"Treasure Islands"

Michigan Law Authors
Areas of Interest
Publish Date
2010
Publication
Journal of Economic Perspectives
Publication Type
Journal Article
Abstract

In movies and novels, tax havens are often settings for shady international deals; in practice, they are rather less flashy. Tax havens, also known as "offshore financial centers" or "international financial centers," are countries and territories that offer low tax rates and favorable regulatory policies to foreign investors. For example, tax havens typically tax inbound investment at zero or very low rates and further encourage investment with telecommunications and transportation facilities, other business infrastructure, favorable legal environments, and limited bureaucratic hurdles to starting new firms. Tax havens are small; most are islands; all but a few have populations below one million; and they have above-average incomes. The United States and other higher-tax countries frequently express concerns over how tax havens may affect their economies. Do they erode domestic tax collections; attract economic activity away from higher-tax countries; facilitate criminal activities; or reduce the transparency of financial accounts and so impede the smooth operation and regulation of legal and financial systems around the world? Do they contribute to excessive international tax competition? These concerns are plausible, albeit often founded on anecdotal rather than systematic evidence. Yet tax haven policies may also benefit other economies and even facilitate the effective operation of the tax systems of other countries. This paper evaluates evidence of the economic effects of tax havens.

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