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Tax haven

Is it safe?

Alice Powell of the Global Policy Forum asks here:

is “tax haven” a type of unspeak? (safe, cozy etc…) and so is (as TJN say) the use of “secrecy jurisdiction” better?

Good question! The earliest use I can find of the phrase “tax haven” via Google News Archive dates from 1939, in a headline that runs san francisco exchange plans tax haven in reno. There is then a big flurry in the early 1960s, when JFK proposed legislation to outlaw “the abuse of foreign tax havens”: interestingly, those reports usually cradle the term “tax haven” in scare quotes, as though acknowledging its Unspeakiness.

The word haven, originally “harbour” or “port”, has meant “refuge” or “sanctuary” since the 13th century, with indisputably positive connotations — compare safe haven. Yet the way in which the phrase tax haven operates is slightly mysterious: it is not a place where you send your tax to be safe, but rather a money haven from which no one can extract the taxes you would rather not pay. Persons availing themselves of a tax haven, one might say, are financial asylum-seekers.

So it might indeed be the case that politicians campaigning for tighter regulation of “tax havens” are harming their cause by using that very language. Mounting an attack on a haven sounds rather bullying and perfidious.

The persuasively named “Tax Justice Network” (oh, you are against tax justice?) explains why it prefers alternative language:

Tax havens offer not only low or zero taxes, but something broader. What they do is to provide facilities for people or entities to get around the rules, laws and regulations of other jurisdictions, using secrecy as their prime tool. We therefore often prefer the term “secrecy jurisdiction” instead of the more popular “tax haven.”

One can follow the reasoning, but secrecy jurisdiction is a bit of a mouthful? So I hereby turn the challenge over to the high-powered hivemind. What would you propose in place of the phrase “tax haven”, readers?

  1. 1  Stuart Houghton  October 12, 2009, 8:51 am 

    Plutocrat Enclave?
    Skinflint Island?

  2. 2  Ricardo  October 12, 2009, 9:06 am 

    “Secretive Loot Dump” contains three words no one would want to be associated with.

  3. 3  Other Alex  October 12, 2009, 9:24 am 

    Germans call it a “Steuerparadis”, and often think our word is ‘tax heaven’.

  4. 4  Torquil Macneil  October 12, 2009, 12:11 pm 

    Interestingly, for me at least, ‘tax haven’ in Spanish is ‘tax heaven’ (paradise) which may come from a mistranslation originally, but which seems to get to the nub ot it, seen from the point of view of the tax dodger, anyhow.

  5. 5  Steven  October 12, 2009, 1:01 pm 

    (Paradis fiscal in French.)

  6. 6  Rojo  October 12, 2009, 1:02 pm 

    I offer “financial hideout.”

  7. 7  Alex Higgins  October 12, 2009, 5:40 pm 

    I like ‘Plutocrat Enclave’ but:

    “Al-Qa’ida training camps”.

    Would it be so wrong?

  8. 8  Steven  October 12, 2009, 10:57 pm 

    Hmmm, I like all the suggestions so far, and in particular “hideout” seems exactly right as the villainous analogue of “haven”; but “Al-Qa’ida training camps” is almost irresistible?

  9. 9  Hey Zeus  October 13, 2009, 12:37 am 

    mattress state

  10. 10  john c. halasz  October 13, 2009, 7:16 am 

    Arrgh! “Sacred Grove of International Financial Piracy”.

    Well, at least I’m pretty sure that there are several hedge-funds looking in to financing proposals for such a theme-park venture, even as we are ignoring thinking about them now!

  11. 11  Barney  October 13, 2009, 3:34 pm 

    A ‘tax dead zone’? I’ve got to say “financial hideout” sounds best so far.

  12. 12  Thomas  October 13, 2009, 8:36 pm 

    In Bounty Babel they call it tax optimisation. Rich people pay others to disguise their wealth. They consider it cheaper than paying taxes.
    I read often that money is stashed off shore, but that would be to risky with all the current piracy.
    Maybe it’s not a place where the money is hidden. Is it possible that bankers have, equivalent to cloud computing, a network to store and conceal the cash?
    Anyway, it’s a hideout or a disguise.

  13. 13  John Fallhammer  October 14, 2009, 3:03 pm 

    My first thought was that “low-tax regime” is a common term. Regime! Booooo! According to wikipedia though, Barbados prefers that and officially complained to the US about being called a tax haven.

    Anyway, my contribution to the idea shower: “slush state”.

  14. 14  Christian Tengblad  November 11, 2009, 9:06 pm 

    For us, working towards free public transportation, this word-war is very relevant. In Sweden they call this “skatteparadis” and it is indeed filled with positive connotations. My favorite suggestion yet has been “skattebunker” (tax bunker).

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