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International finance

How Buddhist tax accountants and whistle blowers can change the world

Duncan Green's picture

Max Lawson is back again (he seems to have more time to write now he’s Oxfam International’s policy guy on inequality) to discuss tax morality and a bizarre encounter with a Buddhist accountant.

A few years ago I went on a hiking holiday with a number of people I didn’t know, and ended up befriending a tax accountant. He was a very nice man, who had been going through a bit of a mid-life crisis, his children had grown up and left home, his wife was not very interested in him, and he had developed an interest in Buddhist philosophy. Anyhow, after a few days, he revealed to me that over the last five years he had started defrauding a firm he had been working for, to the tune of several million pounds a year. He was not taking the money for himself, but was abusing their trust in him, by not telling them about the latest tax avoidance schemes, meaning that they were systematically overpaying tax to the government.

I was reminded of this surprising suburban Robin Hood figure by the rash of stunning leaks on tax prompted by the whistle-blowers of the last couple of years, starting with the Luxleaks, then Swissleaks, and then the mother of all leaks, the Panama Papers. All have involved incredibly brave accountants or bankers risking a huge amount to get this information into the public domain. The two former employees of PricewaterhouseCoopers who leaked information on tax breaks for major corporates such as Apple, Ikea and Pepsi in the Luxleaks case are facing years in prison. The Swiss Leaks whistleblower has been sentenced to six years in prison in Switzerland in absentia. Finally, the Panama Papers whistle blower has wisely remained anonymous but I imagine is being hunted by a range of private security firms.

I can only guess at the panic in the boardrooms of the investment banks and particularly at the big four accounting firms – Deloittes, PwC, KPMG and Ernst & Young, who between them have almost complete oversight over the business of aggressive tax planning by the major corporations. But no amount of security software can fully protect any firm from increasing numbers of employees no longer feeling morally comfortable with what they are doing, as ultimately the secrecy of the system is dependent on those that run it being able to look in the bathroom mirror in the morning and feel OK about their lives.

How do developing country decision makers rate aid donors? Great new data (shame about the comms)

Duncan Green's picture

A small business owner, GhanaBrilliant. Someone’s finally done it. For years I’ve been moaning on about how no-one ever asks developing country governments to assess aid donors (rather than the other way around), and then publishes a league table of the good, the bad and the seriously ugly. Now AidData has released ‘Listening To Leaders: Which Development Partners Do They Prefer And Why?’ based on an online survey of 6,750 development policymakers and practitioners in 126 low and middle income countries. To my untutored eye, the methodology looks pretty rigorous, but geeks can see for themselves here.

Unfortunately it hides its light under a very large bushel: the executive summary is 29 pages long, and the interesting stuff is sometimes lost in the welter of data. Perhaps they should have read Oxfam’s new guide to writing good exec sums, which went up last week.

So here’s my exec sum of the exec sum.

Quote of the Week: Raghuram Rajan

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Central bankers have had enormous responsibilities thrust on them to compensate, essentially, for the failings of the political system. And my worry is we don’t have sufficient tools to do that, but we’re not willing to say it. And, as a result, we push as hard as we can on the existing tools, and they may create more risk in the system.” 

- Raghuram Rajan, Governor of the Reserve Bank of India since 4 September 2013. Prior to his post at the Reserve Bank of India, Rajan was chief economic adviser to India's Ministry of Finance in 2012 and chief economist at the International Monetary Fund from 2003 to 2007.
 

Of One Mind? Closer Coordination of Monetary Policy and Financial Regulation

The Central Bank in Dublin: A responsible conversation needs to be reignited between prudential regulators and monetary policy authorities. (Credit: Infomatique, Flickr Creative Commons)

Recent debate over the optimal form of regulatory architecture for increasingly integrated and interconnected financial systems has largely focused on redefining the balance between regulators and the universe of financial institutions they regulate. This piece identifies a less “fashionable” – though no less significant – contributor to the global financial crisis, that is, the dysfunctional relationship which often existed between financial regulators and monetary policy authorities. The fact that this dysfunction has not been discussed in depth suggests that its negative consequences are no less likely to re-emerge in the future.

Rewriting the script for aid and development

“Are aid workers living a lie?” asks Duncan Green over at Oxfam in a provocative blog post. Summarising the points from a paper in the European Journal of Development Research (gated), he hones in on “the dissonance” between what aid workers actually do and what they report they do.

The aggregate demand crisis in eastern Europe is not over

Ryan Hahn's picture

That's my main takeaway from just-released data based on surveys of over 1,800 firms in eastern Europe. In mid-July 2009, firms in six countries were asked whether they had seen an increase, decrease, or no change in sales from the previous year. The numbers then were not pretty—75% of firms reported a decrease in sales (based on an average of country-level data).

Digging up the data on agricultural markets

Mohammad Amin's picture

Considerable effort and attention has been devoted to market-oriented reforms in the manufacturing and financial sectors and in physical infrastructure. While these are undoubtedly important sectors, there is very little by way of research on agricultural market reforms—loosely defined as deregulation of agricultural markets.


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