Large corporations, particularly multinationals, as well as some of the wealthiest members of society, often go to great lengths to get out of paying income tax. Their unlimited resources give them access to the best lawyers and accountants that can scour the tax code looking for any loophole that will allow them to pay less. Deep pockets and connections allow them to come up with complicated and often convoluted flow of capital plans, that sees their money move in and out of shell accounts in various tax havens around the world.
Tax avoidance and evasion by this elite segment of society has a trickle-down negative psychological effect on everyone. When an individual or small business owner who is barely getting by, sees this privileged group getting away with it, they are more likely to engage in similar illegal or immoral activities.
Tax evasion is illegal in the United States, but tax avoidance is not, resulting in a lot of sketchy legal maneuvering and accounting so as not to cross the thin line between avoidance and evasion.
A 2015 Reuters article on U.S. corporations and tax havens reported the details of a study revealing that “the 500 largest American companies hold more than $2.1 trillion in accumulated profits offshore to avoid U.S. taxes and would collectively owe an estimated $620 billion in U.S. taxes if they repatriated the funds”. It was further stated that over 70% of the Fortune 500 companies have subsidiary activities in tax havens, with a mere thirty of them accounting for 65% of these hidden trillions.
The world of business, finance, and politics was rocked in April 2016, when the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) released the Panama Papers, detailing the secretive offshore dealings of the world’s rich, powerful, and corrupt. The single point of failure that resulted in the release of over eleven million documents dating back forty years, was a law firm in Panama whose clients include several current and former world leaders, over one hundred politicians, public officials, and some of the richest people from around the world.
In September of 2016, the ICIJ reported again on yet another similar stash of leaked documents, this time on 175,000 companies registered in the Bahamas between 1990 – 2016. Once again, politicians and public officials were named, including five that were also tied to the Panama Papers. The Bahama Leaks further exposed the use of complex and clandestine business and banking practices to shelter the wealth of the ultra-rich.
United Nations Human Rights Expert Alfred de Zayas, believes tax havens should be abolished, calling them a “systemic looting of society”. Globally there is $32 trillion US held in offshore low-tax jurisdictions, which is particularly harmful to developing countries that could use their share of the lost tax revenue ($100 billion per year) for economic development and fighting poverty.
Large corporations and world’s wealthiest are not the only participants in tax evasion. The ‘cash economy’ also plays a major role, although it is difficult to morally pass judgement on someone who neglected to claim $200 in tips, when the wealthiest have the means to hide billions in offshore accounts. Cash-based tax evasion includes collecting payments from customers in cash without receipts (with no intention of claiming the income), not claiming tips or cash-paid wages as income, exaggerating or falsifying cash paid expenses or donations, etc. The anonymous nature of cash makes it a perfect tool for an even darker side of tax evasion – the $100 billion a year drug trade.
When governments and law enforcement agencies gain a better understanding of bitcoin, they will realize that it is actually a very poor monetary conduit for criminal activity, and if used, could actually help authorities unravel the flow of funds.
With bitcoin having such an insignificant role in tax evasion, why would enforcement agencies waste limited resources that could be better spent pursuing the real offenders? Are cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, with its permanent, immutable ledger of every transaction, an easy target to claim ‘a win’ in the war against tax evasion?