At a cost of €1 trillion to EU states, tax evasion is undoubtedly an area in need of attention. With government finances in deficit across the world, part of the gap could be plugged by preventing tax revenues from going unpaid. Well-known companies and individuals have been accused of tax evasion (and avoidance), but part of the problem is the existence of countries that make such activities possible.
Tax havens not only offer favourable tax rates, but also have in place regulations that prevent the effective exchange of information. That is, they are able to keep the identity and income information of depositors a private affair and are not required to share that information with other governments. This means that other tax authorities are unable to demand the tax revenue from income earned, when it is held in some of these countries. This can deprive the government’s coffers of substantial amounts of money.
In 2000, the OECD produced a report naming so-called ‘uncooperative tax havens’, including Monaco, Andorra, Liechtenstein and Liberia. Since then, all nations on this list have pledged their cooperation and been removed and in a recent step, Andorra has announced a proposal to implement its first ever income tax. This move is partly in response to pressures from EU governments to tackle tax evasion. Furthermore, talks between the finance ministers of tax havens, such as Switzerland and Liechtenstein have been agreed with the aim of improving the flow of bank account information and thus combating tax evasion. The Council of the European Union said:
The decision represents an important step in the EU’s efforts to clamp down on tax evasion and tax fraud”
Countries, such as Switzerland (a non-EU member) are likely to find requests for information difficult to ignore, if they want to have access to EU financial markets. However, any concessions on information provision will come at a significant cost for a country that has long regarded its banking secrecy as an ‘honourable policy.
Reforming policy on tax havens is essential, not only to help tackle tax evasion and thus government deficits, but also to generate investment into countries that don’t offer such favourable tax rates. Investors naturally want to invest in those countries with low tax rates and as such, could it be that countries like the UK suffer from a loss of investment and that the only way to encourage it is to offer similarly low tax rates? International agreement is certainly needed to tackle the worldwide issue of tax evasion and at the moment, it seems as though pressure is building on secretive countries. The following articles consider this controversial issue.
Clock ticks on Swiss banking secrecy BBC News, Imogen Foulkes (21/5/13)
Andorra bows to EU pressure to introduce income tax The Telegraph, Fiona Govan (2/6/13)
Andorra to introduce income tax for first time BBC News (2/6/13)
Andorra to introduce income tax for the first time Economy Watch (3/6/13)
Swiss have no choice but to bow to US ultimatum – Ackermann Reuters, Katharina Bart> (3/6/13)
Austria out front as EU zeroes in on tax evasion The Budapest Times (29/5/13)
EU to start talks with non-EU countries on tax evasion BBC News (14/5/13)
- What is tax evasion?
- Using game theory, explain why an international agreement on tax evasion might be needed?
- When an income tax is imposed in Andorra, what will be the impact on government revenues?
- How might the labour supply incentive change once an income tax is imposed?
- How do tax havens affect investment in other countries?
- Is there an argument that countries such as the UK should cut its tax rates to encourage investment?
Below you will find links to the manifestos of the three main UK-wide parties for the general election on May 6. It’s not our role to suggest to those of you living in the UK with the right to vote how you should vote. The one thing we would suggest is that you consider carefully what the parties are proposing.
What is clear is that the state of the economy and the policies necessary to tackle economic problems are central to all the manifestos. As a student of economics, you should be able to assess the manifestos in terms of how the parties set out the economic problems facing the UK and what they propose doing about them.
So look through the manifestos below and then answer the questions we’ve posed about the UK economy and about the economic policies being proposed. If you are uncertain about how to answer them, then ask yourself what extra information would I need to enable me to give a good answer.
The manifestos (in alphabetical order)
The Conservative Party manifesto
The Labour Party manifesto
The Liberal Democrat Party manifesto
We are reluctant to recommend newspaper articles, as all newspapers at election time tend to be highly partisan and are therefore likely to give you a very specific ‘spin’ on the parties’ proposals. Perhaps the two best independent sources are the BBC and the Institute for Fiscal Studies. See:
Election analysis 2010 Institute for Fiscal Studies
Election 2010 BBC News
Stephanomics Stephanie Flanders’ blog (this links to the archive).
- How do the analyses of the economic problems facing the UK differ between the three manifestos?
- Compare the policies of the three parties for cutting the public-sector deficit. Consider the following issues: the size and nature of any cuts in government expenditure; the size and nature of any tax increases; the timing of the meaures.
- What assumptions are being made about the determinants of aggregate demand over the coming months and the role of fiscal policy in this?
- Compare the policies of the three parties towards the distribution of income. To what extent have the parties taken into account possible incentive/disincentive effects of policies of redistribution?
- To what extent are the parties proposing using the tax system to tackle problems of externalities? Give examples and assess how effective the policies are likely to be.
- To what extent do each of the manifestos leave you with unanswered questions about the economy and how their proposed policies will tackle economic problems?
In the face of a Labour backbench rebellion over the abolition of the 10p tax rate in the most recent Budget, the Chancellor, Alistair Darling, introduced what has been described as a mini-budget this month. In this mini-budget he significantly increased tax allowances to try to alleviate the impact of the removal of the 10p tax rate on some of the poorest families.
Darling’s solution could prove costly, say economists Guardian (14/5/08)
FAQ: Formula that bought off the Labour rebels Guardian (14/5/08)
Brown risks £2.7bn tax cut to end revolt Guardian (14/5/08)
Mini-budget will put money in pockets of 22 million voters Guardian (13/5/08)
Darling’s statement in full Guardian (13/5/08)
Institute for Fiscal Studies highlights Chancellor’s dilemma after emergency tax cut Times Online (21/5/08)
Q&A on the Government’s ‘Golden Rule’ Times Online (15/5/08)
Basic rate taxpayers to get £120 BBC News Online (13/5/08)
Q&A: Tax changes BBC News Online (13/5/08)
Full statement: Tax changes BBC News Online (13/5/08)
||What was the effect of the abolition of the10p tax rate on income distribution (before the min-budget measures)?
||Assess the extent to which these changes will alleviate the impact of removing the 10p tax rate on the poorest families.
||Discuss the likely impact of this change in the government’s fiscal stance on the main UK macroeconomic targets.
The government has proposed charging a levy to people who claim non-dom (non-resident) status in the UK. This levy of £30,000 will be charged on people with non-dom status who choose to shelter their earnings in overseas tax havens. An intensive campaign against the tax has been launched by various elements of the media.
It’s hardly Bolshevism to propose taxing non-doms Guardian (9/2/08)
Treasury adviser Bob Wigley slams non-dom tax Times Online (10/2/08)
Nabbing the non-doms Times Online (10/2/08)
Jones breaks ranks to claim non-dom plan hits low-paid Guardian (9/2/08)
Non-dom crackdown could hit low-paid Guardian (8/2/08)
||Explain the way in which the non-dom tax levy would operate. How would this levy be classified – progressive, regressive or flat-rate?
||Assess the arguments for and against the imposition of a levy on non-doms.
||Evaluate two alternative policies for the taxation of non-residents of the UK.
Transfer pricing is a technique used by multinational companies to avoid tax liabilities in countries they regard as having high levels of taxation. The articles below from the Guardian give the results of an investigation by Guardian journalists into the elaborate structures that have been created by multinational companies in the banana industry to funnel their profits through tax havens like the Cayman Islands, Bermuda and the British Virgin Islands. In some cases they have paid an effective tax rate as low as 8% when the tax rate in their home country is 35%.
Revealed: how multinational companies avoid the taxman Guardian (6/11/07)
Bananas to UK via the Channel islands? It pays for tax reasons Guardian (6/11/07)
‘I get up at 4am, work to 6-7pm – it doesn’t feel like a life’ Guardian (6/11/07)
||Define the term ‘transfer pricing’.
||Explain how multinational banana companies use transfer pricing to reduce their tax liabilities.
||“The trend in the last 30 years has been to shift the burden of tax away from companies on to the consumer and labour. Capital is increasingly going untaxed.” Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of this shift in the method of taxation.