Monday, April 4, 2016


“Gabriel Zucman, who teaches at the University of California at Berkeley,
has two goals in his new
book, The Hidden Wealth of Nations: to specify the
costs of tax havens, and to figure ou
t how to reduce those costs. While much
of his ana
lysis is technical, he writes with moral passion, even outrage; he
sees tax havens
as a ‘scourge.’ His figures are arresting. About 8 percent of
the world's wealth,
or $7.6 trillion, is held in tax havens. In 2015,
and alone held $2.3 trillion in foreign wealth. As a result of fraud from
unreported foreign accounts
, governments around the world lose about
$200 billion in tax revenue each year. Most of this amount comes from the evasion
of taxes on investment income, but a significant chunk comes from fraud
on inheritances
. In the United States, the annual tax loss is $35 billion; in
Europe, it is $78 billion. In African nations, it is $14 billion.”

Sunstein, Cass R, ‘Parking the Big Money,’ in The New York Review, January 14, 2016, pp: 37-38, a review of The Hidden Wealth of Nations: The Scourge of Tax Havens, by Gabriel Zucman, University of Chicago Press, 2015.


[Letter to the Editor, and Response]

Cass Sunstein’s review of Gabriel Zucman’s The Hidden Wealth of Nations [New York Review, January 14, 2016] erroneously claims that Zucman is the first economist to produce specific
umbers of this kind.’ Actually, economists have been estimating the volume of missing
offshore wealth for decades. For instance, in
2005 British economists Richard Murphy
John Christensen produced a widely published $11.5 trillion estimate. In 2011
James S. Henry, formerly director of economic research for McKinsey & Co., was
issioned by the Tax Justice Network to compile detailed estimates of offshore
private wealth
. Triangulating with three independent methodologies, including
extensive statistical analysis and ‘investigative economics’ involving interviews with
private bankers, tax lawyers, and crooks, Henry identified
$21-$32 trillion of ‘missing’
wealth as of
2010. This provided The Economist's cover story on February 16, 2013.
Zucman leans heavily on one IMF survey of traded assets for fifty countries, hunting
mismatches between assets and liabilities. This is incomplete. Many assets are not
unrecorded but misrecorded in the names of trustees or nominee directors, not beneficial
. Since there is a recorded owner, there is no mismatch, hence Zucman omits
this missing wealth. He also ignores some
$5-$10 trillion of offshore non-financial
assets like real estate, art
, yachts, and gold.
“So Zucman's $7.6 trillion estimate of offshore wealth (in 2014 dollars) is way too
low. His estimate for
Latin America is just $700 billion, and for Argentina $100
billion. In contrast, recent studies by Argentine economists working with Henry have
uncovered over $400 billion of offshore wealth for Argentina alone. Similar gaps
exist for Russia, Mexico, Brazil, South Africa, Nigeria, and China, where $500 billion
fled the country just in 2015. Zucman underplays the crucial role of bankers and other enablers
in the global haven industry
. As detailed in Henry's report - soon to be updated - the top fifty global
banks were respons
ible for soliciting and concealing at least $12 trillion of the $21-$32 trillion, on behalf of the world's elite. Ironically, many of these institutions helped create the 2008 financial crisis, and would not have survived without taxpayer- funded bailouts.
Sunstein is also.wrong to laud recent US tax enforcement efforts. Banks like UBS and Credit Suisse, caught red-handed facilitating tax dodging in the US, received light penalties. The Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) helps preserve the US as a haven by offering very limited reciprocity to other countries. This threatens to undermine the OECD's far more comprehensive global plan for information-sharing. Indeed, as any offshore wealth adviser knows, illicit money from across the planet is pouring into tax haven USA.

John Christensen'
Executive Director
Tax Justice Network
London, England

James Henry
Senior Fellow
Columbia University
New York City

Cass R. Sunstein replies:

“I am grateful for the response by John Christensen and James Henry of the Tax Justice Network (TJN), but also puzzled by it. Gabriel Zucman and I are in fundamental agreement with the TJN: tax havens are an extremely serious problem and far more needs to be done about them.
“The Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act is a significant step in the right direction, because it requires all foreign banks to identify any American citizens among their clients-and to disclose to the Internal Revenue Service the amount of their holdings and any dividends and interest paid on them. (The US Department of Treasury has done, and continues to do, a great deal of work on the issue of reciprocity.) With Zucman, I agree that FATCA is not nearly enough, because a global solution is required.
I stand by my claim about Zucman's originality.
Citing their own work, Christensen
and Henry claim that they
were there first, and they have indeed made valuable
contributions. But
investigative economics,’
extrapolating numbers from interviews with private bankers,
tax lawyers, and crooks,involves a high degree of
ion, and the numbers in Henry's illuminating report,
commissioned and published by the TJN, lack the rigor and care
Zucman's peer-reviewed estimates. I agree, however, that
his estimates ma
y be too low.”


“A vivid new documentary, The Price We Pay, connects tax havens inequality, and insufficient regulation of financial transactions. The film makes a provocative argument that a new economic elite - wealthy managers and holders of capital-is now able to operate on a global scale, outside the constraints of any legal framework.”

Sunstein, Cass R, ‘Parking the Big Money,’ in The New York Review, January 14, 2016, pp: 37-38, a review of The Hidden Wealth of Nations: The Scourge of Tax Havens, by Gabriel Zucman, University of Chicago Press, 2015.

The Price We Pay a film directed by Harold Crooks, inspired by
Brigitte Alepin's 2010 book La Crise fiscale qui vient (The Comin
Fiscal Crisis), referenced in Sunstein, Cass R, ‘Parking the Big Money,’ in The New York Review, January 14, 2016.