Thursday, 23 March 2017

Don't Campaign Against Tax Havens: They Are Good For Us


My favourite blog posts are the ones where I take a common viewpoint held by the majority of people and explain why it is a myth. Today it is the turn of tax havens. Thanks to faulty headline-grabbing propaganda, like the latest offering from The Guardian's Richard Murphy (he's the guy behind Corbynomics), most people think tax havens are outrageous places in which tens of billions of pounds are being stored offshore, denying UK citizens valuable tax revenue that could be used on public services like schools, health care and roads. Nice idea. But like many nice ideas, it veers far from the truth.

First off, so what of the complaint that if the money stays in the private sector in tax havens then UK citizens are being robbed of vital tax revenue? To answer this, consider if the money stays in the private sector in a tax haven, who else benefits from that apart from the person with the money? In the first place, the money is invested, which generates plenty of jobs and lots of economic growth. And in the second place, what is less obviously true is that if a UK Billionaire keeps £500 million in a tax haven then all the time he's not spending it he makes everyone else in the UK better off in terms of more resources and lower prices. This is because money earned but not spent is like conferring a gift to the UK taxpayers.

Moreover, it's important to remember that the primary contribution high earners make to society is not in the taxes they pay, it is in the goods and services they produce. Most of these big corporations make small profit margins on each unit sold - they just sell lots of units, which means they are creating an awful lot of value to consumers.

When it comes to tax havens, what is also being missed by a lot of people is that tax havens actually make us better off in another way, in that they provide vital competition to tax rates in the UK. A popular view from the left is that because of tax havens governments have to increase our taxes to make up for all the tax they are not getting from money stored in places like the Cayman Islands. In actual fact, the opposite is true - tax havens keep our UK taxes lower not higher.

To see why, suppose there is just one quite expensive Bakery in town (call it Bakery A). Along comes another Bakery in competition (Bakery B), offering townsfolk lower prices for bread. The very worst thing that Bakery A could do in response would be to raise its prices even more. Their best response would be to try to out-compete Bakery B for custom. This is the nature of competition, and how it lowers prices and improves efficiency.

Similarly, tax havens are like Bakery B - their more competitive tax rates place competitive pressures on governments that might be tempted to tax us highly. Competition for prices occurs with tax just as it does with bread, laptops and cars. Governments must be competitive with their tax rates, otherwise more and more money will be stored in places with lower tax rates. Tax competition is a key driver of economic growth in the world, as this incentivises politicians to keep taxes on savings and investments low. When tax rates are excessive, there is less economic growth. Tax havens provide the necessary competition to militate against this happening - they are not the bogey that many will have you believe.

Instead of calling for politicians to tackle the grave injustices of tax havens, campaigners should be calling for a more fruitful tax systems here, based on lower rates, reduced complexity and bureaucracy and increased market freedom.


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