06 May 2020

The Guardian: “The great American tax haven: why the super-rich love South Dakota”

A decade ago, South Dakotan trust companies held $57.3bn in assets. By the end of 2020, that total will have risen to $355.2bn. Those hundreds of billions of dollars are being regulated by a state with a population smaller than Norfolk, a part-time legislature heavily lobbied by trust lawyers, and an administration committed to welcoming as much of the world’s money as it can. US politicians like to boast that their country is the best place in the world to get rich, but South Dakota has become something else: the best place in the world to stay rich.

At the heart of South Dakota’s business success is a crucial but overlooked fact: globalisation is incomplete. In our modern financial system, money travels where its owners like, but laws are still made at a local level. So money inevitably flows to the places where governments offer the lowest taxes and the highest security. Anyone who can afford the legal fees to profit from this mismatch is able to keep wealth that the rest of us would lose, which helps to explain why – all over the world – the rich have become so much richer and the rest of us have not.

How was a rich person to protect his wealth from the government in this scary new transparent world? Fortunately, there was a loophole. CRS had been created by lots of countries together, and they all committed to telling each other their financial secrets. But the US was not part of CRS, and its own system – Fatca – only gathers information from foreign countries; it does not send information back to them. This loophole was unintentional, but vast: keep your money in Switzerland, and the world knows about it; put it in the US and, if you were clever about it, no one need ever find out. The US was on its way to becoming a truly world-class tax haven.

Oliver Bullough

Speaking of South Dakota, apparently this US state is not only home to eccentric men with paranoid business ideas, but also a major tax haven, for all intents and purposes outside any outside scrutiny – another instance where ‘American exceptionalism’ is undermining just policies and international collaboration. The implications remind me of the analysis of Thomas Piketty about the growing income inequality in recent decades: exploiting tax reductions and loopholes, the rich can accumulate more wealth and political power, but also preserve the wealth and pass it on to their families and children, effectively creating a new aristocratic class.

The Black Mountain Hills of South Dakota
The Black Mountain Hills of South Dakota. Photograph: Posnov/Getty Images

Post a Comment