

      • I’m cool with that
        Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO, Facebook, commenting on a proposal that  the wealthy pay higher taxes


      • “A certain corrective against the development of a race of idle rich”
        Winston Churchill in 1924, on inheritance taxes


      • Of all forms of taxes this seems the wisest. By taxing estates heavily at death the state marks its condemnation of the selfish millionaire’s unworthy life.
        Andrew Carnegie, 1889


      • Warren E. Buffett urged Congress yesterday to maintain the estate tax. “Tax law changes have benefited this group, including me, in a huge way,” he said. “During that time the average American went exactly nowhere on the economic scale: he’s been on a treadmill while the superrich have been on a spaceship.”
        New York Times, November 2007


      • “Tax haven whistleblowers: where are the human rights organisations?”
        Tax Justice Network, 2014


      • The police work with criminals on a daily basis — we have paid informers who help us uncover drug trafficking or other crimes. Particularly with tax fraud, you’d never be able to get at these people otherwise.
        – Konrad Freiberg, head of Germany’s police union, responding to Swiss cries of outrage that Germany’s tax authorities would buy supposedly “stolen” information on German tax evaders


      • There were threats but veiled ones and not from Africans. They were from financial intermediaries in Switzerland, sometimes lawyers, who, feigning friendship, advised me to drop the whole business. They told me to be careful and suggested that I “not exaggerate” to avoid problems. On some occasions I could have earned lots of money if I’d dropped certain things.
        Campaigning Geneva lawyer Enrico Monfrini, April 2011


  • ‘More people have been arrested for leaking data from Swiss banks than prosecuted by UK government for hiding money in Swiss banks’
    TJN’s George Turner, Feb 2015


Fact of the week - archive

Fiat announces it will move its tax domicile to the UK. Not a single job will be created.

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