As with many areas of law, a canon of sorts has grown up around the field of international taxation. Pursuant to this canon, income disappearing “through the cracks” of the international taxing regime, and the resulting loss of tax revenue, has been singled out as one of the single largest problem plaguing the international fiscal order. This has led to concerted efforts to recapture this disappearing tax base through multiple types of enforcement or punishment, most famously through a blacklist campaign led by the OECD against so-called uncooperative tax havens.
What may surprise some, however, is that this canon appears to rest primarily on a single, somewhat dated, premise arising from the public finance literature: that of tax “neutrality” – or the idea that the tax law should not change where and how capital invests around the world as compared to what would occur absent taxes. Neutrality, it was argued, was the sine qua non of the international tax regime in that it would prevent “distortions” to international capital flows, thus maximizing worldwide efficiency; increased worldwide efficiency would mean increased worldwide growth, making all countries better off – the supposed common goal of all. Given that neutrality would benefit the entire worldwide tax regime, the argument went, it was appropriate or even necessary to punish countries which did not adopt “neutral” policies in their tax laws as well. Even critics of this approach seemed to base their analysis in neutrality terms, effectively ceding the battleground before a shot was fired. Continue reading "Taking Sovereignty Seriously"