Why elite classes need to step up

2021 will perhaps be remembered as the year when the great powers demonstrated their inability to shoulder their responsibilities to prevent the world from falling into the abyss.

I am of course thinking of the disappointing conclusion of the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow. After having exhausted the atmospheric space available for development, industrialized countries have reaffirmed their refusal to honor their climate debt, even though global warming has become an existential issue.

And that’s not all. I also mention the calamitous management of the Covid-19 pandemic. Rich countries monopolized and accumulated vaccines, then locked themselves into surreal debates about third doses, or the comparative merits of a particular vaccine.

This strategy sows death and hampers economic recovery in vaccine-deprived countries, while also making fabulous playgrounds for the proliferation of more contagious, deadly and resilient variants that ignore borders.

Finally, I also want to talk about another agreement imposed by the capitals of the North, apparently more technical, but which symbolizes their selfishness and their blindness: that on the taxation of multinationals.

Concluded in October, it is a gigantic undertaking, the first reform of international taxation born in the 1920s – totally obsolete in a globalized economy. Thanks to its loopholes, multinationals cause states to lose some $ 312 billion in tax revenue each year, according to the “State of Tax Justice in 2021” just published by the Tax Justice Network, the Global Alliance for Tax Justice and Public Services International.

If we add the tax evasion of the ultra-rich by using tax havens, we arrive at a total loss of 483 billion dollars. This is enough, recalls the report, to cover more than three times the cost of a comprehensive vaccination program against Covid-19 for the entire world population.

In absolute terms, rich countries lose the most tax resources. But this loss of income weighs more heavily on the accounts of the less privileged: it represents 10% of the annual health budget in industrialized countries, against 48% in developing countries.

And make no mistake, those responsible for this looting aren’t the palm-fringed tropical islands. They are mainly located in Europe, foremost among which is the United Kingdom which, with its overseas network and “Crown dependencies”, is responsible for 39% of global losses.

In this context, the agreement signed in October is a missed opportunity. Rich countries, convinced that bowing to the demands of their multinationals was the best way to serve the national interest, sided with the adoption of a minimum global corporate tax of 15%.

The goal, in theory, is to end devastating tax competition between countries. Multinationals would no longer have an interest in declaring their profits in tax havens, since they would have to pay the difference with the global minimum tax.

In reality, at 15%, the rate is so low that a reform aimed at forcing multinationals to pay their fair share of taxes risks having the opposite effect, forcing developing countries, where levels of taxes are higher, to lower them to align with the rest. of the world, causing a further decline in their income. It is no coincidence that Ireland, the European tax haven par excellence, has graciously complied with these new regulations.

Taxation is the very expression of solidarity. In this case, the absence of solidarity. A global tax of 15% on the profits of multinationals will generate only 150 billion dollars which, according to the distribution criteria adopted, will go in priority to the rich countries.

If ambition had prevailed, with a rate of 21% for example, we would have obtained an increase in tax revenues of 250 billion dollars. With a rate of 25%, tax revenues would have jumped by $ 500 billion, as recommended by ICRICT, the Independent Commission on the Reform of International Business Taxation, of which I am a member, with economists like Joseph Stiglitz, Thomas Piketty, Gabriel Zucman and Jayati Ghosh.

Making multinationals pay their fair share of taxes, fighting climate change, dealing with Covid-19 and future pandemics: in reality, everything is linked. While the virus is on the rise again with the onset of winter in the northern hemisphere, the boomerang effect of vaccine monopolies no longer needs to be shown or explained.

As for the climate emergency, we know from a recent study by the World Inequality Lab that the map of carbon pollution is perfectly in line with that of economic disparities. The richest 10% of the world’s population emit almost 48% of global emissions – the richest 1% produce 17% of the total! – while the poorest half of the world’s population is responsible for only 12%.

This gap is evident between countries, but also within them. In the US, UK, Germany and France, emission levels for the poorest half of the population are already approaching per capita targets for 2030.

If we do not live up to our commitments, it is because of a handful of the richest people, the same people who do not pay their taxes. It is time for our elites to realize that the fight against inequalities on all fronts – health, climate and taxation – is our only way out. Otherwise, there is no salvation for mankind – and this is no longer hyperbole.

Eva Joly is a member of the Independent Commission for the Reform of International Business Taxation (ICRICT) and a former member of the European Parliament, where she was vice-chair of the Commission of Inquiry into Money Laundering, Evasion tax and fraud.

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