Thursday, June 03, 2010

Switzerland: manufacturers of legislation for big corporations

From Business Week:

"Switzerland’s upper house of parliament approved the handover of account details on as many as 4,450 UBS AG clients to settle a lawsuit that threatened the Swiss lender’s American business."

This is a step forwards. Many lessons emerge from this: not least that if you are a government trying to protect your country against Swiss offshore aggression, then go after the Swiss banks as the Americans have done, rather than trying to target the Swiss government, as some Europeans have done fairly recently. (And this isn't a throw-away line - we will be writing more on this particular issue in due course.)

Business Week is also running a useful story (though rather too indulgent towards blatantly abusive tax practices) looking at how Switzerland is accelerating a race to the bottom between jurisdictions on tax rates, with a starring role played by cantons like Zug and Schaffhausen. It includes this tell-tale comment, which unveils one of the core problems with secrecy jurisdictions:

“It makes Schaffhausen attractive,” said Priska Roesli, a senior director in Tyco's finance department, which nestles between mural-clad houses and a 16th century fortress. “It is such a small canton, you have access to the authorities.”

This is what secrecy jurisdictions are. They are places where the political elites are small enough for big corporations to influence easily - without such pesky things as democratic processes or concerns for the less unfortunate getting in the way. These places are, in effect, corporations' manufacturers-to-order for the legislation they desire. We will be revealing startling new information about all this before too long, in a forthcoming book.

And the article includes a nice comment from TJN:

"John Christensen, director of the Tax Justice Network, a London-based tax lobbying group:

“It's a tax war that involves beggaring neighboring states,” he said. “It's deeply abusive because it doesn't create many jobs as the headquarters activity mainly remains elsewhere.”

Tax War - that's the terminology we like to see when talking about the thorny problem of tax (and regulatory) competition. This is nothing like competition in a market: it is a hidden war between nation states.

And the article finishes on what looks like a highly cynical note.

“The car salesmen of Schaffhausen have had golden times,” said Cajacob, sitting in his office two miles upriver from Europe's largest waterfall. “Now everyone from restaurateurs to real estate agents is set to benefit.”

Well, lucky for these wealthy people. And the population of the United States - not to mention many other jurisdictions where these firms do business - can go to hell.


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