Secrecy Monitor’s anniversary post: a year tracking the tax haven media

One year ago Financial Secrecy Media Monitor was launched; discovering both Brown Moses and Austin Kleon’s Steal like an Artist (“write the book you want to read”) in the same week took away the last available excuses for procrastination.

172 posts and 295 regular subscribers later, some brief reflections and questions:

– There is urgent need for more research into the political economy of secrecy jurisdictions, in particular their interaction with global tax and transparency dynamics. Tax havens each have their own unique set of characteristics, and in turn are embedded in a complex offshore ecosystem, which includes international banks, insurance companies, accountants and law firms, among many others. International media still often refer to tax havens as if they were all the same, and as if they were passive recipients of policy rather than active influencers of international debates.

– Another area which requires more research is the use of ideology as an offshore marketing tool. Offshore secrecy providers promise “liberty”, “personal freedom”, and “sovereignty” to help the wealthy escape “government control”. In this offshore world tax is at best a business cost; more usually it is portrayed as thievery by evil governments. There is little or no recognition of taxation as a positive force which can allow the state to provide health, education, policing and infrastructure, for example.

The Tax Justice Network has done some great exploratory work looking at the ideological roots of offshore, but many questions remain, for instance how ideology affects decision-making at the level of individual investors.

– It seems some multinationals have much more aggressive offshore tax strategies than others: why?

– Tip for investigative journalists (with large expense accounts): There are regular conferences held in the luxury hotels of emerging economies such as India, China and Panama where “wealth protection advisors” from the US and Europe promote their offshore services to up-and-coming local millionaires.

– In some secrecy jurisdictions, the media seems to be relatively independent and critical. For example, in the British Virgin Islands the BVI Beacon was outspoken in its opposition to the government’s proposed Cybercrime bill, which threatened to imprison journalists for up to 20 years for reporting based on leaked data. In Jersey, on the other hand, the media gave scant coverage to the “Jersey leaks” story which made headlines around the world.

– Most useful tip on blogging: “If you post useful content frequently, your audience will find you”.

– Lastly, a personal highlight for the year: meeting Nick Shaxson and Markus Meinzer of the Tax Justice Network and finding out that they followed Secrecy Monitor.

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