Subscribing to the core idea that income should be taxed where value is created, the international community has devised a set of tax base protecting rules to counter a world in which highly profitable multinational companies like Apple, Google, and Amazon pay very little in taxation. But these rules rely on assumptions about value that tend to allocate most revenues from international trade and commerce to rich countries while, whether intentionally or not, depriving poorer countries of their proper share. This article argues that a rigorous examination of what we mean by value would prompt changes in this allocation. To demonstrate with a concrete example, the article examines wages paid to workers in low income countries and reveals a clear and well-documented gap between market price and fair market value resulting from labor exploitation. It then demonstrates how to apply this knowledge to existing international tax rule sets to reallocate profits to align more closely to the value-based ideal. If accepted in principle, the proposed approach could be expanded beyond wages to consider other areas in which prices do not align with value creation. Ultimately this could provide a more detailed template to reallocate multinational revenues in a way that does not inappropriately benefit richer countries at the expense of poorer ones.My powerpoint presentation of the paper is available in PPT here and in PDF here. I have used various versions of this powerpoint in presenting this paper a couple of times now, with (hopefully) some improvements in each presentation.
As depicted in one of my slides, I have encountered a perplexing mix of reactions to the ideas presented in this paper. Feedback ranges from "will make administration and compliance impossible for tax authorities and taxpayers alike" to "won't change anything, profit shifters gonna profit shift" to "great idea; doesn't go far enough." I wonder if a competent authority faced with a price adjusted per our proposal would see it as a position reasonable and consistent with the ALTP as we do, and whether it actually matters to the competent authority whether it is reasonable or consistent or not (I will admit that I am skeptical that competent authorities work out disputes among themselves on the merits: see this paper for why).
Tagged as: corporate tax economics scholarship tax policy transfer pricing
If you are an IFA member or are attending IFA this fall, you can now download the full IFA 2017 Cahiers. The general report for Subject 1 on BEPS is co-authored by myself and Stephen Shay and is also available on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
The G20/OECD’s multi-year campaign to combat base erosion and profit shifting (BEPS) marks a critical step in the evolution of the international tax regime and the roles of institutions that guide it. This General Report for Subject 1, IFA Congress 2017, provides a snapshot of the outcomes of the BEPS project by comparing national responses to key mandates, recommendations and best practices through the end of October, 2016 based on National Reports representing the perspectives of 48 countries. These National Reports reveal that the impact of the BEPS initiative on a particular country corresponds to at least three key factors, namely: (1) the extent to which domestic law is already in substantial compliance with BEPS outcomes; (2) the degree to which implementation of BEPS outcomes appears capable of delivering positive revenue or economic results, or both, relative to a country’s experiences and perceptions prior to BEPS; and (3) the type and degree of involvement of a country in the formative stages of the initiative preceding the release of the final BEPS action plans. As BEPS continues to unfold, it is difficult to gauge the full extent to which countries in fact will adhere or defect from the rules. However, the BEPS project has witnessed the transition of global tax governance from the OECD countries exclusively to global fora. This leaves open questions regarding agenda-setting for international tax policy going forward. As we conclude this interim snapshot of the origins, standards, and responses to BEPS to date, we look to future IFA congresses for answers to these questions and a final assessment of the BEPS project.
Tagged as: BEPS OECD research scholarship tax policy
This Article examines international law limitations on the ascription of citizenship in the context of U.S. taxation of non-resident citizens. U.S. citizenship practice is exceptionally generous, extending citizenship to almost all persons in its territory at the moment of birth. At the same time that it is generous at the front end, U.S. citizenship is sticky at the back. Termination of citizenship on the individual’s part involves substantial fees and tax compliance. It is difficult to shed a citizenship one may never have wanted in the first place.
This stickiness would be inconsequential if few costs were associated with the status. But the United States taxes its citizens on a worldwide basis. The 2010 enactment of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act has ramped up historically lax enforcement and imposes substantial administrative burdens on even middle-earner citizens abroad.
In this frame, U.S. birthright citizenship and expatriation regimes may violate international norms, especially with respect to those "accidental Americans" who departed the United States as children. Even in the context of extremely relaxed historical constraints on state nationality practice, there were acknowledged nineteenth century limitations on the extension of citizenship to individuals with insufficient connection to a state -- citizenship over-claiming, as it were. The article also describes the historical requirement that naturalization be volitional, a norm now appropriately applied in some cases in the context of birthright citizenship.
To the extent the ascription of U.S. citizenship compromises individual rights, there are tax fixes and there are citizenship fixes. Citizenship fixes include opt-in and opt-out mechanisms for birthright citizenship. The better solution may lie in frictionless exit for those with nominal ties to the national community. Though reform is more likely to be accomplished through the tax regime, the moment highlights the over-inclusiveness of U.S. citizenship and the growing salience of international law to citizenship practices.I'm less confident than Peter that reform will ever be delivered through the tax regime, but I am very glad to see this important contribution to the growing literature focusing on the citizenship/taxation link.
Taxpayers who hide assets abroad to evade taxes present a serious enforcement challenge for the United States. In response, the U.S. has developed a family of initiatives that punish and rehabilitate non-compliant taxpayers, raise revenues, and require widespread reporting of offshore financial information. Yet, while these initiatives help catch willful tax cheats, they have also adversely affected immigrants, Americans living abroad, and “accidental Americans.”
This Article critiques the United States’ offshore tax enforcement initiatives, arguing that the U.S. has prioritized two problematic policy commitments in designing enforcement at the expense of competing considerations: First, the U.S. has attempted to equalize enforcement against taxpayers with solely domestic holdings and those with harder-to-detect offshore holdings by imposing harsher reporting requirements and penalties on the latter. But in doing so, it has failed to appropriately distinguish among differently situated taxpayers with offshore holdings. Second, the U.S. has focused on revenue and enforcement, ignoring the significant compliance costs and social harms that its initiatives create.
The confluence of these two policy commitments risks creating high costs for the wrong taxpayers. While offshore tax enforcement may have been designed to catch high¬-net-worth tax cheats, it may instead impose disproportionate burdens on those immigrants and expatriates who have less ability to complain, comply, or “substitute out” of the law’s grasp. This Article argues that the U.S. should redesign its enforcement approach to minimize these risks and suggests reforms to this end.The paper provides a thorough review of the panoply of offshore enforcement programs and mechanisms and documents the harms of their dragnet approach, especially on the most vulnerable and least likely targets. A significant contribution to the literature.
Over at Surly Subgroup, Leandra Lederman has posted Death, Taxes, and a Beach Read, a review of a series of novels by Diane Kelly, a former CPA and tax attorney turned romance novelist who "had the pleasure of working with a partner later convicted of tax shelter fraud [and] served a stint as an Assistant Attorney General for the State of Texas under an AG who pled guilty to criminal charges related to the tobacco company lawsuits." Leandra told me about these books last week when I was in Bloomington, and I have never heard of them before, so it is fun to see her write them up. From her post:
It never occurred to me to blog about [the series] until I read the first page of “Death, Taxes, and Cheap Sunglasses” while on a plane, and saw a link with tax issues I frequently write about. The opening paragraph reads:
“I slid my gun into my purse, grabbed my briefcase, and headed out to my car. Yep, tax season was in full swing once again, honest people scrambling to round up their receipts, hoping for a refund or at least to break even. As a taxpayer myself, I felt for them. But as far as tax cheats were concerned, I had no sympathy. The most recent annual report indicated that American individuals and corporations had underpaid their taxes by $450 billion. Not exactly chump change. That’s where I came in.”
I had just presented my latest tax compliance article, “Does Enforcement Crowd Out Voluntary Tax Compliance?” and here were tax gap figures showing up in a novel! ...Leandra notes that of course the novel simplifies, referring to “underpaid”taxes: official tax gap measurements by the IRS (see e.g. 2006; 2012) include late payment and filing/reporting failures. Leandra continues:
The heroine of this "romantic mystery series" is CPA Tara Holloway, who's described as "kicking ass, taking social security numbers, and keeping the world safe for honest taxpayers." She's a Special Agent with the IRS's Criminal Investigation Division....
Diane Kelly takes a few liberties with what Tara can get away with. The acknowledgments in “Death, Taxes, and Peach Sangria” include the following statement: “To the IRS special agents, thank you for sharing your fascinating world with me and for all you do on behalf of honest taxpayers. Please forgive Tara for being such a naughty agent and breaking the rules.”Leandra recommends readers start with the first novel in the series, Death, Taxes, and a French Manicure. But if Tara's mission is to close the tax gap, is it ok to buy the book on Amazon?
Tagged as: tax gap
Arthur Cockfield has posted a paper of interest, entitled How Countries Should Share Tax Information. Here is the abstract:
There are increasing policy concerns that aggressive international tax avoidance and offshore tax evasion significantly reduce government revenues. In particular, for some low income countries the amount of capital flight (where elites move and hide monies offshore in tax havens) exceeds foreign aid. Governments struggle to enforce their tax laws to constrain these actions, but are inhibited by a lack of information concerning international capital flows. The main international policy response to these developments has been to promote global financial transparency through heightened cross-border exchanges of tax information. The paper discusses elements of optimal cross-border tax information exchange laws and policies by focusing on three key challenges: information quality, taxpayer privacy, and enforcement. Relatedly, the paper discusses how the exchange of automatic ‘big tax data’ combined with data analytics can help address the challenges.Cockfield seeks to find a solution that balances the need of the state for extensive information in order to protect the integrity of the income tax system against the need of the individual for protection from abuse by the state. That is no easy balance to strike. From the paper:
All of [the recent information gathering and exchange] efforts seek to provide governments with more and better tax information, and reduce costs through agreement on underlying EOI rules and principles. The reforms, however, largely do not address how financial secrecy laws subvert global financial transparency initiatives. Nor do they address legal technical complexity that raises transaction costs, and makes it even harder for low and middle income countries to implement and enforce EOI. While the EOI reforms are positive steps, given an environment of high transaction costs it may be difficult to make progress in addressing key policy challenges....
Data availability, usefulness and verifiability are three components of high quality information that can help governments pursue their cross-border investigations and audits. In particular, transferred information should be relatable to domestic tax identification measures, and checked against third party reporting, and withholding tax disclosures. Once this is done, governments can conduct analysis to determine audit risk by focusing on issues such as taxpayer segmentation, dealings between the taxpayer and offshore service providers, and cross-indexing tax and financial information against non-tax data (e.g., insurance policy disclosures).
Against this desire for high quality tax information stands (shrugs?) taxpayer privacy concerns. The apprehensions arise from the varied levels of domestic legal protection afforded to privacy rights, along with the risk of abuse or misuse of transferred information. Accordingly, broader multilateral agreement on privacy protections is likely a prerequisite to effective EOI. This hoped-for cooperation is hindered by the fact that many countries refuse to abolish their financial secrecy laws, which stands as one of the main barriers to optimal reform.My view is that maintaining the integrity of the income tax system appears to require building the panopticon, and much more besides. The steady decline of support for coherent corporate income taxation makes greater and greater individual surveillance necessary, while also making personal income taxation harder. I am not sure where the point lies at which the costs and risks attendant to building the necessary compliance and enforcement infrastructure exceed the benefits of maintaining personal taxes based on income.
Tagged as: information institutions rule of law scholarship
Further to my last post on the newly released Tax Gap study by the Canada Revenue Agency, the following comes from guest blogger Iain Campbell (ARC, UK):
Tagged as: Canada tax gap tax policy
I am occasionally asked for a list of the things I've written or presented about FATCA and citizenship-based taxation, and decided I may as well post it here. I have a newer article on the adoption of the IGA in Canada, will post that soon and add to this list.
- Uncle Sam Wants...Who? A Global Perspective on Citizenship Taxation (explaining the expansive US tax jurisdiction and its consequences on citizens abroad)
- Understanding the Accidental American—Tina’s Story (describing the “gotcha” of CBT and FATCA)
- Paperwork and Punishment: It’s Time to Fix FBAR (explaining FBAR, its mission creep, and its effects on USPersons living abroad)
- Taxpayer Rights, On and Off-shore (exploring tax complexity and compliance for nonresident US Persons)
- Regulating Tax Preparers: A Global Problem for the IRS (exploring the problem of regulating the tax compliance industry outside the US territory)
- Could a Same Country Exception Help Fix FATCA and FBAR? (calling for exemption of local accounts held by nonresident US Persons from FATCA reporting; third item in a compilation; scroll to p. 7 of the document).
- Two expert reports in connection with the Hillis v. Attorney General of Canada litigation.
- Submission to Finance Department on Implementation of FATCA in Canada (discussing legal issues with proposed adoption of IGA)
- What You Give And What You Get: Reciprocity under a Model 1 IGA (explaining asymmetrical account disclosure and sharing requirements)
- Tax Cooperation: Past, Present and Future (explaining why FATCA is a tax treaty override & the IGAs do not “cure” it)
- The Dubious Legal Nature of IGAs and Why it Matters (arguing that the IGAs violate the US constitution regarding the treaty power, and thereby implicate public international law as to the treaties they ostensibly interpret)
- Interpretation or Override: Introducing the Hybrid Tax Agreement (further analysis on the public international law problems created by the IGAs)
- Putting the Reign Back in Sovereign: Advice to the Second Obama Administration (analyzing FATCA’s unilateral nature and its implications for international tax policy)
- Interview with Tax Analysts (November 2015)
- Podcast with the McGill Law Journal (February 2014)
- Testimony to Finance Committee (March 2014)
- Interview with CBC News (January 2014)
- Interview with CBC Radio "All in a Day" (July 2014)
- Explaining the basic structure and issues surrounding FATCA (2012-prior to the IGA era)
Tagged as: citizenship FATCA scholarship tax policy
Next week, I will be participating in a workshop at Tilburg University in the Netherlands on the topic of International Tax Governance, a timely topic especially given the recent developments in the coordination of the international organizations, the expansion of the OECD's global forum idea to monitor BEPS, the impact of the state aid cases within and beyond Europe, and the increasing role of NGOs in shaping international tax policy. Here is the program:
|10:00- 10:30||Welcome and registration|
|Cees Peters (Tilburg University): International Tax Governance in Action|
|11:00- 12:30||Session 1 - Transparency|
|Edwin Visser (PwC): reaction of MNC's to transparency pressure: CbCR and CSR discussion (30 minutes + 15 minutes discussion)|
|Maaike van Diepen (Tax Justice Network): The perspective of an NGO (30 minutes + 15 minutes discussion)|
|12:30- 13:30||Lunch break|
|13:30- 15:00||Session 2 - EU State Aid|
|Allison Christians (McGill University): a US perspective - the reaction of the US government and US MNC's|
|Anna Gunn (Leiden University): an EU perspective - the reaction of the EU Member States and EU MNC's|
|15:30- 17:00||Session 3 - Compliance of states with new norms of international taxation|
|Carla De Pietro (Tilburg University and University of Bologna): Implementation of the OECD BEPS measures (Action 6) in the light of the relationship between international and EU law.|
Tagged as: conference governance institutions international law tax policy
As observers of global tax policy know, international tax issues are dealt with in bilateral treaties that more or less adhere to a 'model' tax treaty developed and periodically updated by the OECD (provisions in a rival UN Model are occasionally invoked, and the US has its own model with its own distinctions and idiosyncrasies). There are those who have long lamented the problem of having thousands of bilateral agreements that can't be easily or quickly updated when the OECD revises the model (thus curbing the impact of OECD soft law).
As part of the base erosion and profit shifting (BEPS) initiative, the OECD is currently developing a
"Multilateral instrument on tax treaty measures to tackle BEPS" which would be used to 'modify' all existing tax treaties in force among signatory countries. The OECD says this mechanism (which it calls an 'innovative approach') 'would preserve the bilateral nature of tax treaties' even as it modified all existing bilateral treaties 'in a synchronized way'. The OECD says there are "limited precedents" for modifying bilateral treaties with a multilateral instrument.
But are there really any precedents at all? I couldn't think of any off-hand. A quick check with a few international law colleagues yielded few comparators. Tim Meyer suggested the EU harmonizing efforts on Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs) as a candidate, albeit noting that this does not contemplate directly overriding existing BITs but requires EU members to change their bilateral arrangements to conform with EU investment policy.
Tim also made the interesting observation that"treaties that reference customary international law standards, such as BITs’ reference to the minimum standard of treatment" could be overridden in a somewhat similar fashion. He explained that "[i]f custom changed, such as through the promulgation of soft law documents or multilateral treaties, it would change the BITs that incorporate the customary standard. That isn’t exactly the same thing [as the new OECD multilateral instrument], but similar."
The OECD's work in developing "global consensus" has in the past led some to describe OECD standards as "soft law" and others to suggest that the OECD may be understood to articulate customary international tax law; moreover the OECD has itself now taken to describing its model as soft law (including in its 2014 report on the multilateral instrument). I have urged caution in defining OECD proclamations as soft law or customary law given the OECD's exclusive membership of mainly rich countries, which excludes all of the BRICs and most of the rest of the world, as I think the nomenclature lends an imprimatur of legitimacy to OECD proclamations that may not be deserved. But it seems clear that the BEPS action items, and the new global forum to "monitor compliance" with them, are intended to overcome the exclusivity problem while endowing OECD norms with ever-greater law-like effect (without offending the unicorn that is "tax sovereignty").
It seems likely to me that a multilateral agreement that modifies existing tax treaties is actually intended to ultimately replace those treaties, making small and incremental modifications until the underlying bilateral treaties become superfluous or extinct. Accordingly I view the OECD's multilateral 'modification' function to be an exercise in creeping harmonization as well as "ossification" (or maybe transformation) of soft law into hard law.
Adding together the other elements of BEPS, including the new global forum to compel national compliance with 'minimum standards' as they develop, I recently suggested that the OECD's tax folks are giving birth to a new global tax order complete with rules, audits, and reform processes. This is perhaps not the order envisioned by those who have in the past called for global tax coordination in a supranational body for the sake of pursuing global tax justice. If the OECD-based regime is not fully supranational yet, it is close, and it looks increasingly inevitable once it sets a multilateral agreement in place.
There are many fascinating threads of soft law and public international law are at work in these developments. I recently came across an article by Jung-Hong Kim on the topic, entitled A New Age of Multilateralism in International Taxation?, abstract:
With the OECD/G20 BEPS project, the current international tax landscape is facing challenges and changes unprecedented for the past several decades. This paper looks at the development of bilateralism and multilateralism in the current international tax regime, takes stock of the BEPS works and analyzes the proposed Multilateral Instrument. Then, the paper discusses the emerging multilateral tax order in international taxation.
Historically, bilateralism has been the constant trend of tax treaties, and later multilateral tax treaties have emerged in some regional areas. There being some deficiencies with bilateral treaties such as dilapidation, delay in entry into force and vulnerability to treaty shopping, the experience of multilateral tax treaties can help build a foundation for future development of a multilateral tax treaty to complement the bilateral tax treaty network.
With a caveat that BEPS output is fluid at this stage, drawing on the various examples of existing non-tax multilateral treaties, the Multilateral Instrument will be a desirable and feasible tool to reflect the necessary changes resulting from BEPS project. For Korea whose tax treaties need a systematic upgrade after a noticeable growth in quantity, the negotiation on the Multilateral Instrument of the BEPS project will be a great opportunity to revisit the existing bilateral tax treaties and to make appropriate amendments with bilateral treaty partners in multilateral format.
Beyond BEPS, supposing that the work on the Multilateral Instrument results in a multilateral convention, the inevitable question is the emergence of a multilateral tax order. In terms of feasibility of such a multilateral tax order, there are both positive and negative sides. The positive side is that the relative success of Global Forum on Tax Transparency can be a guidance on the post-BEPS multilateral tax order. On the other hand, the phenomenon of diminishing multilateral trade regime and bilateral investment treaty regime seem to be a negative evidence. Another point to consider is the appropriate forum to manage the multilateral tax order. For this, there are two competing organizations, i.e., the OECD CFA and UN tax committee, each of which having some limit to be developed into an intergovernmental forum.
After all, the essential question will be how those major players such as the U.S., EU, China, India etc. could build a consensus by compromising on the institutional and substantive aspects of the multilateral tax order. For now, for the emerging multilateral tax order to proceed on a sound basis, the work of the BEPS project should bear substantive and meaningful fruits.