Book review

Tax Justice

Ed: Matti Kohonen & Francine Mestrum, Pluto Press, 2009

This new book covers a range of topics related to its title, in the period since the Second World War.

Spurred by the start of the current food crisis and the ‘credit crunch’, with their effects on employment and economic security, it covers a wide range of issues related to these and to the efforts to eliminate poverty as promised by the ‘Millennium Development Goals’.

The chapter on ‘The Global Financial System and Enduring Poverty’ advocates capital controls, transparency of data, regulation of derivatives, elimination or strict supervision of hedge funds, and ‘strong public investment’ to counter the downturn in ‘growth and employment’.

It does not, however, consider the source of money for ‘public investment’– which needs to be by public creation of the money, without creation of debt and interest – or the need, in an advanced technological society, desperate for markets to absorb its existing overproduction, for either ‘growth’ or ‘full employment’; the basis, in fact, of the problems it considers, in the usurious nature of our debt-based system of money creation, which inevitably creates or exacerbates the extremes of wealth.

Noted is the relativity of the concept of ‘poverty’ and the worldwide growth of inequality, making the need to reduce this inequality essential to the task of poverty elimination.

Also noted is the growth of global debt, due largely to the interest growing on it, with the result that the payments by the ‘developing world’ far exceed the ‘aid’ payments to it by the rich countries. Much of it amounts to ‘odious debt’, and is therefore illegitimate.

A major concern is the role of ‘offshore tax havens’ and the transfer-pricing and other questionably legal techniques used by transnational corporations to evade their tax liabilities.

The book promotes the idea of ‘Global Public Goods’ – ‘goods that can be consumed by the entire world community and in principle also by future generations, in a non-rival and non-exclusive way’ – and the need for global taxes administered by a body to be set up under the UN, by international treaty, to fund the needed actions to preserve them.

Recommended is taxation of speculative financial transactions, suggesting a worldwide 0.01% stock exchange tax, and noting that such a tax levied at 0.38% in Brazil between 1993 and 2007 raised some US$30bn per year. Also proposed are a unitary surtax on profits; a property tax, at perhaps 1%; a tax on carbon emissions; an air ticket levy; and a tax on highly radioactive nuclear waste.

The authors refrain from advocating a World Government, but make a strong case for international treaties to achieve globally fair and socially sound sharing of the ‘Global Public Goods’.

Altogether, a thought-provoking book challenging those in power to take action for tax justice, and showing the interdependency of the many different aspects of its subject.

– Brian Leslie