Alex Cobham
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Imperial extraction and ‘tax havens’
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Taxation was an important feature of European colonisation and extraction, and remains central to the extractive processes of economic and financial globalisation that have replaced formal empire. The global inequalities in taxing rights extant today are directly related to the economic governance of previous European empires – and of the British Empire above all. Three distinct, imperial ages of illicit financial flows can be identified. The first is one of violent dispossession, with tax used in various supporting roles. The second aimed to deny newly independent states the ability to reclaim stolen assets and income streams, while simultaneously preventing effective taxation by the metropolis. This gave way to the third phase in which cross-border tax abuse drives global inequalities. The key actor in the tax havenry that facilitates this is shown, by a variety of measures, to be the United Kingdom with its ‘spider’s web’ of dependent territories. The damage done is substantial, and the UK’s responsibility is clear. The importance of tax – not only for revenues but also for responsive governance – is such that former colonies continue to see their prospects of effective statehood eroded by these imperial legacies. The dependent territories that remain, meanwhile, suffer a more intense version of the finance curse to which the UK too is exposed, leaving them more unequal and prone to corruption, with citizens often denied any benefits of havenry. Full reparations may be beyond the UK’s economic capacity, but approaches should be considered while immediate steps are taken to end the harms.

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Imperial Inequalities

The politics of economic governance across European empires


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