The Best Documentary Ever – Nicholas Shaxson on Tax Havens, the Banking system & UK Uncut

Nicholas Shaxson, journalist, writer, consultant, and author of Treasure Islands: Tax Havens and the Men Who Stole the World, gives an insight into his book, .

With more than 20 millionaires in the UK cabinet, reporter Antony Barnett examines the financial affairs of some ministers and others who have helped the .

Transcript

00:00
why do you think tax havens are such an
00:03
important issue right now and why do you
00:07
think it’s a subject that hasn’t really
00:09
come to light until recently tax havens
00:13
have been completely under the radar
00:15
under the radar screen for such a long
00:17
time partly because there has been this
00:20
perception that I think is deliberately
00:22
encouraged that this is these are just
00:24
places for a few kind of mafiosi and you
00:27
know celebrity tax dodgers and and you
00:29
know if you go spits and and just people
00:33
who you know misfits but the fact is
00:37
that these are now the heart of the
00:40
global economy depending on how you
00:42
measure it the figures are absolutely
00:44
staggering I mean half of world trade in
00:48
a way passes through through tax havens
00:51
huge huge amounts of money are involved
00:55
every multinational corporation pretty
00:57
much these days will have offshore
00:58
subsidiaries that they will use for
01:00
various reasons tax cutting down on
01:03
their tax bills is usually top of the
01:05
reasons banks are recently the Mail on
01:09
Sunday they did a great little
01:10
investigation about how many offshore
01:12
cysts offshore subsidiaries you know the
01:14
UK banks have and the top three Lloyd’s
01:17
Barclays an RBS had 550 offshore
01:21
subsidiaries between them and in every
01:23
survey in fact where they look at you
01:25
know what are the top companies that
01:27
have sub city that have top ranking
01:29
companies in terms a number of
01:30
subsidiaries in tax havens it’s always
01:32
the banks the banks are right in there
01:34
so this is the heart of the financial
01:36
system and when you consider the City of
01:39
London is you know as it is an offshore
01:41
system center in its own right then you
01:42
realize that this is this is absolutely
01:45
central so why hasn’t it I am still a
01:48
little bit mystified as to why it hasn’t
01:50
been so hasn’t it why it has been so far
01:53
under the radar screen I think you know
01:55
there are many different reasons I’m
01:56
still not satisfied with any of them I
01:58
mean it’s the complexity is obviously
02:00
part of it people can only ever see a
02:02
little bit of it at a time and but I
02:05
think now we are at a phase where this
02:07
is starting I know I think my book is
02:09
part of that but there are others who
02:10
are also putting this thing in a hole
02:13
takes a global context and we in Britain
02:15
must understand that this is something
02:16
that is a is a global problem and we are
02:19
right at the center of it if you work
02:22
out what a tax haven is tax haven offers
02:25
people and entities elsewhere
02:27
opportunities to escape – escape taxes
02:29
in their own jurisdictions to escape
02:31
financial regulations or whatever if you
02:34
start doing the analysis you will
02:35
quickly find that the jurisdictions that
02:37
are most effective in offering these
02:39
forms of escape our places like the UK
02:42
the the only objective ranking of in
02:46
terms of secrecy secrecy in a very
02:48
important part of it there and in
02:50
objective ranking was created by the Tax
02:52
Justice Network called the financial
02:54
secrecy index where they took a measure
02:58
they look to how opaque jurisdictions
03:01
were they looked at although they use 12
03:03
indicators to work out how a paper just
03:05
jurisdiction work was and then they
03:07
waited it according to the size of the
03:10
cross-border financial services activity
03:12
and the ranking was very clear the
03:14
United States was was top and you have
03:16
at the top of this ranking you have big
03:19
oacd countries United States Luxembourg
03:21
a great dark horse of the offshore
03:23
system that most people don’t really
03:24
know about the Netherlands Switzerland
03:27
of course the Cayman Islands is very big
03:29
United Kingdom right up there
03:32
Ireland these are the big offshore
03:34
jurisdictions if you’re talking about
03:36
offshore finance this is where it this
03:38
is where it happens and this is the
03:40
result of a process particularly since
03:41
the 1970s of the offshore system
03:43
steadily pushing its way onshore the
03:46
United States didn’t used to be a tax
03:48
haven in this way and it has steadily
03:50
become more so become gained more and
03:52
more and more offshore characteristics
03:58
[Applause]
04:10
[Applause]
04:19
there’s a very specific issue about the
04:22
UK and the UK has this network of havens
04:26
around the world such as the Crown
04:28
Dependencies Jersey Guernsey the Isle of
04:30
Man the overseas territories which are
04:33
kind of the you know the remnants of the
04:35
British Empire such as the cayman
04:37
islands such as bermuda such as
04:39
gibraltar such as the turks and caicos
04:41
islands these are all tax havens and
04:44
they are partly controlled by Britain
04:46
they are half in half out of Britain
04:49
these if you look at their flags you’ll
04:51
see a little British flag in the corner
04:52
you’ll see you know the governor is
04:54
appointed by the Queen so they’re all
04:56
these Britain is supporting these places
04:58
very much but they do have their own
04:59
independent politics so it’s a kind of
05:01
ambiguous relationship but what happens
05:04
with these jurisdictions is that they
05:05
are in my book I describe it as being
05:07
like a spider’s web so and I think that
05:11
is probably the best analogy so this is
05:12
a network of havens around the world and
05:14
you’ll have in the Caribbean for example
05:16
they’ll be focusing on business in the
05:18
Americas North and South America the
05:20
Crown Dependencies
05:21
Jersey Guernsey the Isle of Man will be
05:23
looking mostly at Europe you know out in
05:26
the Pacific they’ll be looking at Asia
05:28
and and Australasia and what these
05:32
things do they attract money into into
05:36
the havens or the business into the
05:38
havens into the into individual havens
05:40
and that business gets fed up to the
05:42
City of London so there is this sort of
05:44
capture of money from all around the
05:46
world and the business of handling this
05:47
money is constantly constantly fed up to
05:50
the City of London
05:51
I mean Jersey alone was the biggest
05:53
single source of bank deposits being up
05:56
streamed up to the city during the
05:57
during that during the crisis and that’s
05:59
just Jersey that’s just one tax haven so
06:01
we’re talking about hundreds and
06:03
hundreds of billions trillions of
06:04
dollars running through the city of
06:06
London as a result of it having this
06:09
network of havens this kind of spider’s
06:11
web bringing in business and that is the
06:13
offshore system that brings all this
06:16
money to the system is one of the most
06:18
fundamental if not the most important
06:20
under
06:21
for the financial power of the City of
06:22
London so if we’re worried about the
06:23
city and its power in the stranglehold
06:25
it has on our governments and our
06:27
societies this is this is this is where
06:31
it where so much of it comes from this
06:32
is where probably the biggest part of it
06:34
comes from this at this offshore system
06:36
that brings in business that’s one sided
06:40
but also the city in its own right the
06:41
City of London Corporation which is the
06:43
local government authority for the city
06:46
of London is in itself a slightly alien
06:50
political entity in Britain it is not
06:53
just another municipal authority it has
06:55
all of its own rules that are very
06:58
different from what apply in the rest of
07:00
written I mean voting rights in the city
07:02
it’s not just humans who vote there are
07:04
corporations corporate management
07:07
effectively can vote in the local
07:09
elections in the city of London it’s a
07:12
bizarre thing that most people in
07:13
Britain don’t know about but I’ve you
07:14
know I write about it in some detail in
07:16
my book you know when the Queen comes to
07:19
the city she stops at the city gates and
07:21
it’s it’s a kind of ceremony but she has
07:22
to meet the Lord Mayor and touch his
07:24
sword and there’s all this kind of
07:26
colourful you know ermine robes and
07:28
stuff Arizona but it’s a real marker
07:31
that there is a political discontinuity
07:33
at the boundaries of the city and it is
07:35
a very different political entity that
07:37
has them it submits to many of the rules
07:39
of this country but it’s also carved
07:42
itself out from them so it is kind of an
07:43
offshore island in a very very real
07:45
sense
07:54
there have been reformers over centuries
07:58
trying to trying to particularly merge
08:02
the City of London with the rest of
08:04
London and it’s bizarre that London
08:05
London is A Tale of Two Cities I mean
08:08
there is London has a mayor currently
08:09
Boris Johnson and it has a Lord Mayor
08:12
who’s sitting in the guild hall this
08:15
really is a Tale of Two Cities and there
08:17
have been reformers in the past who have
08:19
tried to say what we need is one
08:22
government for London we need to expand
08:25
the city to cover instead of 9,000
08:28
residents to cover whatever the
08:31
population is 8 million or so
08:33
Londoners and you have one single London
08:35
government the Labour Party for much of
08:38
the last century had a had a or for a
08:41
large part of it had a pledge in its
08:42
manifesto to abolish the City of London
08:44
Corporation and merged into the rest of
08:47
London and Tony Blair when he in 1996 as
08:51
part of his bid bid for power he he
08:54
decreed that he either that pledge would
08:56
be abolished and he made a deal with the
08:58
city and he made a promise to reform it
09:00
instead and that reform ended up being
09:02
an expansion of the corporate vote it’s
09:04
a totally bizarre story and I mean how
09:06
many people in Britain really know about
09:08
this I think it’s something that we need
09:10
to understand much much better and I
09:13
went to see them the other day because
09:15
I’m quite horrible about them right and
09:17
in a way um but I really felt like you
09:21
know naughty schoolboy going in front of
09:23
headmaster okay yes I did actually yes
09:29
yes
09:31
[Music]
09:34
settle down everybody settle down now
09:37
one thing we forgot when we came in what
09:39
did we forget past we did not take their
09:42
registar Jenkins Jenkins Jenkins very
09:52
good now anybody who isn’t here right
09:57
now the next class is may be unsurprised
10:02
to find out double banking this morning
10:07
is the eh-2-zed of modern banking
10:11
otherwise known as a last Atomics so
10:16
there will be a test at the end so keep
10:19
quiet pay attention and do feel free to
10:21
take notes so a what is a for
10:26
accountants yes a for accountants what
10:30
is the definition of an accountant
10:33
that is one definition account is not
10:38
the one I thought written unfriended me
10:39
so detention an accountant is someone
10:44
who is when asked add two plus two but
10:48
over the answer and what would you like
10:51
that to add up to they considering pay
10:54
professional in Ferris budget the only
10:56
answer that you’ll find is for B what is
11:00
B for it’s bloody obvious they’re very
11:06
clever institutions who somehow make it
11:09
seem that they are doing you a favor
11:11
when you lend them your hard earned cash
11:14
and who are allowed by government to
11:16
create money virtually out of nothing
11:18
which they then make you pay a lot for
11:21
right you hear that argument all the
11:24
time if it’s not there’s nothing
11:26
companies can do and in a narrow sense
11:28
that’s true
11:29
companies will they are in a competitive
11:32
marketplace and if they feel they need
11:33
to compete by dodging taxes more
11:35
aggressively than the next one then then
11:38
they will do that but you must have
11:41
forget the golden rule who has the gold
11:43
makes the rules in other words the rules
11:47
the tax laws of this country are very
11:50
substantially crafted by big
11:51
corporations that want those tax laws
11:53
right now as we speak there’s the at
11:56
some tax green paper has been floated
12:01
which has got some horrible concessions
12:03
huge concessions to multinational
12:05
corporations and this is the result of a
12:09
lot of consultations and committees
12:11
where you know the tax directors of many
12:14
of the biggest multinationals are
12:15
sitting on this saying basically this is
12:17
the tax system we want and and and so
12:19
corporations are punching holes in our
12:21
legislation all the time it’s a constant
12:23
process of creating loopholes lobbying
12:26
to lobbying in Parliament and elsewhere
12:28
to to make sure that they get what they
12:30
want so companies are not bystanders in
12:33
this they’re active players in this and
12:34
we have to hold their feet to the fire
12:36
so you can cut is quite right to do that
12:38
the other thing that UK Uncut has done
12:40
is to generate all sorts of new debate
12:43
this is a demo
12:44
pratik process we’re talking about here
12:46
has not been properly debated before and
12:48
they have by by taking on very high
12:51
profile targets quite legitimately they
12:55
have highlighted something that is
12:56
profoundly wrong in our society this is
12:58
a huge fault line in global capitalism
13:00
this is a distortion of markets and they
13:03
have identified it and they are focusing
13:07
on companies is absolutely the right the
13:08
right thing to do of course governments
13:10
need to be pressured as well no question
13:12
about it well there’s there’s there’s
13:25
the so-called yeah but there’s that
13:26
there’s that difference they always they
13:28
always make their say yes we pay lots of
13:29
taxes and but the question is do you do
13:32
you pay the taxes you should the urban
13:34
myth thing is always wheeled out and and
13:37
there is what some of us call the philip
13:39
green defense which is no tax was
13:43
avoided because no tax was due but what
13:47
he doesn’t say is that no tax was due
13:49
because i put a lot of work into making
13:51
sure that no tax was due so it’s a whole
13:53
slippery game that’s going on here and
13:55
this urban myth thing is quite wrong
13:57
that this is they will say that because
14:00
what you have when multinational
14:03
corporations use aggressive offshore
14:05
strategies to cut their tax bills you
14:08
have at the far extreme of it tax
14:11
evasion which is illegal activity and on
14:13
the other end tax avoidance which is by
14:16
definition legal but also by definition
14:18
avoidance it is guessing around the
14:20
spirit of legislation but in between
14:22
these two poles you have this huge grey
14:24
area and the level of aggression that
14:27
companies use in in in terms of avoiding
14:29
taxes and puts them somewhere on this on
14:32
this spectrum so when they say it’s an
14:37
urban myth they can make they can
14:39
construct an argument that technically
14:41
we have not broken any laws here look at
14:43
what we’ve done so it’s an urban myth
14:45
that we’ve avoided any money but in real
14:47
fact if you look at what they should pay
14:49
according to what democratic society
14:50
wants then you get a very very different
14:53
picture indeed so it’s not an urban myth
14:57
and the Vodafone story for example the
15:00
research was done by one of a former top
15:04
HM Revenue customs corporate tax
15:07
official who really you know he’s one of
15:09
the best in the business there’s no
15:10
question that that this is this is money
15:12
this is serious money that we’re talking
15:13
about and when they say it’s an urban
15:15
myth it’s just these are just word games
15:16
they’re they’re using to work to try and
15:19
justify what they’re doing this is money
15:27
given by the rich and the government to
15:30
their friends and the people of causes
15:32
that they like and considered a good
15:34
thing which is not to be confused with
15:37
money that goes to people and causes
15:38
they don’t like which they call subsidy
15:42
you can cut wasn’t a new phase and for
15:47
me it’s a something that kind of
15:48
exploded onto the streets which is
15:50
absolutely fantastic and so I see this
15:54
is we’re just at a fairly early stage of
15:56
a process and UK Uncut is looking at one
15:59
particular aspect of this system which
16:00
is corporate tax avoidance which is a
16:02
very important part of it but what what
16:06
is really out there is something much
16:07
bigger than that much more
16:08
all-encompassing and Britain has a
16:10
particular role in this in this global
16:12
offshore system I mean there’s no
16:15
dispute really that Britain is
16:17
responsible for about half of the tax
16:20
havens in the world and Britain is a tax
16:22
haven in its own right but you know what
16:24
companies want is when they come to a
16:27
country what they want ultimately is a
16:30
healthy and educated workforce they want
16:32
good infrastructure they want a well
16:34
governed country and that means taxes
16:37
and they don’t want you know taxes for
16:40
most corporations especially if they’re
16:42
not in the financial sector rank fairly
16:45
low there’ll be sort of four or four or
16:48
five on the list of priorities when
16:49
they’re looking at where to invest I
16:50
mean you’re not going to go you know set
16:52
up a car factory in Nigeria because it
16:55
offers you know you 0% tax on profits
16:59
and that’s not what that’s not what
17:00
drives investment decisions at the
17:02
decisions at the end of the day and so
17:04
yeah so but still politicians are
17:07
terrified
17:07
you know the this threat is made and and
17:10
they don’t know what to do and then they
17:11
say okay we’ll give you what you want
17:13
and it happens all the time and
17:14
politicians I think should call their
17:15
bluff a lot more on these sorts of
17:18
things where do you think June fits into
17:27
this picture and the disks that are
17:30
being handed over recently banking
17:33
details I think I mean I think Julian
17:37
Assange and WikiLeaks is a fascinating
17:39
story I think in this particular case
17:40
the recent handing over of two CDs by
17:43
Rudolph Alma the Swiss banker I think
17:45
it’s actually elmer story which is
17:46
perhaps the more interesting part of
17:48
this of this debate um he is a Swiss
17:51
banker who worked in the Cayman Islands
17:53
and got a very senior position with with
17:56
a big Swiss bank and he learnt a lot and
18:01
eventually decided to blow the whistle
18:03
and for whatever reasons and he is now
18:06
in prison in Switzerland for breaking
18:09
Swiss bank secrecy in the Cayman Islands
18:12
so it’s a very bizarre situation we’re
18:14
in
18:15
III don’t know what’s in what’s on the
18:19
disk I think WikiLeaks as we speak is
18:20
still analyzing them and I almost
18:23
certainly you know it is bona fide a
18:24
star from and I’ve spent time with Elmer
18:26
and he’s a fascinating guy who very
18:29
highly qualified but I think the the
18:33
aspect of it there’s a battle of ideas
18:36
going on here where jurisdictions like
18:40
Switzerland are saying it’s a crime to
18:43
steal data whereas people like Elmer and
18:47
myself would say it’s a crime to invade
18:50
billions of dollars of taxes and if if
18:55
the price is that data is is removed
18:59
through certain means then that’s a
19:01
price worth paying it’s like police
19:02
having informants you know they do that
19:05
do it all the time they they overlook
19:08
certain things in order to get you know
19:10
a bigger catch and it’s that’s what’s
19:12
going on here so that I think that’s the
19:14
story in this case and I think is this
19:16
making the world more transparent
19:18
yes there is some there is some more
19:21
transparency coming out as a result of
19:22
this it’s a good thing the release of
19:23
the release of data and general
19:25
publication of publication of data but
19:29
now countries like Switzerland with the
19:32
collusion of places like the UK are
19:34
working very hard to find ways to stop
19:37
this happening than to you know that
19:39
they’ve been very nasty indeed to Elmer
19:42
and I don’t know what’s going to happen
19:43
to him now that he’s in prison but also
19:45
they’re making it harder for you know
19:49
they’re putting in place new treaties
19:51
where they refuse to exchange any
19:52
information with anybody if there’s any
19:53
data that’s been what they call stolen
19:56
data so I think that’s it’s but I don’t
19:59
think this is good this is a game
20:00
changer that the release of information
20:02
unless we get a whole rash of new
20:04
whistleblowers but I think it’s it’s
20:05
important it’s important signal to
20:07
people that there’s something awful
20:08
going on here and I think it’s very good
20:10
from that point of view to expose what’s
20:12
really going on but these will only be
20:14
very sort of anecdotal pictures in a
20:16
much much bigger picture of crime and
20:19
abuse what places like Switzerland are
20:22
trying to do is to try and make any you
20:23
know trying to you know be very
20:26
unpleasant make it very unpleasant for
20:28
whistleblowers so I think there’s a fear
20:29
out there as well is it the start of a
20:31
trend of a strain I I trained I know
20:33
that there is I know that growing
20:35
numbers of people who work in this
20:36
sector are growing uncomfortable with it
20:38
last night I gave a talk at Chatham
20:40
House about financial secrecy and I had
20:42
somebody came up to me afterwards who
20:44
works for a private bank and was
20:46
essentially apologising for what she was
20:49
doing and saying yes you’re right this
20:51
stuff is happening and I’m doing it and
20:53
I feel really bad about it and and so I
20:55
think there is a real sense of
20:57
discomfort
20:57
whereas before a few years ago there was
20:59
not really much questioning of this
21:01
whole system it was sort of accepted
21:02
that secrecy is good and we you know the
21:05
crime is to reveal information to law
21:07
enforcement it’s a bit of a kind of
21:08
mafia code
21:15
I think now that there are a lot more
21:19
people talking about how rotten this
21:21
system is I think a lot more people are
21:23
feeling uncomfortable in in these jobs
21:25
and so I’m hopeful that there will be a
21:27
lot more revelations and people coming
21:31
forwards to explain what’s what the
21:34
system really looks like these are
21:38
salubrious retirement plans for Nobel
21:41
prize-winning mathematicians the huge
21:43
amount of money by producing absolutely
21:46
nothing of use for society and have been
21:50
known to explode unexpectedly confused
21:55
with Paige there’s no magic bullets to
22:04
all of this people often ask me this and
22:07
that the first answer I always give is
22:09
that we are still at a phase where we
22:11
don’t even have the education about the
22:13
system to know what to do about it there
22:15
needs to be widespread public
22:17
understanding and also a change there
22:21
has been a tolerance of this for such a
22:23
long time because people haven’t really
22:24
seen it people have just accepted what’s
22:27
going on and because the system is so
22:29
complicated if you’re talking about tax
22:31
when if a journalist wants to know our
22:32
pattern to write about a tax subject
22:35
there will ring up someone from KPMG or
22:38
one of the big accountancy firms these
22:40
firm their business is to design
22:42
strategies to help their clients avoid
22:44
tax and so they have got this they have
22:46
developed this worldview that tax is bad
22:48
and offshore is good and there has been
22:51
this soap so this journalist will ring
22:53
these people up and then this this
22:55
worldview gets kind of propagated into
22:57
the whole whole public consciousness and
22:59
that hasn’t really until very recently
23:02
being properly challenged and I think
23:03
that’s another it’s a very sort of vague
23:07
slightly wishy-washy thing to talk about
23:09
but but it is absolutely essential we
23:11
need to completely start to really
23:14
challenge this culture that offshore is
23:16
good and tax is bad and financial
23:19
regulation is bad and that is now
23:20
starting to happen not just as a result
23:23
of people like UK Uncut
23:24
but also wider issues such as the
23:26
financial crisis which I’ve made people
23:27
question all the assumptions that
23:30
they’ve been making before is really
23:33
difficult in a word yes and I think part
23:38
of the reason for that is that you know
23:41
we the last three years has proved has
23:44
shown to us that what we you know so
23:46
much of what we felt thought we
23:48
understood about economics is actually
23:50
rubbish but yeah I mean I think the
23:54
latest crisis you know that all these
23:56
sort of dizzying numbers coming out of
23:57
trillions and banks being supported with
24:00
these huge numbers of huge amount of
24:02
taxpayer money it’s it’s absolutely
24:06
baffling to everybody and I you know I
24:08
you know having spent a lot of time
24:10
researching the offshore system which is
24:12
a huge part of the global economy I you
24:15
know I have seen it you know it’s one of
24:17
those things where the more you know the
24:18
less you know the more you research them
24:20
all kind of you realize you don’t know
24:22
what’s going on so it is it is terribly
24:25
confusing though if you’re talking about
24:27
the offshore system it’s the essential
24:29
principles are very simple and this
24:31
these are these are places that provide
24:34
escape for mostly wealthy elite from the
24:38
rules and laws and taxes and regulations
24:41
that they don’t like leaving everyone
24:43
else to to pay their taxes for them or
24:46
all suffer the consequences of poor
24:49
financial regulation so there are very
24:50
simple principles about that but the
24:54
actual details of what’s going on is
24:56
incredibly incredibly complicated and
24:58
baffling and I think they like I think
25:01
the people who run this system or who
25:04
are big players in this system like it
25:06
that way
25:15
you
25:32
called the financial secrecy index
25:36
where they took a measure they look to
25:39
how opaque jurisdictions were they
25:41
looked at although they use 12
25:43
indicators to work out how a paper just
25:45
jurisdiction work was and then they
25:46
waited it according to the size of the
25:49
cross-border financial services activity
25:51
and the ranking was very clear the
25:53
United States was was top and you have
25:55
at the top of this ranking you have big
25:58
oacd countries the United States
26:00
Luxembourg a great dark horse of the
26:02
offshore system that most people don’t
26:04
really know about the Netherlands
26:05
Switzerland of course the Cayman Islands
26:08
is very big United Kingdom right up
26:10
there
26:11
Ireland these are the big offshore
26:14
jurisdictions if you’re talking about
26:15
offshore finance and this is where it
26:17
this is where it happens and this is the
26:19
result of a process particularly since
26:21
the 1970s of the offshore system
26:22
steadily pushing its way onshore the
26:25
United States didn’t used to be a tax
26:27
haven in this way
26:28
and it has steadily become more so
26:30
become many different reasons I’m still
26:32
not satisfied with any of them I mean
26:34
it’s the complexity is obviously part of
26:36
it people can only ever see a little bit
26:38
of it at a time and but I think now we
26:41
are at a phase where this is started I
26:43
know I think my book is part of that but
26:45
there are others who are also putting
26:47
this thing in a whole context of global
26:49
context and and we and Britain must
26:51
understand that this is something that
26:52
is a is a global problem and we are
26:55
right at the center of it if you work
26:57
out what a tax haven is tax haven offers
27:00
people and entities elsewhere
27:02
opportunities to escape – escape taxes
27:05
in their own jurisdictions to escape
27:07
financial regulations or whatever if you
27:09
start doing the analysis you will
27:11
quickly find that the jurisdictions that
27:13
are most effective in offering these
27:15
forms of escape our places like the UK
27:17
the the only objective ranking of in
27:21
terms of secrecy secrecy – in a very
27:24
important part of it there and in
27:25
objective ranking was created by the Tax
27:28
Justice Network why do you think tax
27:31
havens are such an important issue right
27:34
now and why do you think it’s a subject
27:38
that hasn’t really come to light until
27:40
recently tax havens have been completely
27:43
under the radar under the radar screen
27:46
for such a long time
27:48
partly because there has been this
27:50
perception that I think is deliberately
27:51
encouraged that this is these are just
27:53
places for a few kind of mafiosi and you
27:56
know celebrity tax dodgers and and you
27:59
know a few curves bibs and and just
28:02
people who you know misfits but the fact
28:06
is that these are now the heart of the
28:09
global economy depending on how you
28:11
measure it the figures are absolutely
28:14
staggering I mean half of world trade in
28:17
a way passes through through tax havens
28:21
huge huge amounts of money are involved
28:24
every multinational corporation pretty
28:26
much these days
28:27
gain more more and more offshore
28:29
characteristics
28:33
[Applause]
28:46
[Applause]
28:54
there’s a very specific issue about the
28:58
UK and the UK has this network of havens
29:02
around the world such as the Crown
29:03
Dependencies Jersey Guernsey the Isle of
29:06
Man the overseas territories which are
29:08
kind of the you know the remnants of the
29:10
British Empire such as the cayman
29:13
islands such as bermuda such as
29:14
Gibraltar
29:15
such as the Turks and Caicos Islands
29:17
these are all tax havens and they are
29:20
partly controlled by Britain they are
29:22
half in half out of Britain these will
29:25
have offshore subsidiaries that they
29:27
will use for various reasons tax cutting
29:30
down on their tax bills is usually top
29:33
of the reasons banks are recently The
29:36
Mail on Sunday they did a great little
29:38
investigation about how many offshore
29:39
cysts offshore subsidiaries you know the
29:42
UK banks have in the top three Lloyd’s
29:45
Barclays an RBS had 550 offshore
29:48
subsidiaries between them and in every
29:51
survey in fact where they look at you
29:53
know what are the top companies that
29:54
have sub city that have top ranking
29:56
companies in terms a number of
29:57
subsidiaries in tax havens it’s always
30:00
the banks the banks are right in there
30:02
so this is the heart of the financial
30:03
system and when you consider the City of
30:06
London is you know as an offshore system
30:08
senator in its own right then you
30:10
realize that this is this is absolutely
30:12
central so why hasn’t it I am still a
30:15
little bit mystified as to why it hasn’t
30:17
been so hasn’t it why it has been so far
30:20
under the radar screen I think you know
30:22
there are men

The Bizarre Economics of Tax Havens and Pirate Banking: James S. Henry at TEDxRadboudU 2013

James S. Henry introduces a hot topic: offshore banking. The G8 and G20 are planning meetings to discuss it. Even the Netherlands is a tax haven for certain types of companies. The huge amount of numbers and graphs tells us that we are confronted with nothing less than a global tax haven industry. For example, Apple makes 100 billion dollars a year of tax free profits because of the games private bankers know how to play.

In medieval times people couldn’t hide their wealth when tax collectors came to inventory it. Nowadays they can. It is said that 64 percent of the global profits are parked offshore, for an important part by multinationals from the first world.

The third world is the victim of this practise. An example from the banana industry: exporting a banana from the Cayman Islands costs 13 pence. When it arrives in the UK to be consumed, the costs have grown to 60 pence. All of this money goes to other parties than the Cayman Islands.

Because of the tax havens, countries from the Third World are not able to receive the tax incomes they are entitled to. Henry even concludes that the debt problem of the third world is not a debt problem, but a tax problem. Both amount to almost the same.

About TEDx
In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TEDTalks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x = independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized.* (*Subject to certain rules and regulations)

Andrew Henderson: Tax Havens: Nomad Capitalist

Tax havens aren’t what they once were.

Jurisdictions like the British Virgin Islands, St. Lucia, Barbados, Seychelles, and others are changing their tax laws and even getting out of the offshore business entirely.

Facing pressure from high-tax countries to increase tax rates and transparency, it’s becoming harder to form an offshore company.

——-
ABOUT NOMAD CAPITALIST

Andrew Henderson is the world’s most sought-after consultant on legal offshore tax reduction, investment immigration, and global citizenship. He works exclusively with six- and seven-figure entrepreneurs and investors who want to “go where they’re treated best”.

Work with Andrew: https://nomadcapitalist.com/apply/

Andrew has spent the last 11 years studying and personally implementing the Nomad Capitalist lifestyle, and has started offshore companies, opened offshore bank accounts, obtained multiple second passports, and purchased real estate in a total of 20 countries.

He has also spent years creating a behavior-based system that helps people get the results they want faster and with less resistance. Andrew believes that everyone can use offshore strategies to keep more of their own money, live a life of freedom, and grow their wealth faster.

About Andrew: https://nomadcapitalist.com/about/
Our website: http://www.nomadcapitalist.com
Buy Andrew’s book: https://amzn.to/2QKQqR0

DISCLAIMER: The information in this video should not be considered tax, financial, investment, or any kind of professional advice. Only a professional diagnosis of your specific situation can determine which strategies are appropriate for your needs. Nomad Capitalist can and does not provide advice unless/until engaged by you.

The Tax Free Tour – VPRO documentary – 2013

“Where do multinationals pay taxes and how much?” Gaining insight from international tax experts, Backlight takes a look at tax havens, the people who live there and the routes along which tax is avoided globally. Those routes go by resounding names like ‘Cayman Special’, ‘Double Irish’, and ‘Dutch Sandwich’. A financial world operates in the shadows surrounded by a high level of secrecy. A place where sizeable capital streams travel the world at the speed of light and avoid paying tax. The Tax Free Tour is an economic thriller mapping the systemic risk for governments and citizens alike. Is this the price we have to pay for globalised capitalism? At the same time, the free online game “Taxodus” by Femke Herregraven is launched. In the game, the player can select the profile of a multinational and look for the global route to pay as little tax as possible. Originally broadcasted by VPRO in 2013.

The French Economist Who Helped Invent Elizabeth Warren’s Wealth Tax

To trace the progress of the wealth tax from a fringe academic idea to the center of the Democratic Presidential primary, it is helpful to begin a bit off-center. On September 15, 2008, the day that Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy, a twenty-one-year-old student of Thomas Piketty, Gabriel Zucman, started work as a trainee economic analyst in the offices of a Paris brokerage house called Exane. Zucman felt obviously underequipped for the task before him: to write memos to the brokerage house’s clients and traders helping to explain why the very durable and minutely engineered global financial system appeared to be on the verge of collapse. Poring over some of the data he was given, which concerned the international flows of investments, Zucman noticed some strange patterns. The amount of money that had been moving through a handful of very small economies (Luxembourg, the Cayman Islands, the tiny Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey) was staggering. “Hundreds of billions of dollars,” Zucman recalled recently, making the “B” in “billions” especially emphatic. Eventually, he would calculate that half of all foreign direct investment—half of the risk-seeking bets, placed from overseas in India, China, Brazil, and Silicon Valley, and of the safety-seeking investments, placed in the United States and Europe and stock indexes—was moving through offshore hubs like these.

Before the financial crisis, the rise of offshore tax havens hadn’t been ignored—one element of the Enron scandal of 2001, for instance, was the eight hundred and eighty-one overseas subsidiaries the company had created, which had helped it avoid paying federal taxes for three years—but those stories took place within a more confined and more frankly moral framework: it was a cat-and-mouse plot, about the mobility of wealth, and the fruitless efforts to pursue it. Zucman’s intuition was that these arrangements did not describe a moral or a legal drama but a macroeconomic one. That much wealth, poorly documented or regulated, might have helped to destabilize the global economy. It also seemed that, if economists were not attuned to the amount of wealth stored in offshore havens, they might also have missed the extent of global inequality, since it was billionaires who stored money in the Cayman Islands, not retirees. “You know, the way we study inequality is we use survey data, state-tax data,” Zucman told me, “and that’s not going to capture these Swiss bank accounts.” After half a year at Exane, Zucman was back in graduate school, working with Piketty on the study of wealth inequality in the United States and Europe that became Piketty’s landmark book, from 2013, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” as well as on his own fixation—on how big the island-shaped loopholes in the global economy would turn out to be.

For the next several years, Zucman followed two tracks. The first led deeper into the mists of offshore banking systems. In obscure monthly reports of the Swiss central bank he discovered that foreigners held $2.5 trillion in wealth there (Zucman would eventually calculate that $7.6 trillion, or eight per cent of global household wealth, was held in tax havens, three-quarters of it undeclared) and that these immense sums were mostly being diverted to mutual funds incorporated in Luxembourg, the Cayman Islands, and Ireland. The second track—the work he did first with Piketty and then with the Piketty collaborator and Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez—mapped the acceleration of inequality around the world and in the United States. The American story was of a snowball effect, as Zucman described it, in which the very high top incomes of the nineteen-eighties and nineties were saved and invested, “and that creates a spiral which is potentially very powerful and leads to very, very high rates of wealth inequality.” The two stories were in fact one. The concentration of wealth in secretive tax havens was an expression of the broader wealth imbalance—the laissez-faire spirit of the Reagan era working its way through the country and then the world. “One thing that became clear in my mind when I did the study of the U.S. wealth inequality is how hard it is to stop the rise of wealth inequality if you don’t have progressive taxation and, in particular, progressive wealth taxation,” Zucman told me. Without it, the snowball just keeps growing.

This work took place during Obama’s Presidency, a period in which, a bit paradoxically, the global populist reaction to accumulated wealth was consolidating even as liberal institutions, belatedly, began to get a handle on the problem. In 2010, early in Zucman’s doctoral work, Congress had passed the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (fatca), which required tax havens to share banking information with the United States or suffer significant economic sanctions. The program worked, and, by the middle of the decade, European regulators had compelled tax havens to share the same information with them. “That actually had a very big impact on my thinking, because it showed that new forms of international coöperation can emerge very quickly,” Zucman told me. “In particular, sometimes we have this view that, ‘Oh, we can’t do anything about tax havens. Countries are entitled to their own laws, and, if they want to have a zero-per-cent corporate-tax rate of bank secrecy, that’s their own right.’ ” Bufatca had demonstrated that tax havens were not autonomous zones. “At the beginning of my Ph.D., whenever I or N.G.O.s would talk about having some automatic exchange of banking information, policymakers would say, ‘Oh, that’s a pipe dream.’ And so I witnessed the transition from pipe dream to now everybody does it.” He went on, “It can happen very fast.

As WikiLeaks oriented international relations around a central tension, between transparency and secrecy, similar themes and patterns were emerging in the area of wealth. To parse them required the tools of an investigative journalist, of discovery and cajoling. Zucman is an economist, but he also had some of the qualities—youth and fervency—that investigative reporters often have, and that made him someone people would go to when they thought something was very wrong. A leaked trove of foreign wealth data from the Swiss subsidiary of the banking giant H.S.B.C. made its way to various national tax authorities, and Scandinavian government officials shared it with Danish and Norweigan academics who were collaborating with Zucman. There were limits to what he could see in the H.S.B.C. trove, but it provided a suggestion of how much wealth from Scandinavian countries was being stored away in offshore hubs like Switzerland. In 2015, when the Panama Papers leaked, detailing the evasion efforts of the law firm Mossack Fonseca, it was possible to see the business of tax evasion in action—the lawyers, the pitch decks, the business analysts. Shrouding fortunes was the work of meticulous professionals; when Zucman and colleagues traced this wealth through tax shelters, they found it often was finally invested in ordinary stocks and bonds. “It was very mundane,” Zucman said.

Gradually, Zucman came to see tax evasion differently. “It’s not a psychological thing,” he said. There was a market. The key player wasn’t the billionaire, but the bankers and lawyers who Zucman came to think of as the tax-evasion industry. The professionals in this industry had bosses, and partners or shareholders; they worked within a regulated system. “If you have banks that feel that they are too big to indict then they will continue to commit some form of financial crimes,” Zucman said. “They will budget costs for fines.” In 2009, tax havens seemed like black holes, sucking out so much wealth that it warped the global economy. By 2019, they seemed dependent on the continued dormancy of the great liberal apparatus of international banking regulation, which could be quickly revived. “And the U.S.,” Zucman said, “you know, if there is a U.S. President that is serious about fighting global oligarchy, he or she has a ton of power.”

Zucman works in a small, spare office next door to Saez’s, on the sixth floor of Evans Hall at U.C. Berkeley. The cinder-block walls are undecorated, and the only personal touch I could see, when we met there a few weeks ago, was a small espresso machine. Zucman is fair-skinned, with round cheeks, light brown hair, and a longish nose, and he was wearing a black V-neck T-shirt and jeans. (The next morning, when we met again, he would be wearing a different black V-neck T-shirt and a different pair of jeans.) The scene seemed a bit unadorned for someone who had, this year, been named by Prospect magazine, in the U.K., as one of the fifty most influential thinkers on the planet. He speaks with a French accent and has an outsider’s sweeping, offhand way of talking. For all of Piketty’s fame—and his own, and Saez’s—Zucman mentioned several times that the economics profession had been slow to recognize inequality as a legitimate topic. He still seemed to have the outlook of a less powerful person than he now is.

Saez and Zucman have written a book, published this month, called “The Triumph of Injustice,” which assembles their research into a policy plan. (Its subtitle is the instruction-manual-like “How the Rich Dodge Taxes and How to Make Them Pay.”) One way to understand the book is as marking a new phase in the project that Piketty, Saez, and Zucman share. Having done more than just about any other economists to describe the powerful effect that accumulated wealth has on global inequality, they are now advocating for a solution: a highly progressive annual tax on wealth, an idea that has been adopted by Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. Zucman is the junior partner in the enterprise, but he has also been its chief propagandist, duelling on Twitter with economists who raise objections or philosophical gripes, and so the wealth-tax cause has come to reflect some of his own attributes: his tremendous explanatory power, his comfort with being an outsider to the establishment, and his great optimism in what government can know and do about the concentration of wealth.

A few weeks ago, Saez and Zucman flew to Washington for a pair of panels at the Brookings Institution presenting their ideas—one closed to reporters, and the other open to them—and at the open session Zucman gave a ten-minute presentation of the book, which, with admirable concision, boiled the essential story of wealth and the tax code down to two slides. The first displayed the results of their study of the aggregate burden of all federal, state, and local taxes after the 2017 Trump tax cuts, which concluded that the United States no longer has a progressive tax system—statistically, the Trump cuts dealt it a death blow. Most Americans now pay about the same portion of their income to the government (the upper-middle class pays very slightly more), and the wealthiest pay less. The slide is titled “A Giant Flat Tax Which Is Regressive at the Top End.”

To explain how this could be, Zucman likes to use the example of Warren Buffett. Forbes had estimated Buffett’s wealth to be sixty billion dollars, which suggested that his wealth was growing by about three billion dollars per year. But Buffett reported to the I.R.S. capital gains of about ten million—based on his sales of some shares in his own company, Berkshire Hathaway. For many years, Buffett has been pointing out that his tax rate is too low—the line has often been that he pays a lower effective rate than his secretary—and urging politicians to turn the screws a bit tighter on the ultra-wealthy. In response, Barack Obama proposed the Buffett Rule, a principle adopted by Hillary Clinton, in which people making more than a million dollars a year would have a minimum federal tax rate of thirty per cent. As of a couple of years ago, this was the frontier of mainstream Democratic tax policy, but, to Zucman, it was outlandishly inadequate. Raising the rate on the ten million dollars that was accessible to the I.R.S. made no statistical difference at all. The issue was the $59,990,000,000 that they could not touch. Apply the Buffett Rule, don’t apply the Buffett Rule; it didn’t much matter. “Functionally, his tax rate is zero per cent,” Zucman said.

The second chart examines the share of wealth held by the Forbes 400, which has mushroomed from one per cent of total wealth, at the outset of the Reagan era, to well over three per cent today. Had Warren’s wealth tax been in place all along, the Forbes 400’s share would now be about two per cent. Zucman and Saez propose a stricter wealth tax (ten per cent annually), which they say would have held the Forbes 400’s share constant, around one per cent. If you wanted something like the more equal pre-Reagan America for which Democratic politicians often grow nostalgic, they suggest, it would take a tax like that.

At the end of last year, Saez got an e-mail from Bharat Ramamurti, a longtime economic policy adviser of Elizabeth Warren’s, who said that Warren was interested in proposing a tax on wealth in some form. Zucman and Saez created a spreadsheet, using their own estimates of wealth, that allowed the Warren campaign to play around with different thresholds and rates for the tax. At first, Ramamurti sketched out a plan that taxed fortunes of twenty million dollars or more at one per cent. But in Saez and Zucman’s analysis—on the spreadsheet—wealth was so concentrated at the highest end that a more radically progressive tax, one which targeted a relatively small number of households, could still generate trillions in revenue. Eventually, the Warren campaign settled on a plan that would tax fortunes over fifty million dollars at two per cent annually, and those over one billion at three per cent, which Saez and Zucman estimated would raise the astonishing sum of $2.75 trillion over the course of ten years. (The entire revenue of the federal government, in the current budget year, is $3.4 trillion.) To Zucman, the choice had the added effect of averting a political problem that had bedevilled European wealth taxes, which tended to start with much smaller fortunes. “Above fifty million, you can’t really argue that these people can’t afford to pay,” Zucman told me.

Something quietly revolutionary was happening in these conversations, in January, between Ramamurti and the Berkeley economists, and between Ramamurti and his boss. For Democratic politicians and policymakers, taxes have generally served as a tool, to fund a program that they believe the people want. When Barack Obama proposed a broad expansion of public health insurance, his advisers developed an intricate, progressive system of taxes to pay for it, but the rates and thresholds for those taxes had been determined by the cost of the program. Ramamurti and Warren wanted to maximize revenue, and they also wanted to reduce inequality, which meant that they wanted a way to make the wealthy give up more of their fortunes. It wasn’t an ideological change so much as a conceptual one—about how pervasive and controlling the effects of inequality are. Taxing wealth to limit fortunes became a goal in itself.

Elizabeth Warren wasn’t the first candidate to consider tackling American wealth in this way. During the 2016 Presidential primaries, Zucman and Saez had an extended conversation with Warren Gunnels, Bernie Sanders’s longtime economic adviser, after Sanders had expressed interest in the idea of a wealth tax. The Berkeley economists scored various versions of the plan, estimating the revenue and economic effects, and eventually Gunnels brought a proposal to Sanders and the campaign. The reaction among his advisers was mixed, and, among the many other policy ideas the Sanders campaign was considering, this one simply drifted away. Sanders was already asking Americans to dream of a socialist society like Denmark’s or Sweden’s, and the wealth tax, which had not succeeded even in Europe, might have seemed especially exotic, and likely to trigger another round of denunciations in the American press.

After Hillary Clinton won the Democratic Presidential nomination, her advisers also spent several weeks considering whether to propose a wealth tax. As a matter of framing, one of her advisers explained to me, “There’s huge merit in the wealth tax—it does bring into sharp focus the inequity in our tax code as it relates to how you treat taxing income to wealth.” The campaign’s policy officials would evaluate how prone it might be to legal challenges, or to the wealthy avoiding or evading it—but it had an intuitive appeal. Because of the concentrations of wealth, the adviser said, “the sheer amount of money you can raise off a wealth tax is staggering.” Clinton herself was intrigued by the idea, and legal experts prepared memos about its constitutional viability, while Saez and Zucman helped Clinton’s tax advisers measure the revenue and economic impacts. But, as with the Sanders campaign, it was never formally proposed. The adviser went on, “It was a pretty exotic proposal. Given the way the election was shaping up, it didn’t seem like the proposal was going to alter the overarching narrative of the race. The reason I keep coming back to is inertia.”

But in 2016 not even the socialists had made the conceptual leap: that a wealth tax could have political appeal separate from, even exceeding, the appeal of the programs it funded. In September, eight months after Warren formally announced her proposal, Sanders introduced a wealth tax that was more extreme still: it starts at a one-per-cent marginal annual rate for households worth more than thirty-two million, and increases steeply, to eight per cent, on households worth more than ten billion. “What we are trying to do,” Sanders told reporters in September, “is demand and implement a policy which significantly reduces income and wealth inequality in America by telling the wealthiest families in this country they cannot have so much wealth.”

As a political matter, those eight months will be hard for Sanders to make up. The tax itself is now Warren’s signature proposal, and she has refined her campaign message around it. At rallies, she asks the crowd how many people own their own homes, and, once hands are in the air, points out that most Americans already pay a wealth tax on their biggest asset, they just call it a property tax. (“Great line,” the Clinton adviser told me. “We didn’t have that.”) “Your first fifty million is free and clear,” Warren likes to say on the campaign trail. “But your fifty millionth and first dollar, you gotta pitch in two cents, and two cents for every dollar after that.” By the time Warren held a rally before the brilliant edifice of the Washington Square arch last month, the crowds had begun to anticipate the line, and, as her speech wound toward the wealth tax, they chanted back at her, “Two cents! Two cents!” In 2016, Donald Trump would test out new lines at his rallies, little lures dropped into the depths of the crowd. Was there a bite? “Build the wall” and “Lock her up” came back at him, and eventually they became the substance of the campaign. Shout a slogan back to a candidate, and you have explained the campaign to itself.

The real resonance between Zucman and Saez’s proposals and the Presidential campaign of Elizabeth Warren, the champion of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, may be in their shared optimism about what the modern American administrative state can accomplish. When I asked William Gale, the co-director of the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, what distinguished Saez and Zucman from the center-left policymakers who had preceded them, he mentioned two elements. First, he said, they wanted steeper taxes on the wealthy than even most progressives in Washingtonthey were left, not center-left. The second difference, Gale said, was more pronounced. “What I would describe as the previous center-left consensus is that we ought to raise taxes on the very rich, but that’s really hard to do,” Gale said. “Saez and Zucman come in and say, ‘In fact, it’s quite possible; it’s just a matter of enforcement and getting the taxes right—pushing on both fronts.’ Their policy optimism is very different from the conversations that people had in the Obama Administration, where it was often about how the wealthy had these tax-avoidance strategies, these armies of lawyers, that the administrative problems were extreme.”

As Saez and Zucman’s ideas moved to Washington, they met points of resistance, small and big. Jason Furman, who chaired President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, recently suggested on Twitter that the rich paid slightly more in taxes than Zucman and Saez’s graphs suggested. But the broader critiques took aim at their administrative optimism. Since the spring, the former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers and his colleague Natasha Sarin, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania, have been arguing that Zucman and Saez have radically overestimated how much revenue a wealth tax would generate, and that the more realistic return, based on what the I.R.S. had been able to recoup from the estate tax, might be as little as one-eighth of their projections. Sarin told me, “The excitement around the Warren proposal is that, by taxing seventy-five thousand households and imposing a relatively minor additional tax burden on them, we can pay for just about everything we want. If that sounds a little unbelievable, I think that’s because it is a little unbelievable.”

Zucman and Saez published a full response in June, pointing out that, in several European countries that had tried a wealth tax, as well as Colombia, the average avoidance rate was about fifteen per cent; Summers and Sarin, they argued, assumed tax-avoidance rates of between eighty and ninety per cent. “They start from the premise that the rich cannot be taxed, to arrive at the conclusion that a tax on the rich would not collect much,” Zucman and Saez wrote. Their more colloquial argument was that there was nothing mysterious about wealth. Seventy per cent of the wealth of the top 0.1 per cent, Zucman argued, was in the form of stocks, bonds, and real estate—it was easily valued. More portable forms of wealth, like art or jewelry, could be assessed through insurance estimates. The trickiest form of wealth for tax authorities to value is privately held businesses; Saez and Zucman propose in their book that the I.R.S. could make an assessment, and if anyone disagreed they could simply transfer two per cent of their shares in the business to the government, which would then sell them at auction. Zucman’s deeper theory seemed to be that no strong wealth tax had ever been tried. The European models had very low thresholds (often starting around a million dollars), which made them vulnerable to political attack and legislative exemptions. Enforcement was often nonexistent. The largest economy to tax wealth in recent years is France’s, and that levy, Zucman pointed out, relied on self-reporting. “There was a box on the return for wealth, and you wrote a number in the box. That was all.”

Liberals have been agitating, for many years, for an end to the Reagan regime. Now, in Elizabeth Warren, the Democrats have a leading Presidential candidate who intends to unwind that era, and the question—the anxiety—is about how much might come undone. Natasha Sarin, Summers’s co-author, told me, “There’s another conceptual point that I find interesting. Bill Clinton, when he was running for President, said the world would be better if there were more millionaires. I was kind of stunned when I heard Bernie Sanders say that billionaires should not exist. There is something about that view that seems deeply alien to what many progressives, I think, believe. And, economically, I worry, it is deeply inefficient.” Zucman, by contrast, said at the Brookings conference that Piketty’s next book, due out next spring, would advocate a wealth tax of ninety per cent for billionaires. “Really,” Zucman told me, “you could abolish billionaires if you wanted to.”

From Zucman’s office window in Berkeley, it is possible to see clear across the bay to San Francisco, where the escalating forces of inequality had sent housing prices sky-high and pushed working-class people to the periphery of urban life, as they had in Paris. The formative political event in Zucman’s life was the 2002 French Presidential election, when he was fifteen, in which the nationalist Jean-Marie Le Pen won nearly five million votes in the first round, making it into the runoff, in part because of the sense that all of the gains of society were being hoarded by élites.

“You know,” Zucman said, “when you have the fall of the U.S.S.R., the fall of the Berlin Wall, some people say it’s the triumph of the free-market economy, the end of history, you won’t do better than that. And, especially now, in a globalized, integrated world, there’s no viable progressive platform that’s possible. And the left became discouraged, as it does—you know, ‘This is all a messy failure. It’s game over,’ ” Zucman said. “And now, thirty years later, people are realizing that there are all kinds of contradictions in the way our economies work, and we can do better.” The United States is only four per cent of the global population, he went on, but much of the rest of the world had remade itself in our image thirty years ago, and—if a progressive administration in Washington could implement a wealth tax, and strengthen international coöperation for higher corporate tax rates against tax evasion and offshore havens—maybe it would do so again. “You could change the U.S., but you could also change the world,” Zucman said. “Actually, you could be much more radical.”