One of the challenges of taxing large multinationals is the fact that corporate taxation is like a war at sea. The fronts keeping changing, and you’re fighting on many different fronts at once. On top of that, the fact is that multinationals, because of the huge sums involved, pay huge money to their tax advisors, and so tend to attract the best. Tax authorities, on the other hand, get quietly competent but under resourced people. So here’s a mad thought:
Auction off their tax liabilities to the highest bidder, as a legally recoverable asset, in the same way banks are selling off distressed, toxic assets. If company X owes state Y a nominal €100 million, auction it off. The state gets a chunk of money with ease, and the asset, the tax debt, becomes a private liability.
Sure that’s mad, says you. Sure, who’d buy that debt? Some entrepreneur would, at a knock down price, and would pay hotshot young lawyers out of the finest universities in the world big fat bonuses for figuring out ways of recovering the debt. In short, we’d fight rogue tax dodging capitalists with the most innovative, hungry force on Earth: other capitalists.
But, scream lefties, the state would be losing some of that tax revenue to these mercenary taxmen. True, but so what? Are we not complaining that we’re not getting anywhere near as much money as we’re owed? This way, we get more, at very little enforcement cost. And don’t forget, every year we’d auction off new tax liabilities. If the government were to decide that it was not getting enough value, it could pursue the liabilities itself. Alternatively, multinationals could get mightily pissed off with companies hunting them, and just come to quick settlements with governments.
There’s a precedent for this, by the way. Back in the day, governments used to issue letters of marque to ships, permitting them to engage in legal piracy against the vessels of other specified countries. Privatising sea war. Hence the phrase “Privateers”.
Hoist the Jolly Roger, and set sail for Starbucks!