Does your department care about tax havens?

Oxfam published a press release yesterday containing an open letter to world leaders calling for them to “make significant moves towards ending the era of tax havens” which are “distorting the working of the global economy”.

This seems to me like a pretty important intervention, and it’s a rare opportunity for economists to use their variably-justified reputation as “people who know about the economy” to do something positive to fix the way the system works at a global level.

These kinds of coordinated interventions into the actual workings of the global economic system seem woefully infrequent to me. So when it does happen, I’m anxious to be a part of it in whatever tiny way I can. And the least a bottom-rung economist like me can do is choose to work for the institution which is pulling hardest in the right direction.

Oxfam published the full list of signatories to the letter, so I thought I’d do a teeny bit of analysis, to see which countries and which UK departments care most about bringing an end to the global tax haven system. Perhaps this will help any early-careerists choose an institution whose interests align with theirs: after all, there is more to judging a faculty than counting its number of peer-reviewed publications.

Spoiler alert: the number of signatories from Bristol, the university I’ve recently moved to be a part of? Zero. Bad times…


First, here’s the breakdown of signatories by country:countries

Italy leads the field by a long, long way. From a first glance, it looks like they are from a decent variety of institutions but I haven’t checked this properly. Future work someone? Italy is a known advocate for change in economics, being a big adopter of the CORE project which aims to transform how undergrads are taught economics. The UK comes a pleasing second, I look at this result in a bit more detail below, and it’s pleasing to see the USA being well represented too.

It’s worth pointing out here that not all signatories are equal: although France has only a paltry ten signatories, one is Olivier Blanchard and another is Thomas Piketty. These are both absolute giants of the economics world, and their contribution here, particularly Blanchard who is not exactly known as an iconoclast, is very significant indeed. (One might do an analysis by Google Scholar citation count instead, which would show up these differences.)

Now let’s look at which institutions those 50 UK signatories come from:institutions

The top two, SOAS and Greenwich, are both already on my radar as being slightly more radical than the standard econ department. But this is not a list dominated by such agitators: the LSE is hardly known as an anti-establishment hotbed, and nor are Warwick or Oxford.

Big-name mover for change, Ha-Joon Chang, cuts a lonely figure as the sole signatory from Cambridge. I hope he at least has some researcher staff of his own to go punting with.

And, as I mentioned, zero signatories from Bristol.




Author: Rob Levy

Teaching Fellow in Economics at UCL's School of Slavonic and East European studies. Previously at Bristol University, UCL Econ department, and UCL's Energy Institute. Recently submitted my PhD. We'll see what happens...

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