Sometimes, a straight, even dryly-written news-wire report can tell you about the vastly different interpretations of certain issues out there. This Bloomberg report about the world of “offshore money” is a classic case in point. The whole article is worth reading, but this caught my eye:
“According to Tax Justice Network, a U.K.-based organization that campaigns for transparency in the financial system, wealthy individuals were hiding as much as $32 trillion offshore at the end of 2010. Fewer than 100,000 people own $9.8 trillion of offshore assets, according to research compiled by former McKinsey & Co. economist James Henry.”
That is one hell of a contrast. You have the TJN’s $32 trillion, or $9.8 trillion. Take your pick.
Suppose TJN is correct. $32 trillion is a lot of money. And I ask myself how on earth a leftist campaign group such as the Tax Justice Network comes up with that figure. According to Wikipedia’s page on the size of the global economy, the latest available figure for the value of total GDP, based on the 20 richest countries, is $18.8 trillion. So maybe there is a “long tail” of money from smaller economies, but even so, it is a bit of a stretch to arrive at $32 trillion, and then to assume that this money is all parked, or routed via, offshore centres. And even if some of this huge amount of money does pass via offshore centres (such as Bermuda, Caymans, Jersey, Delaware, Zurich, Geneva, and er, cough, London) it does not stay there, but is invested in various places. (What would be the the point of just stashing money in a nice Caribbean island rather than putting it to work?)
I have come to the conclusion that while some of the concerns about offshore wealth might be justified if we are worried about finances of criminals and the like, some of the amounts being bandied about are so vast that the credibility of the attacks is seriously compromised. And I remain convinced that much of the current furore about the offshore world is based on a desire by some policymakers to stamp out tax competition and create a sort of global fiscal cartel.