Tax havens

October 16, 2015

I read this article in the Observer last week and immediately thought “yes!  This!” and tweeted the link:

Essentially, if I understand him correctly, Zucman argues that we should measure the profits of international companies in the same way that the US measures the profits of American companies trading in more than one of its states, by allocating profits in proportion to the customers of each state rather than by the location of the seller.

But, just as I thought “yes!  This!” to Piketty when I started reading Capital this summer, I nevertheless don’t think Piketty’s taxes on wealth are any more likely than Zucman’s taxes on companies, because neither of them addresses how tax law is made.

It may, indeed, be obvious to you and I that taxing the rich on what we used to call their unearned income (and isn’t THAT a term we ought to bring back into use?) and taxing companies on the proportion of their profits commensurate with the customer base that is located in the country doing the taxing, rather than in the tax haven where they have planted their brass plate, are reasonable and equitable.  But, frankly, you and I don’t make tax law.

As you may remember, I have been groping towards this question in this blog for some time, characterising a difference between tax wizards and tax muggles.  I’m now groping towards putting some academic language around this thinking, of which more, I hope, later.

But let’s look at a practical example.

The other recurring theme here is the VATMOSS VATMESS.  You’d almost think, wouldn’t you, that I agreed with the principle that VAT ought to be charged according to the location of the customer and not the seller, because is that not the very essence of the scheme Zucman proposes for international company taxation?

Well, yes: in the same way as the old joke about the country deciding to switch from driving on the left to driving on the right, and deciding to phase it in by making the switch only applicable to lorry drivers.

In other words, we have a principle that might be a better way of organising international taxation being applied piecemeal to a tiny corner of international trade.  A tiny corner least able to understand, apply and implement the change; and a tiny corner least able to contribute to the making of the regulations which burden it, because it consists of stakeholders not given an equitable voice in the stakeholder community.

I’m thinking aloud here, or, at least, groping towards an argument.  Feel free to join in, cheerlead or otherwise contribute in the comments.

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