Accurately measuring the scope of global wealth inequality is a notoriously difficult undertaking – a fact that was brought to light last year when the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists published the Panama Papers, exposing clients of Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca. As the papers revealed, Mossack Fonseca, which is only the world’s fourth-largest provider of offshore financial services, boasted a client roster stacked with some of the world’s wealthiest and most politically connected individuals. The former prime minister of Iceland (who was forced from office because of the revelations), associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the father of former UK Prime Minister David Cameron.
In a first-of-its kind study from the National Bureau of Economic Research, a team of economists has broken down rates of offshore wealth holdings as a percentage of GDP to identify countries with the largest, and smallest, percentages of wealth held offshore. The study’s conclusion suggests a reality that many readers probably suspected: the true scope of wealth inequality is far larger than the official statistics would suggest.
The study found that as much as one-tenth of the world’s GDP is held in tax havens, though that percentage can vary widely from country to country.
“One-tenth of the world’s GDP is held in offshore tax havens, but that share jumps to as much of 15 percent for Europe and as much as 60 percent for Gulf and some Latin American countries, new research shows.
When it comes to total offshore wealth as a share of GDP, the United Arab Emirates, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Argentina lead the pack, while Germany, the U.K. and France all have above-average holdings. The U.S. is slightly below average.”
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