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Offshore Banking Business
March 3, 2011 1:01 AM   Subscribe

"People have always thought of tax havens as sideshows to the main event, whereas in fact they are central to the global economy". . . Treasure Islands: Tax Havens and the Men who Stole the World

But it's not only “sunny places for shady people”. The Financial Secrecy Index (FSI) creates a ranking which identifies the jurisdictions that are most aggressive in providing secrecy in international finance, and which most actively shun co-operation with other jurisdictions. It attaches a weighting to each jurisdiction, according to the scale of cross-border financial services activity that it hosts. There are some major surprises: Financial Secrecy Index

Shining a light on the tax dodgers for online activists who want to take to the street:: UK Uncut, US Uncut, Canada Uncut, France Uncut, Netherlands Uncut.

Also in the US: Business and Investors Against Tax Haven Abuse

And, bien sûr. . . . some very agreeable French techno hardcore with miss helium: attaque la banque
posted by Mister Bijou (48 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
I think the main link has been MeFi-melted. I'm just getting a blank page.
posted by Malor at 1:27 AM on March 3, 2011


Google cache for the main link.
posted by jaduncan at 1:43 AM on March 3, 2011


In an open world economy, there's no such thing as "offshore", just "elsewhere". The question is: do you raise barriers and take out some portion of your economy out of global trade or try to compete with other states?

If you want cheap Chinese goods at your local Walmart, you can't not have cheap tax jurisdictions in the Caribbean. Globalization is a leveling force, period.
posted by costas at 1:56 AM on March 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Don't know why now the blank page, make that now blank pages for all of newleftproject.org. Thanks, jaduncan for google cache.
posted by Mister Bijou at 2:01 AM on March 3, 2011


If you want cheap Chinese goods at your local Walmart, you can't not have cheap tax jurisdictions in the Caribbean. Globalization is a leveling force, period.

Yes you can, and this is an insane thing to say. Why does payment of tax prevent sourcing goods from the states with the most economically efficient production? Taxes that cannot easily be avoided such as VAT/sales tax are paid at different levels in different states, and yet even though the resultant tax levels vary considerably Chinese/Indonesian/SEA manufacturers supply the market in almost all cases.
posted by jaduncan at 2:10 AM on March 3, 2011 [5 favorites]


Yes you can, and this is an insane thing to say. Why does payment of tax prevent sourcing goods from the states with the most economically efficient production?
It doesn't make much sense at first but I think the argument he is making is that if you can transfer money to china (to buy the stuff) then you can also transfer it somewhere else as well. Global trade means the inability to contain money, and keep it out of tax shelters.

But realistically, the U.S. government could just declare hiding tax money an Act of War and just steam a few warships over and take the countries over if they refuse to allow auditing of their accounts. And that would be that.
posted by delmoi at 2:37 AM on March 3, 2011


Yep, what delmoi said. If you can trade freely with China, you can trade freely with any intermediate country.

Also, FYI the US are a tax haven for most of the rest of the Western world (esp. low tax states like Delaware or Nevada).
posted by costas at 2:44 AM on March 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I had a post on a similar site a while back.
posted by Abiezer at 3:24 AM on March 3, 2011


The aim of every sane government should be to maximize the amount of potentially taxable money that stays within its borders.

Increasing taxes increase evasion. Worse, is increases the desire for evasion, even normalizes evasion. Evading taxes (and even for individuals, not just corporations) becomes socially acceptable. Big black & grey markets emerge for things that are easy to keep off the books, like manual labor, domestic service &c.

There has to be some way to find a balance where the tax rate is comfortable enough so that avoiding it is costlier than just paying it, yet enough to fund the government's activity.

By definition that rate has to be a lot lower than the current rate.

Maybe it's stretching an analogy, but there are similarities between with the "war on drugs" and the "war on tax havens." In both cases at least a part of the solution has to come from liberalization at home, rather than increased (and in delmoi's version) militarized enforcement abroad.

(Obviously, the argument supra is about legal funds avoiding taxes legally. Not illegally obtained funds or legally obtained funds that are being illegally sheltered from tax.)
posted by chavenet at 3:26 AM on March 3, 2011


Pick the most egregious vioolator and send in the marines with some
accountants and IRS agents. Once rich peole see that their money isn't safe it will all come home again.
posted by humanfont at 3:50 AM on March 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


There has to be some way to find a balance where the tax rate is comfortable enough so that avoiding it is costlier than just paying it, yet enough to fund the government's activity. By definition that rate has to be a lot lower than the current rate.

"By definition"? "Enough to fund the government's activity" depends on what the government actually does. And tax avoidance can be made costly in all sorts of ways.

What rate is going to be low enough for corporations that contrive to pay only 1% tax in the UK? Even if you set the tax rate at 2%, they'll figure they can save 50% by going offshore.

I've only just started Nicholas Shaxson's book (the one in the main link), but it's pretty grim reading so far. He makes the point early on that two of the biggest tax havens are the US and the UK.
posted by rory at 3:54 AM on March 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


Ah right, sorry about that costas.
posted by jaduncan at 3:56 AM on March 3, 2011


Taxes are the price we pay for civilisation. No taxes, sooner or later, no civilisation.

And it's not only the taxes - one of the of the key attractions of tax havens, as the book points out, is escape from regulatory restrictions and oversight, which is why the users include corrupt dictators and drug cartels alongside IKEA. It is surely a hint that you are doing the wrong thing when you bump into Robert Mugabe on the way in to see your bank manager.

Who is really in charge: (democratic) governments or plutocrats and corporations? We have to decide while we still can.
posted by Philosopher's Beard at 3:59 AM on March 3, 2011 [6 favorites]


And tax havens are fundamental to that because they make it even harder for governments to raise as much revenue from the wealthier sector of the population as they would like according to their democratic mandate, because they are afraid that the money will flee.
There is a tragic assumption in there that money is the one thing that can and should be taxed. That attempt to tax something that can be hidden is what makes tax havens possible. Just tax things that are immobile and predominantly owned by the wealthy, ie: land. Problem solved. Seriously.
posted by Canard de Vasco at 4:01 AM on March 3, 2011


There is a tragic assumption in there that money is the one thing that can and should be taxed. That attempt to tax something that can be hidden is what makes tax havens possible. Just tax things that are immobile and predominantly owned by the wealthy, ie: land. Problem solved. Seriously.

Interesting. But surely I as a company can pay nothing if my employees work from home and provide virtual services?
posted by jaduncan at 4:06 AM on March 3, 2011


Tax havens’ arguments in their defence – and why they are wrong.
posted by adamvasco at 4:09 AM on March 3, 2011


Just tax things that are immobile and predominantly owned by the wealthy, ie: land. Problem solved. Seriously.

So an Internet company that rents office space and sites its servers in another company's datacenter would pay no taxes, while my parents, who own around 20 acres (bought for $6,000 in the 1970s) and live on Social Security, would.

Sounds like a great plan!
posted by sonic meat machine at 4:32 AM on March 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


Just tax things that are immobile and predominantly owned by the wealthy, ie: land. Problem solved. Seriously.

Terrible idea. Lots of African countries did this in the 60s and 70s = hurt farmers = famine.

How about just having a clear, transparent tax code with no exemptions or loopholes? Imagine if the government just sent out a table and you looked up your income and it had the value you owed?

Guess it would unemploy some IRS folks, accountants, and lawyers though...I appreciate that my business qualifies for blah blah blah loophole because we do something nice for the community, but honestly I'd rather not have it and have other large businesses pay more fairly and not have to pay for an accountant. The overall complexity of the tax code has been a huge disincentive for me personally to expand.
posted by melissam at 4:43 AM on March 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


The devil is in the details... What if my lawyers and accountants wear more expensive suits than those employed by the IRS? I guess we'll spend a lot of time defining seeming obvious terms such as income, ownership and liability... I don't think its possible to write a "clear and transparent tax code" that denies really clever professionals their ability to violate the spirit of the law while sticking to the letter of the law.
posted by Stu-Pendous at 5:11 AM on March 3, 2011


jaducan & sonic meat machine: I'm usually very happy to argue the case for taxing land, but my answers wouldn't be brief and I'm in the wrong timezone to start on them right now. I'll be back to reply after I've slept.

melissam: if those African taxes were Land Value Taxes (which is what I linked to, but didn't make clear in my text) then I would very much appreciate more detail, because this topic is an obsession of mine and I am not aware of such a tax ever being implemented in Africa. I believe taxing land values should increase the amount of food produced, so I'd like to look into this.
posted by Canard de Vasco at 5:21 AM on March 3, 2011


Canard de Vasco: Cool, I'd be pleased to hear your thoughts. I guess my primary objection is that land value does not neatly scale with economic value; as smm identifies, any business that requires a lot of land may be taxed more highly (let's say solar panels and agriculture) whilst extremely high value businesses require almost none (for example, Goldman Sachs).

I'm not sure that a system that means non-retail financial services pay almost nothing is such a good idea.
posted by jaduncan at 5:36 AM on March 3, 2011


I'd like to suggest that we require all future MeFinance posts to include a summary French Hardcore Techno video.
posted by b1tr0t at 6:33 AM on March 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Companies and corporations exist for one reason: so people can make money. Why not just tax the money when the people get their hands on it instead of trying to skim off the middle?

I'm not saying corporations should have free reign, but we can see that corporate taxes are clearly not the most efficient way to fund the government.

Eliminate the game. Money flows out of a corp in only a few ways, many of which are already exempt: payroll, expenses and dividends. They are only taxed, barely, on what is left over. Why bother? Corporations and individuals avoid taxes so they can spend the money elsewhere, just take taxes when *that* happens, instead of trying to skim off the middle.

Or reverse it (sort of) and tax the money when it goes in. Of the $2,500,000,000,000 the Federal government takes in in taxes, only $300,000,000 (12%) of it comes from corporate taxes. That's 2% of GDP. Eliminate the corporate tax, create a national sales or VAT tax of a percent or two, increase personal exemptions (in effect, making the sales tax progressive, so poor-ish people aren't penalized) and I think we come close to breaking even. What we lose in the short term, we will make back up when people aren't burdened by trying to game the system and can instead deploy their money in profitable ventures.

This really sounds like a "what's good for GE is good for America" or "trickle down" rant, and I guess it is. But not in a bad way: eliminating the loopholes that encourage corporations to engage in unproductive work does help their profitability. Profitability helps big business, small business, and workers. It makes the system more transparent. If a company decides to be greedy and not share the wealth with workers, some other company will compete them out of existence, or force them to change their ways.

In a system where it is impossible to avoid paying one's fair share, everyone's fair share is reduced. And cynicism toward corps and government is eliminated. If we know they can't avoid paying their fair share, we can concentrate on hating them for their poor service or shoddy products. It levels the playing field- the only way a corporation can be successful is in delivering their products and services in the best way. Rather than now, where some corporations are successful only because they are favored by the government, or because they are better at avoiding taxes.

There's no need to offshore if there's no way to avoid paying taxes.
posted by gjc at 7:02 AM on March 3, 2011


Eliminate the corporate tax, create a national sales or VAT tax of a percent or two, increase personal exemptions (in effect, making the sales tax progressive, so poor-ish people aren't penalized)

It wouldn't be very progressive at all, though. Once past the personal exemption it would be a flat tax.

Another problem with a national sales tax: the rich have the option of spending their money elsewhere, and if the sales tax is very high they will, especially on big-ticket items like private planes and yachts.

Another significant problem: relative to their income, the rich don't spend nearly as much as the poor and middle class. If you're only making enough to get by, you spend everything you take in. The rich, by contrast, have money left over to invest even after paying for their lifestyle. So the progressivity of a sales tax is further hampered by that: it would touch pretty much all of the income of the poor and middle class but a smaller share of the income of the rich. Personal exemptions prevent the tax from reaching the income of the poor, but it doesn't help the tax reach more of the income of the rich, who get the exemption too, by the way.
posted by jedicus at 7:15 AM on March 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


melissam: if those African taxes were Land Value Taxes (which is what I linked to, but didn't make clear in my text) then I would very much appreciate more detail, because this topic is an obsession of mine and I am not aware of such a tax ever being implemented in Africa. I believe taxing land values should increase the amount of food produced, so I'd like to look into this.


Canard, interesting. Seems some of the countries with this have had my concerns and exempted agricultural land. There are lots of land-owning farmers below the poverty line out there... to contrast there are few urban landlords below the poverty line.
posted by melissam at 7:32 AM on March 3, 2011


Extracts from the book, via the Guardian: part 1 part 2
posted by kersplunk at 7:34 AM on March 3, 2011


How about just having a clear, transparent tax code with no exemptions or loopholes? Imagine if the government just sent out a table and you looked up your income and it had the value you owed?

Guess it would unemploy some IRS folks, accountants, and lawyers though...I appreciate that my business qualifies for blah blah blah loophole because we do something nice for the community, but honestly I'd rather not have it and have other large businesses pay more fairly and not have to pay for an accountant. The overall complexity of the tax code has been a huge disincentive for me personally to expand.


I agree completely. However, what stops this from happening isn't the fear of putting the IRS on unemployment, but the fear of putting a hefty percentage of accountants and financial services companies out of work.

So it needs to be done slowly.

And doing it slowly means that every change is going to be fought politically, because political opponents will find some sad case that is hurt by each incremental step.

What I'd like to see as one of the first steps is making the tax brackets more curvy. Instead of the 0-10-15-25-28-35-38 steps, add more steps or even make it into a function. And smooth it out. There is something about that middle 15-25-28-35 hump that doesn't feel right. (Who among us hasn't busted our asses working a lot of overtime, seeing that we "made" an extra $500 that paycheck, only to see it come out to $150 in cash becauses that one paycheck bumped into a new bracket?) And make the personal exemptions match up with the poverty level.

The only thing you can deduct is money that you've paid in other taxes, or that has been saved in a tax-deferred account. Heck, make all savings tax deferred. At the end of the year, you get a 1099 from your bank. Save more, lower taxes.

Or, similar to the above, don't tax income at all. Tax spending instead. Make the rates variable- food staples are taxed at zero, prepared food at 1%, restaurants at 2%. Big-ticket items are taxed variably based on the median price and the necessity of the item. You pay nothing on the first $50k of a house, and it goes up from there. Same with rent, cars, refrigerators and so on.

It *can* be done in a way that is fair to everyone, if there is political will to do it. This would encourage people to save, it would not burden the poor and everyone would be stuck in the same boat, basically. The rich can't complain that they are getting soaked disproportionately, because they pay the same tax anyone else does. It is purely their choice to buy more expensive stuff, or fifteen houses, or 3/4 of Montana for their personal fortresses.
posted by gjc at 7:40 AM on March 3, 2011


0-10-15-25-28-35-38

It's 0-10-15-25-28-33-35.

(Who among us hasn't busted our asses working a lot of overtime, seeing that we "made" an extra $500 that paycheck, only to see it come out to $150 in cash because that one paycheck bumped into a new bracket?)

That's not how marginal taxation works. Say you are at the very upper edge of the 33% bracket. Then suppose a bonus check puts you over into the 35% bracket. Only the amount beyond the 35% bracket would be taxed at 35%. So $500 at 35% plus 1.45% for Medicare (you're already past the Social Security cap at that point) is a net $317.75. Unless your state income tax is 33.5% (which none of them are even close to), you should definitely be seeing way more than $150 of that bonus.

Of course, the 35% bracket only kicks in at $373,651, and the additional $10 (2% of $500) from hitting the 35% bracket is a whopping .002% of that.
posted by jedicus at 8:07 AM on March 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


Another significant problem: relative to their income, the rich don't spend nearly as much as the poor and middle class. If you're only making enough to get by, you spend everything you take in. The rich, by contrast, have money left over to invest even after paying for their lifestyle. So the progressivity of a sales tax is further hampered by that: it would touch pretty much all of the income of the poor and middle class but a smaller share of the income of the rich. Personal exemptions prevent the tax from reaching the income of the poor, but it doesn't help the tax reach more of the income of the rich, who get the exemption too, by the way.

If it is done right, the idea of trying to reach more of the income of the rich would be made irrelevant. There is no reason why such a tax couldn't be levied on buying investments. It doesn't eliminate the income tax on people, just on corporations.

Remember, the tax on corporations is fundamentally regressive too, and moreso: it doesn't get paid by the fat cat owners, it gets paid through some percentage of the price people pay for goods and services, and only on the consumers who buy things from companies who can't hide from it.

For every dollar a company spends rewarding its executives and shareholders, it doesn't have to pay tax on that dollar. The corporate tax encourages corporations to dole out money to their pals. Instead of skimming 25% off of what little money they can't figure out how to hide, we skim 1% off of everything.

Either way, $300b is being extracted from consumers. In one scenario, we have incentives toward bad behavior and the tax is hidden from the public. You buy a product from a company with good loopholes, you don't pay the tax. You buy a product from a smaller, local company, you (effectively) pay double. In the other scenario, the tax is visible and applies to everyone.
posted by gjc at 8:14 AM on March 3, 2011


Tax spending instead. Make the rates variable

End result: massive market distortions as the government effectively manipulates prices according to what it gauges to be luxury goods versus necessities. Also, a byzantine bureaucracy emerges as every product and service under the sun is categorized and assigned a tax rate, with those rates fluctuating from year to year as companies lobby for their particular good or service to be recategorized. That's not a recipe for a simple, fair, easy to administer tax regime.
posted by jedicus at 8:15 AM on March 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


For every dollar a company spends rewarding its executives and shareholders, it doesn't have to pay tax on that dollar.

I'm not sure that's true. Taxable income for a corporation is gross income minus deductions. I don't think executive bonuses and shareholder dividends are deductible.
posted by jedicus at 8:18 AM on March 3, 2011


That's not how marginal taxation works. Say you are at the very upper edge of the 33% bracket. Then suppose a bonus check puts you over into the 35% bracket. Only the amount beyond the 35% bracket would be taxed at 35%. So $500 at 35% plus 1.45% for Medicare (you're already past the Social Security cap at that point) is a net $317.75. Unless your state income tax is 33.5% (which none of them are even close to), you should definitely be seeing way more than $150 of that bonus.

Every employer I've ever worked for treats each paycheck as if it were every paycheck. The payroll software and the IRS lookup tables are blind to pay history. So taxes are artificially low when your pay is anomalously low, and artificially high when your pay is anomalously high.
posted by yesster at 8:22 AM on March 3, 2011


So taxes are artificially low when your pay is anomalously low, and artificially high when your pay is anomalously high.

But my point was that even if the entire $500 bonus were taxed at the highest possible rate you'd still see way more than $150 of it. In fact, even if Social Security were deducted from it you'd still see $286.75. I don't think there's any jurisdiction in the US where, even at the highest possible federal, state, and local tax rates, a $500 paycheck would get cut to $150.
posted by jedicus at 8:27 AM on March 3, 2011


That's not how marginal taxation works. Say you are at the very upper edge of the 33% bracket. Then suppose a bonus check puts you over into the 35% bracket. Only the amount beyond the 35% bracket would be taxed at 35%. So $500 at 35% plus 1.45% for Medicare (you're already past the Social Security cap at that point) is a net $317.75. Unless your state income tax is 33.5% (which none of them are even close to), you should definitely be seeing way more than $150 of that bonus.

Of course, the 35% bracket only kicks in at $373,651, and the additional $10 (2% of $500) from hitting the 35% bracket is a whopping .002% of that.


I know that's not how it works.

The effect is more psychological than mathematical, I'll grant you, but it still hurts.

And you minimize the effect by using the 33-35 bump. The 15-25 or the 28-33 bump hurts a little more. The point was that the differences between the brackets are not the same. Why aren't they even steps? That's what is weird about it.

The reason it is psychological is that when taxes are calculated on a paycheck, the brackets are extrapolated per pay period. Whatever the yearly cutoffs are, they are divided by how many pay periods there are in your year. If you make $3000 a month, you are taxed at the $36,000 per year rate. If, however, in one paycheck, you work a lot of of overtime and your check is $3500, that one check will be taxed as if you make $42,000 a year. If that happens to be an edge case, the extra $500 is taxed 25% instead of 15%.

Yes, it does work out in the end- you get the excess back when you file your return. And it's only something like $40. But psychologically, you worked 3 or 4 hours for that, and you won't be paid until tax time.

But really, the point was simply that the brackets are arbitrary.
posted by gjc at 8:34 AM on March 3, 2011


But really, the point was simply that the brackets are arbitrary.

I'll grant that. Personally I think the brackets should be based on some function of the percentile the individual falls into. So if your income is in the 50th percentile then you pay x% and if you're in the 98th percentile you pay y% and if you're in the 99.99th percentile you pay z%, etc. That way it's all about relative wealth and not absolute dollar amounts.
posted by jedicus at 8:43 AM on March 3, 2011


End result: massive market distortions as the government effectively manipulates prices according to what it gauges to be luxury goods versus necessities. Also, a byzantine bureaucracy emerges as every product and service under the sun is categorized and assigned a tax rate, with those rates fluctuating from year to year as companies lobby for their particular good or service to be recategorized. That's not a recipe for a simple, fair, easy to administer tax regime.

I didn't say it was perfect. But it's better than the massive distortions created by all the loopholes, where your effective taxation changes based on what company you buy from rather than what kind of thing you buy. If I buy a private jet from a company that is losing money that year, it is untaxed (from the perspective of the corporate income tax). If I buy groceries from a profitable company, it is taxed.

I'm not sure that's true. Taxable income for a corporation is gross income minus deductions. I don't think executive bonuses and shareholder dividends are deductible.

They are. Compensation is deductible, and dividends are as well. Under the theory that the tax is paid on that money when it hits the recipient. That's why the corporate tax structure is fucked up. The system encourages companies to game the system. It encourages them to funnel excess profits and losses to shell corps so they cancel each other out, tax burden-wise.
posted by gjc at 8:57 AM on March 3, 2011


Yeah, the whole tax haven thing is largely a myth. If it were true, every company in the world would headquarter in the Caymans to avoid paying 35% of their income to the IRS.

As a CPA who has worked in international taxation for a long time, I can tell you that there is no avoiding the IRS. If you have US income, you pay taxes. Period. Even if you are in the Caymans, if you sell products or conduct business in the US, then you pay the IRS.

Fortunately for the US, our taxes are generally lower than most countries, so right now there is no risk that companies will start moving elsewhere. I think there was a rumor a while back that Citigroup was going to up and move to the Hague, but that never happened.
posted by stevenstevo at 9:03 AM on March 3, 2011


Thread theme song, which instantly echoed in my head on seeing the thread title.
posted by mwhybark at 9:05 AM on March 3, 2011


The main point being: a corporation can't be helped or hindered by taxation. Only people can be. Taxes ALWAYS fall on people, somewhere. Corporations are just ways to organize people, and have evolved into a game to help people avoid paying taxes. If you eliminate the corporate tax, you eliminate a way for people to avoid paying taxes.

Awful analogy: a 4 lane bridge has 4 toll booths. Instead of being a barrier at the beginning at the end that everyone has to pass, they are spread across the span of the bridge in different lanes. Everyone avoids those lanes. Here and there, a few suckers get stuck in the lanes and have to pay the toll. And traffic is awful with people weaving and darting. It takes an hour to get across the bridge, when it should only take 15 minutes.

And some people are completely avoiding the bridge and going the long way around or buying helicopters and boats.

Because of that, the toll ends up being $100 for the poor assholes stuck paying it. Have to pay for the bridge, after all.

It is chaos.

Or, you get rid of the tollbooths and instead put them at the beginning (or end) of the bridge. EVERYONE puts in a quarter and they get across the bridge in 16 minutes. The bridge gets paid for and everyone is happier.
posted by gjc at 9:17 AM on March 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


How about just having a clear, transparent tax code with no exemptions or loopholes? Imagine if the government just sent out a table and you looked up your income and it had the value you owed?

The great thing about being comparatively poor (ie: an artist) for most of one's life is that tax time is pretty simple. But I do recall something an accountant friend once said after a few drinks:

Set a minimum survival-with-dignity annual income (including a simple tweak to afford for children and other dependents) on which no taxes would be levied, then tax every dollar beyond that minimum at a fixed rate, say 25%. That is, billionaire or teacher -- they're still paying the same 25%. This would not kill the incentive to work harder, create more wealth. This would not bankrupt governments and public institutions. This would put a lot of accountants out of work.
posted by philip-random at 9:56 AM on March 3, 2011


I still maintain that the push for globalization by US corporations was a front for opening opportunities for capital to flee - thus giving corporations and their wealthy friends a bigger political stick. Government was complicit, too. Why else would we have so many laws that encourage booking profits overseas instead of here?

Oh yeah, cheaper labor didn't hurt either.

It gets harder and harder not to believe in cabals and conspiracy theories, damnit.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 10:13 AM on March 3, 2011


Set a minimum survival-with-dignity annual income (including a simple tweak to afford for children and other dependents) on which no taxes would be levied, then tax every dollar beyond that minimum at a fixed rate, say 25%.

The flat tax is appealing but it has many flaws. It ignores the fact that the value of wealth is not linear. If you offered someone who is flat broke $100,000 that would be profoundly valuable to them. If you offered $100,000 to Warren Buffett he probably wouldn't turn it down but it wouldn't make a significant difference in his life, it wouldn't be very valuable.

It also has a very limited ability to correct income inequality, which is strongly correlated with lots of societal problems.

And of course it means that any changes to the tax rate affect everybody. It gives the government fewer levers to pull to fine-tune the tax system.

The progressive taxation system is not the cause of much complexity. The complexity almost all comes from two things: the zillion different forms for various sources of income and the dizzying and ever-changing array of credits and deductions, many of them very special purpose. We should eliminate virtually all of the credits and deductions and lower tax rates slightly across the board to make up for it. If the government wants to give people an incentive to do something it should just give them money for it directly, tax-free, not add complexity to the tax code.

As long as we're dreaming, we should add about 4 or 5 more tax brackets on the high end with marginal rates that go up to 75-90% or so. And reinstate a strong estate tax. Or better yet, scrap the entire tax system and replace it with a single tax on the unimproved value of land.
posted by jedicus at 10:35 AM on March 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


Jedicus, we were discussing the land value tax upthread. Problem is it doesn't tax successful online businesses but it would tax struggling farms!

Set a minimum survival-with-dignity annual income (including a simple tweak to afford for children and other dependents) on which no taxes would be levied, then tax every dollar beyond that minimum at a fixed rate, say 25%.

Problem is that it varies by locality. My current income would be high in Arkansas, but is considered just above what qualifies for public housing in NYC.
posted by melissam at 12:03 PM on March 3, 2011


Problem is it doesn't tax successful online businesses but it would tax struggling farms!

Many online businesses make use of land. They have offices, often in high-value areas. Their server farms, warehouses, and distribution centers all take up space. The physical network that makes up the internet uses land, and the online businesses ultimately pay the owners of that land when they pay for internet access. The wealthy owners of those businesses like to buy houses in expensive places.

The unimproved value of farm land is often low, since farms are mostly located in rural areas where land is cheap. And since farms would all be affected, food prices would rise across the board, somewhat offsetting the tax.
posted by jedicus at 12:20 PM on March 3, 2011


The unimproved value of farm land is often low, since farms are mostly located in rural areas where land is cheap. And since farms would all be affected, food prices would rise across the board, somewhat offsetting the tax.

There is growing demand for having farms outside cities because of the locavore movement. Unfortunately I've already seen farmers taxed out of their family farms as cities expand.

Great, higher food prices, just what we need.
posted by melissam at 12:23 PM on March 3, 2011


Yeah, the whole tax haven thing is largely a myth. If it were true, every company in the world would headquarter in the Caymans to avoid paying 35% of their income to the IRS.

Don't think it doesn't happen. Below are AMERICAN companies that have moved corporate headquarters to tax-haven countries (I'm not positive they're all still in business):

Halliburton: Dubai
Accenture: Bermuda
Foster Wheeler Ltd: Bermuda
Ingersoll Rand:Bermuda
Tyco:Bermuda
Cooper Industries: Bermuda
Noble Drilling: Cayman Islands
Global Crossing:Bermuda
Seagate Technology: Cayman Islands
Nabors Industries: Barbados

via
posted by Benny Andajetz at 12:51 PM on March 3, 2011


I guess my primary objection is that land value does not neatly scale with economic value; as smm identifies, any business that requires a lot of land may be taxed more highly (let's say solar panels and agriculture) whilst extremely high value businesses require almost none (for example, Goldman Sachs).

I don't know that Goldman Sachs is the ideal example, given that their new headquarters alone is worth $2.1 billion and in 2008 they paid just $14 million in taxes of any kind. I've not managed to find out what percentage of that $2.1 billion is land value, but I bet its rental value (which is what a land value tax aims to recover) is more than $14 million. Manhattan land is amongst the world's most expensive. You would get a huge area of remote solar-panel land for the same price as the land under GS's HQ.

But sure, a land value tax is not a mirror of a corporate income tax, but then I don't agree that there is any virtue in imitating a corporate income tax. I see gjc has already made the case up-thread that corporate taxes are unnecessary, as one way or another Goldman Sachs' income is all passed on to its owners and employees. Anyway, I think it is better to evaluate a tax against fundamental principals like: is it sufficient? is it equitable? is it simple? does it fall on those able to pay it? is it distortionary?

Most businesses (including your solar panels and agriculture examples) use land. Counterintuitively, that does not mean that a land tax makes those businesses any less viable. Since the tax falls entirely on the land owner rather than the land user a land tax is kind of like a permanent mortgage that can never be paid off - it lowers the market price of the title to the land, but does not change the rental value of the land, so does not impact businesses that rent that land.
posted by Canard de Vasco at 3:00 PM on March 3, 2011


The City of London has a Lord Mayor but London has a Mayor as well, so this is really a tale of two cities.

Needs more guillotines.
posted by Skeptic at 3:57 PM on March 3, 2011


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