Catching Capital: The Ethics of Tax Competition

ISBN : 9780190251512

Peter Dietsch
280 ページ
153 x 217 mm

Rich people stash away trillions of dollars in tax havens like Switzerland, the Cayman Islands, or Singapore. Multinational corporations shift their profits to low-tax jurisdictions like Ireland or Panama to avoid paying tax. Recent stories in the media about Apple, Google, Starbucks, and Fiat are just the tip of the iceberg. There is hardly any multinational today that respects not just the letter but also the spirit of tax laws. All this becomes possible due to tax competition, with countries strategically designing fiscal policy to attract capital from abroad. The loopholes in national tax regimes that tax competition generates and exploits draw into question political economic life as we presently know it. They undermine the fiscal autonomy of political communities and contribute to rising inequalities in income and wealth. Building on a careful analysis of the ethical challenges raised by a world of tax competition, this book puts forward a normative and institutional framework to regulate the practice. In short, individuals and corporations should pay tax in the jurisdictions of which they are members, where this membership can come in degrees. Moreover, the strategic tax setting of states should be limited in important ways. An International Tax Organisation (ITO) should be created to enforce the principles of tax justice. The author defends this call for reform against two important objections. First, Dietsch refutes the suggestion that regulating tax competition is inefficient. Second, he argues that regulation of this sort, rather than representing a constraint on national sovereignty, in fact turns out to be a requirement of sovereignty in a global economy. The book closes with a series of reflections on the obligations that the beneficiaries of tax competition have towards the losers both prior to any institutional reform as well as in its aftermath.


1. The political philosophy of international taxation
2. A primer on taxation
3. What is at stake
4. Tax competition and the financial crisis
5. A short outline of the book
Chapter 1: Fiscal autonomy and tax competition
1. Framing the question as one of autonomy
2. Understanding tax competitionEL*
3. EL and its corrosive impact*
4. State incentives under tax competition
5. Conclusion
Chapter 2: Regulating tax competition
1. Existing reform proposals and where they fall short
1.1. Capital controls
1.2. Unilateral measures to protect one's tax base
1.3. Redefining the corporate tax base
2. Two principles of global tax justice
2.1. The first principle: membership*
2.2. Transparency as a corollary of membership
2.3. The second principle: A constraint on the design of fiscal policy*
3. Implementation*
3.1. Institutionalizing the membership principle*
3.2. Institutionalizing the fiscal policy constraint*
3.3. Enforcement*
3.4. Comparison to the OECD and EU tax agendas and the question of feasibility*
4. Principles for global background justice*
5. Conclusion
Chapter 3: Efficiency of what? - Assessing efficiency arguments in the context of tax competition
1. The deadweight loss and its interpretation
2. Two concepts of efficiency
3. Efficiency as a placeholder
3.1. Efficiency as productive Pareto optimality
3.2. Efficiency as general Pareto optimality
3.3. Making sense of the models
3.4. Efficiency as economic growth
3.5. Taking stock
4. Efficiency as an optimal trade-off
5. Conclusion
Chapter 4: Rethinking sovereignty in international fiscal policy
1. The many facets of sovereignty
2. Sovereignty with strings attached
3. Back to fiscal policy
4. The twofold conditional nature of sovereignty
5. What about non-democratic regimes?
6. Conclusion
Chapter 5: Life with (or after) tax competition
1. Should the winners of tax competition compensate the losers?
1.1. What's the point of compensatory duties?
1.2. Calculating compensatory duties
2. Should low-income countries be allowed to compete on taxes?
3. Unwinding the system of tax havens
3.1. Additional duties towards low-income countries?
3.2. Corporate lobbies - the elephant in the room
4. Conclusion
* These sections are largely based on Peter Dietsch & Thomas Rixen, "Tax Competition and Global Background Justice", The Journal of Political Philosophy 22/2 (2014), 150-77. I thank my co-author Thomas Rixen for his permission to use this material here.


Peter Dietsch is Associate Professor at the Universite de Montreal. His research interests lie at the intersection of political philosophy and economics, with a particular focus on questions of income distribution as well as on the normative dimensions of economic policies.