To collect income tax, for example, you need a meaningful definition of income. Definitions of the tax base can vary enormously, over time and among countries, especially when tax breaks are taken into account. As a result, a country with a comparatively high tax rate may not have a high tax burden (Total tax paid in a period as a proportion of total income in that period. It can refer to personal, corporate or national income. ) if it has a more narrowly defined tax base than other countries. In recent years, the political unpopularity of high tax rates has lead many governments to lower rates and at the same time broaden the tax base, often leaving the tax burden unchanged. )that are less than comprehensive because of the impossibility of defining and measuring all economic income, tax arbitrage and avoidance is inherent in tax systems. Examples of Tax Arbitrage/Avoidance The simplest form of arbitrage involves a family unit or a single taxpayer. If that family unit or taxpayer faces differences in tax rates (condition 1 above), and condition 2 above applies, then the third condition automatically holds.
This conclusion follows because people can always compensate themselves for converting or diverting income to a low tax rate. An example of such simple tax arbitrage involving a family unit is income splitting through, for example, the use of family trust. An example of simple tax arbitrage involving a single taxpayer is a straddle whereby a dealer in financial assets brings forward losses on, say shares, and defers gains while retaining an economic interest in the shares through use of options. Transfer pricing and thin capitalization practices through which non-residents minimize their tax liabilities are more sophisticated examples of the same principles. Multi-party arbitrage is more complex; the complexity is made necessary by the need to meet condition 3 above, that is, to ensure a net gain accrues to the high-rate taxpayer. In the simpler cases of multi-party income tax arbitrage, this process normally involves a tax-exempt (or tax-loss or tax-haven) entity and a taxpaying entity. Income is diverted to the tax-exempt entity and expenses are diverted to the taxpaying entity. Finally, the taxpaying entity is compensated for diverting income and assuming expenses by receiving non-taxable income or a non-taxable benefit, such as a capital gain.
Over the years many have indulged in numerous examples of such tax arbitrage using elements in the legislation at the time. Examples are finance leasing, non-recourse lending, tax-haven(a country or designated zone that has low or no taxes, or highly secretive banks and often a warm climate and sandy beaches, which make it attractive to foreigners bent on tax avoidance and evasion ) ‘investments’ and redeemable preference shares. Low-tax policies pursued by some countries in the hope of attracting international businesses and capital is called tax competition which can provide a rich ground for arbitrage. Economists usually favour competition in any form. But some say that tax competition is often a beggar-thy-neighbor policy, which can reduce another country’s tax base, or force it to change its mix of taxes, or stop it taxing in the way it would like.