Thursday, June 9, 2016

"The Hidden Wealth of Nations," by Gabriel Zucman

At least 8% of GDP is hidden in tax havens, and the amount has been increasing in the recent past. Economist Gabriel Zucman reaches this conclusion after comparing national foreign accounts of several countries. The book "The Hidden Wealth of Nations" not only describes the large magnitude of this problem, but it also proposes solutions. These include the automatic exchange of information between countries about financial investments (and trade sanctions if a country does not comply), the creation of an international register of all financial assets, and the payment of taxes by multinationals according to the country where they sell their products instead of the country of incorporation. Zucman also hints at the need of changing some aspects of our institutional architecture, for example about European Union countries better coordinating their threats to some of their member states, such as Luxembourg, and some external ones, such as Switzerland. As argued by this economist, "economists share some of the responsibility for the sense of mystery that still surrounds tax havens. Academics have for too long shown little interest in the subject, with some notable exceptions. But progress has been made within the past ten years, and we may rightfully hope for important advances in the near future. The fact remains that most of the progress in understanding tax havens achieved up to now—remarkable progress in many respects—can be credited not to economists, but to a certain number of pioneering nongovernmental organizations, journalists, political scientists, historians, jurists, and sociologists. The approach I adopt in this book differs from these earlier ones; it complements them and in no way claims to eclipse them. The originality of my approach is that it is based foremost on statistics. I do not look at individual cases. Though they are indispensable in raising awareness, even scandal, individual case studies are of little help in guiding action. You will not find either oligarchs or African dictators, venal bankers or great money-changers of the city of London here, except in the numbers. This work focuses on an analysis of data and their implications, while respecting their historical context, distinctiveness, and limits."

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