Commentary 11 February 2015

Tax Justice Is a Matter of Power, Not Ethics

By Andrea Binder               Huffington Post UK

This week got off to a rough start for the global super-rich. Leading newspapers around the world, including the Indian Express, Le Monde, Haaretz, the Guardian and the Financial Times, opened this Monday with the largest data leak in banking history. "Swiss Leaks" disclosed information about how HSBC, the world's second biggest bank, helped rich individuals to avoid taxes and launder money. If they were unlucky, celebrities and politicians could read their names in the morning news next to those of drug dealers, arms traders, terrorists, dictators and their kin.

The amount of money piled up in secret accounts of HSBC's Swiss arm is staggering. The American fashion designer Diane Halfin von Fürstenberg, for instance, allegedly held $6.3 million in her anonymous HSBC accounts. Most likely this money was out of reach for the US treasury. This is just one example that shows that "capital is back - but capital taxes not at all," as Gabriel Zucman, researcher at the London School of Economics, puts it. He estimates that the well-to-do's of the world keep $7.6 trillion, or eight per cent of global individual wealth, in tax havens. As a result, states collectively miss out on $147 billion tax revenue annually. This amount equals the 2012 rescue package for Greece. No wonder Swiss Leaks provoke a moral outcry against the tax dodgers. Indignation was also all around after Offshore Leaks and China Leaks in 2013 and the Luxembourg Leaks in 2014, all made public by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). Yet, the moral club, as much as it is appropriate, will get us nowhere. For the core of the problem is the distribution of influence between business, government and employees, not the misconduct of a greedy elite. The issue at stake is power, not ethics.

To read the full article, please visit Huffington Post UK online.

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