There is a Samizdata team joke that the difference between American arrogance and British arrogance is the British think they run the world, whereas the Americans think they are the world.
Well just last week I started doing some business with a European bank… a quite mainstream one I might add… and discovered something remarkable. I had to sign a series of statements that I did not do business in the USA, had no assets in the USA and was not a US citizen or resident. Only then would they do business with me. Indeed I had to sign more papers regarding this than any actually pertaining to the business I was doing with them.
And this is why…
The Internal Revenue Service on Monday launched an online registration program for the hundreds of thousands of financial firms around the world that must comply with a U.S. anti-tax evasion law or risk being shut out of financial markets.
Surely a significant European bank must do some business in the USA, I asked. Can the world’s largest economy really be so onerous that you truly want nothing whatsoever to do with it?
Well he was rather guarded and he knew I was a blogger, which I suspect made him a bit uneasy at the prospect of being quoted, which is why I am naming no names. But to paraphrase the reply I coaxed out of him, it was “yes, the USA is simply not worth the trouble and so rather than complying with their endless diktats and the uncertainties of what are increasingly capricious rules… well… there is a whole great big world out there for us to do business with that does not include the United States.”
Yet I suspect the powers-that-be in Washington could not care less and moreover the notion that sophisticated foreign bankers are starting to see American not as the land of opportunity, but as a place to be avoided at all costs, would strike them as preposterous. Indeed had I not had those documents laid in front of me asking me to attest to a complete lack of economic links to the USA or anything associated with the USA that the US state might claim extraterritorial jurisdiction over… well, I would not have believed it myself.
Moreover, after our business had been concluded and he relaxed a bit, the banker in question, who I very much doubt is on any Interpol wanted lists (well I certainly hope not given that he now has some of my money) said he would not even visit the USA or transit a flight through it, due to the US authorities propensity to detain foreign bankers and ask them questions if they even suspect any involvement with US nationals, particularly from ‘non-compliant’ banks such as his.
Am I the only one who is astonished things have come to this? I am suddenly very glad I do not actually live in Arkham, Massachusetts (not sure which is worse, the IRS or the Deep Ones).