Sunday, March 17, 2013
The Economist: Tax Havens A Modest Proposal:
We see in the media almost daily items about the detrimental effects of tax havens in general and corporate profit-shifting in particular. Profit-shifting is the structuring by multinationals of their cross-border operations to minimise taxes imposed in both their home countries and the countries where they actually operate, and the movement of those profits through legal planning into subsidiaries in low-tax jurisdictions. The goal is to achieve “double non-taxation”: no tax in countries where operations and revenues occur and no tax in the company’s home country.
So successful has big business been at achieving this goal—and thus eroding the tax bases of both leading economic powers and developing countries—that the issue has shot up the agendas of the OECD, the G8 and the G20. All are looking for solutions.
Some solutions look like mere band-aids. Countries are urged, for instance, to tighten rules on “transfer pricing” of transactions between subsidiaries in different countries; or to strengthen their “general anti-avoidance rules”. Such rules might make profit-shifting a bit more difficult, but they won’t solve the problem. The same goes for country-by-country financial reporting, which would make profit-shifting easier to identify but wouldn’t eliminate the motivation to seek double non-taxation.
That motivation will only disappear if management knows that the group’s worldwide income will always be taxed, and that no amount of planning or developing complex schemes can avoid it. That is why the only real solution is to force current (ie, non-deferred) taxation on 100% of a multinational’s worldwide income, with no exceptions.