The Merry-Go-Round of “Unintended Consequences”

 

This provision is not designed to catch individuals (I think), and certainly not Americans abroad – they are collateral damage. it’s incredibly unfair.

A little more than 10 days ago, an article by a Canadian tax lawyer claimed the proposed House Bill contained two very startling changes that would affect #AmericansAbroad:

BAD NEWS FOR BUSINESS OWNERS
If your cross-border client owns a business, his tax position “may get substantially worse,” Reed says, noting two areas of concern:

a one-time 12% tax will be imposed on all income previously deferred from U.S. tax in Canadian (foreign) corporations; and
new complex rules make it difficult for U.S. citizens who own Canadian (foreign) corporations to defer active business income.
The 12% tax is part of the transition to a territorial corporate tax system.

“Although perhaps unintentional, since U.S. citizens will not benefit from a territorial model, the new rules impose a 12% tax on any cash that has been deferred since 1986,” says Reed.

He offers the example of a U.S. doctor who moved to Canada in 1987 and has since deferred income from personal tax in her medical corporation, and invested it — resulting in a potentially significant tax bill.

Deferring active business income

New punitive rules that apply to US citizens who own a business. Currently, most US citizens who own a Canadian corporation that is an active business don’t pay tax on the company’s profits until they take the money out. The House plan changes this. It imposes a new, very complicated, set of rules on US citizens that own the majority of a foreign corporation. The proposal would tax the US citizen owner personally on 50% of the entire income of the Canadian corporation that is above the amount set by an extremely complex formula. At best, this will make the compliance requirements for US citizens that own a business extremely complicated and expensive. At worst, this will cause double tax exposure for US citizens who own a Canadian business on 50% of the profits of that business.
 

This post was a response to the issues raised.

 

Today, another Canadian compliance professional made similar observations about the proposed Senate bill.

 

Kevyn Nightengale published an article on LinkedIn; excerpts below:

American? Own shares in a foreign corporation? Get ready for a pain in the wallet

Published on November 10, 2017
by Kevyn Nightengale

Accumulated deferred foreign income

One thing they will do is apply an immediate tax (well, sort of immediate – it’s to be paid over 8 years) to the retained earnings of those foreign subsidiaries. And there’s some logic to this as well. Those earnings have been tax-deferred until now. If they fell into the “exempt” system in future years, US multinationals will have effectively gamed the system by keeping them offshore long enough to completely escape tax.

One problem is that if you’re an American individual, and you own shares in a foreign corporation directly, this provision will create an immediate tax in your hands.

You won’t get a foreign tax credit for the corporate tax (like a US domestic corporate parent). You won’t get a special deduction (like a US domestic corporate parent). You just have to pay tax on the retained earnings.

It’s a double whammy if you live abroad

If you live in a country where it’s common to run a small business through a corporation (say, Canada), you already have enough double-tax issues to worry about (Subpart F, filing forms 5471, FINCEN 114, etc.). This new provision will probably lead to double taxation. And even if you can pay out dividends to limit that, it probably will create extra tax in your country. The US tax probably isn’t creditable in your country (in Canada, it isn’t).

Global intangible low-taxed income (“GILTI”)

…… The shareholder (yes, including a US citizen living abroad, in the same country as the company) has to include an amount in his income.

The amount is the company’s total income less a deemed return (10%) on tangible assets. This means that any type of income is caught. Companies that provide services are especially vulnerable, because they typically have only a small amount of tangible assets. Incorporated professionals are going to be hit hard. They’ll be taxed on their companies’ incomes, even if the company doesn’t distribute it to them. And that tax will apply at full tax rates, not qualified dividend rates.

Can this be avoided?

This provision is not designed to catch individuals (I think), and certainly not Americans abroad – they are collateral damage. it’s incredibly unfair.

*******
 
I find it puzzling that both gentlemen indicate these policies are not intended to include #AmericansAbroad, yet act as if they have no choice but to “enforce” this if it becomes U.S. law. Haven’t the “unintended” consequences of #FBAR caused enough grief for #AmericansAbroad? Why does everyone assume there is nothing that can be done to stop this from extending to expats? If the law is not meant to be applied that way, does not specifically indicate they are to be included, how can they claim they must do so because it is “U.S. law?” That is clearly not the correct position to take. And what will the result be if people are mad/scared enough to simply not deal with this U.S. situation any longer?

 

*******

John Richardson comments:

There are many who interpret the proposed changes, to include a provision that would lead to the confiscation of a significant portion of the retained earnings of small business corporations, owned by Americans abroad. I wrote the above referenced post and used the example of a U.S./Canada dual citizen living in Canada who owns a small business corporation. By the way, it is very common for Canadians to utilize small business corporations to carry on their businesses.

This specific provision is found in Sec. 4004 of the Proposed tax bill.
The way it would operate (after identifying those who own small Canadian Controlled Private Corporations in Canada) would be to:

1. Focus on the retained earnings of the corporation since 1986. Note that these earnings were either NOT subject to U.S. taxation at the time or were already included in the income of the shareholder via the subpart F provisions.

2. Impose a tax of either:

House Bill: 14% (cash) or 7% (non-cash)

Senate Bill: 10% (cash) or 5% (non-cash)

on the retained earnings by including those earnings in Subpart F income.

Understand that for many Canadians these small business corporations contain their retirement savings. So, the bottom line is the the United States proposed to literally confiscate these assets.

Understand also that Sec. 4004 is part of the section that creates the system of territorial taxation for U.S. corporations. The idea is that the “transition tax” is a way to repatriate the earnings which have not returned to the USA (obviously because of confiscatory taxation). After paying this “transition tax” those U.S. corporations will get the benefit of territorial taxation.

Understand also that U.S. individual shareholders of Canadian Controlled Private Corporations do NOT get the benefit of “territorial taxation”
but (if this is interpreted correctly) are still required to pay this.

What the USA, in it’s great wisdom is doing, is to:

1. Retroactively go back and deem income that was NOT taxable at the time to be taxable; and

2. Use the mechanism of subpart F inclusion (I am not going to dignify this by calling it a tax) to CONFISCATE the asset.

Understand also that this is one more of a long line of indignities inflicted on Americans abroad that includes:

– the virtual confiscation of Canadian pensions (via the Sec. 877A Exit Tax rules applied to some who renounce U.S. citizenship) that were earned in Canada while the individual was NOT living in the United States; and

– the application of the 3.8% Obamacare surtax to distributions of from Canadian RRSPs (the equivalent of U.S. IRAs) and excluding distributions from IRAs.

I suspect that this will be the “straw that breaks the camel’s back”.

And “The Band Played On ….””

NO Evidence of Intent to apply the “”Transition Tax” to Small Business Corporations of #AmericansAbroad

 

It appears that we are very likely at a breaking point in this intolerable situation faced by expatriates as regards U.S. application of citizenship-based taxation. Tax reform does not happen often. It is critical that relief for expats occur in the current legislation. Many of us simply will not be around in 30 years for the next shift. It will be completely unacceptable if there is no transition (at the very least) to territorial taxation for individuals. Some people may be forced at this point to renounce if only to put a stop on future tax liability. Some will not choose to become compliant simply because it is expensive, they have no ties to the U.S., no intent to go there, etc.

In addition, there is a very dangerous aspect (the “transition tax”) that appears in both the House and Senate bills; it is arguable that it does NOT apply to small corporations owned by US citizens residing outside the United States. The biggest danger here, is that it may remain unclear. We have seen what has happened in a number of situations when this is the case. Some examples are:

1) People who relinquished citizenship decades ago (and who do not have a CLN) have been told they are still U.S citizens. Not by the State Department, not even by the IRS. And not even by the banks per sé. It is the position of many members of the tax compliance community. This is completely unacceptable and no expat should accept such a conclusion without investigating the citizenship aspects of the situation.

2) Accidentals have been told the same thing; they are Americans and must become tax compliant. Again, not directly by the US government (as in “coming after them) but by members of the tax compliance community. This is also unacceptable and no one should become compliant without a complete examination of whether it is in his/her best interests (or not).

3) People who did NOT belong in the OVDP/OVDI programs were put there by tax professionals with hideous and tragic results. The law says one has to file, nowhere does the law say one had to enter one of those programs. If anybody should have known that, it would be the tax compliance community.

4)The IRS has not given a ruling on whether or not 877A is to be applied retroactively. This is another area where tax compliance professionals have decided it is the law. This is definitely NOT in the best interest of anyone renouncing their citizenship and most definitely should not be applied to anyone who renounced/relinquished before it became law.

5)One of the most egregious and limiting situations involves owning foreign mutual funds. There is nothing to support the practice of treating non-US mutual funds as PFICs. Again, guess who insists on this treatment?

All of the above points are as unacceptable as is a lack of change for Americans abroad in tax reform. We have had enough.
 
THIS HAS TO STOP
 
We, as a community, have to make a conscious decision that what they say does not apply to us, is not in our best interests. The application of U.S. law outside of its borders is highly questionable, and should not override the laws of the countries we are residents of. (The IGAs do not represent approval/acceptance of US policy; they are merely proof of what happens when the US threatens to destroy the economies of other nations). “It’s U.S. law.” This is always the argument used to justify application of these ridiculous actions, often with absurd results. Penalties, FATCA “outing” us, application of the Reed Amendment (or worse, the ExPatriot Act if it ever passes)- all can be quite frightening if applied as the tax community claims. Yet there is nothing to suggest that these things are realities. The only people who have been harmed by these things are the ones who are/or tried to comply.

It is time to resist not only the idea that U.S. law should run our lives but also, that the tax community should determine what courses of action we should take. We need to be consistent in our message on this, on FB, in tweets, blogs etc. No more. No more. No more…………

**********

Shortly before the House of Representatives released the Markup for H.R. 1 a Canadian tax lawyer Max Reed authored an article (also here ) claiming that:

New punitive rules that apply to US citizens who own a business. Currently, most US citizens who own a Canadian corporation that is an active business don’t pay tax on the company’s profits until they take the money out. The House plan changes this. It imposes a new, very complicated, set of rules on US citizens that own the majority of a foreign corporation. The proposal would tax the US citizen owner personally on 50% of the entire income of the Canadian corporation that is above the amount set by an extremely complex formula. At best, this will make the compliance requirements for US citizens that own a business extremely complicated and expensive. At worst, this will cause double tax exposure for US citizens who own a Canadian business on 50% of the profits of that business.
Imposition of a 12% one-time tax on deferred profits. Under the new rules, the US corporate tax system is transitioning to a territorial model. As part of this transition, the new rules impose a one-time 12% tax on income that was deferred in a foreign corporation. Although perhaps unintentional, since US citizens will not benefit from a territorial model, the new rules impose a 12% tax on any cash that has been deferred since 1986. Take a simple example to illustrate the enormity of the problem. A US citizen doctor moved to Canada in 1987. She has been deferring income from personal tax in her medical corporation and investing it. Now, 12% of the total deferred income since 1986 would be subject to a one-time tax in the US. That may be a significant US tax bill.
It is unclear what, if anything, will be enacted. However, US citizens in Canada – particularly those that own a business – should pay close attention as their tax situation could get significantly worse. Renouncing US citizenship may become an increasingly attractive option.

There has been much discussion of whether or not this is going to happen (assuming a tax reform bill containing these measures actually is passed).
A very good argument for why this should NOT apply to #AmericansAbroad is
here.

The following comment appeared today on Brock. It reiterates the position that the “transition tax” cannot be viewed as applying to Americans abroad who own small corporations. We can expect that tax professionals are going to claim it does. Start now to learn why it doesn’t make sense and why no one should listen to the notion they owe a tax to the US based upon this new “tax reform.”
 
USCitizenAbroad
November 14, 2017 at 7:16 pm
 
@ Patricia Moon

With respect to the discussion of whether there is a tax on the retained earnings of Canadian Controlled Private Corporations:

First, pick this discussion of the changes to the territorial tax system for corporations at the 35 minute mark here:

https://www.finance.senate.gov/hearings/continuation-of-the-open-executive-session-to-consider-an-original-bill-entitled-the-tax-cuts-and-jobs-act

There is NO evidence of any intention to apply the “transition tax” to anything other than large corporations and certainly not to small business corporations owned by Americans abroad.

Second, an interesting summary was published by the Toronto law firm Oslers which talks about U.S. tax reform and makes NO reference to a possible tax on the retained earnings of CCPCs.

TaxAuthorities/US Tax Reform for Busy Canadians

Note no mention that this could affect CCPCs owned by Canadians:

” Foreign minimum tax – Current taxation of “Foreign high returns”:

Under this provision, a U.S. parent corporation would be subject to
current U.S. taxation (at the new 20% rate) on 50% of its controlled
foreign corporations’ (CFCs’) “high returns.” Tax would be required
to be paid on these imputed income streams regardless of whether the
corresponding earnings were actually distributed to the U.S. parent.
“Foreign high returns” are the excess of the CFC’s net income over a
baseline return (7% plus the federal short-term rate) on the CFC’s
adjusted tax bases in depreciable tangible property, reduced by
interest expense included in the CFC’s net income. “Foreign high
returns” would be defined to exclude certain types of income (including
“effectively connected income,” income from the disposition of
commodities produced or extracted by the taxpayer, and income subject
to tax at an effective rate of at least 18%). This provision, which
cuts against the theory of a “pure” territorial tax system, was
designed to counterbalance incentives that may otherwise linger for
U.S. companies to locate high return generating assets/activities (like
intangible property) in offshore locations.”

My feeling is that regardless of the language that this was not intended to apply to Americans abroad.

What should be done:

The danger is that the compliance community will make the law by interpreting this to apply beyond its obvious intention. The obvious solution is to NOT use the services of any tax firm who interprets the law as applying to CCPCs. After all, it was the compliance firms who created the notion that Canadian mutual funds are PFICs.

US tax reform bill appears to confiscate 12% of retained earnings of certain Canadian Controlled Private Corporations

 

UPDATE November 9, 2017

Today Chairman Brady concluded the “Mark Up” period of his proposed tax legislation. The “Mark Up” period contained NO move to “territorial taxation” for individuals. It did increase increase the “proposed confiscation” of the retained earnings of certain Canadian Controlled Private Corporation, from 12% to 14%.

See the “Manager’s Amendment” here:

summary_of_chairman_amendment_2

Now back to our regular programming …

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cross-posted from citizenshipsolutions

by John Richardson, J.D.

US tax reform bill appears to confiscate 12% of retained earnings of certain Canadian Controlled Private Corporations

 
Kudos to Max Reed for his quick analysis of the how the proposed U.S.
tax reform bill might affect Canadians citizen/residents who also have hold U.S. citizenship. You will find the bill here. His analysis, which has been widely discussed at the Isaac Brock Society (beginning here) includes provisions that are very damaging to those who are the owners of Canadian Controlled Private Corporations (noting they are also under assault from Messrs Trudeau and Morneau). The damaging provisions are both prospective and retrospective.

Continue reading “US tax reform bill appears to confiscate 12% of retained earnings of certain Canadian Controlled Private Corporations”

Hands Down this is the Worst Academic Piece About FATCA ever Written

 

 

Profesor Paul Caron, on his TaxProfBlog posted the following article:
CONSIDERING “CITIZENSHIP TAXATION”:
IN DEFENSE OF FATCA
20 Fla. Tax Rev. 335 (2017):
by Young Ran (Christine) Kim

 

If any description could possibly be demonstrated over & over in this piece it would be the term “offensive.”  I confess to a hard-edged bias against academia, likely for the same reasons as most people; i.e., the rather noticeable and consistent lack of everyday common sense. Even in my own field (piano performance, where a doctorate is called a DMA not a Phd) there is a prevalence of people who may be perfectly schooled in the accuracy of Baroque ornaments, precise methods of articulation in Classic-period pieces or any number of other tedious accomplishments yet their actual playing (which is the whole point of a performance degree vs an academic one) is so devoid of vitality and inspiration it is enough to make one weep. I don’t know if the same exists in all disciplines but one thing that does apply here is a complete (and I mean complete) lack of awareness on the part of the author, of the harshness of how these theories play out on the lives of REAL people. What would make much more sense would be to address these problems head-on rather than justify “concepts” through a lot of theoretical jargon.

 

The following comment says it well:

 

The people affected by “citizenship-based taxation” are U.S. citizens and Green Card holders who live outside the USA and are “tax residents” (and often citizens) of other nations. The paper discusses (sort of) “citizenship-based taxation” as an abstract concept without considering the brutal effects that it has on the people subjected to it. The acknowledgement of the difficulties with pensions, retirement planning, foreign spouses, mutual funds, CFC rules, etc. (the reality of citizenship taxation) is most notable in its absence. And no, FBAR and Form 8938 (as obnoxious as they may be) are reporting requirements and not the specific tax rules (PFIC, etc.) that affect Americans abroad. I suspect that this paper will be subjected to the criticism that it so richly deserves.

Posted by: John Richardson | May 26, 2017 1:14:02 PM

While this criticism can be equally leveled at the members of Congress who passed FATCA, the Treasury Department personnel who wrote the regulations and last but not least, the heartlessness of many tax compliance practitioners, there is something especially repugnant about those pontificating from their ivory towers, proclaiming that FATCA, citizenship-based taxation, global transparency and all the rest of it, are worth the grief being caused.

Ms Kim indicates her paper finds its origins in Ruth Mason’s recent article, Citizenship Taxation, [89 S. Cal. L. Rev. 169 (2016),

A major difference between the two is that Ms Mason basically sees citizenship taxation in a negative light while Ms. Kim attempts to find it as a natural basis to support FATCA.

She addresses three main arguments; the fairness argument, the efficiency argument and the administrative argument.
 

I.) THE FAIRNESS ARGUMENT

 

Individual taxpayers’ obligations to file Foreign Bank Account Reports (FBAR) or report under the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) are not seriously onerous. The fact that citizenship taxation along with FBAR and FATCA enhances global transparency further supports the case for citizenship taxation……..because the rules have been improved through various exceptions and substantially high reporting threshold amounts.

Ms. Kim asserts that the obligation to file FBARS is not “seriously onerous.” The very real threat of a non-willful penalty of $10,000 per account per year (or worse for “willful) is certainly enough to strike the fear of God in even the most reticent individual. The idea that this reality is not considered when evaluating FBAR is beyond reasonable. Articles about FATCA often cover only the reporting done by the FFI’s. However, the other component is the requirement to file 8938’s which duplicate information from the FBAR and can incur serious penalties. The average person is not able to complete an 8938 and will have to pay to have a professional do it. Nowhere in this article does the author address the issue of compliance costs for individuals which can easily be $2500 a year for someone owing no tax and involve 50 or more pages of returns. Not onerous? Furthermore, there are simply NO FIGURES yet, to make any claim that FATCA “enhances global transparency.” Professor William Byrnes describes
the oft-quoted figure of $10 billion. This amount has absolutely NOTHING to do with FATCA; it is largely comprised of penalties and interest collected through the OVDI programs (and does not even represent actual tax recovered). While the FATCA thresholds are higher, please, the threshold for FBAR remains at $10,000, the same figure when the Act was created in 1970 – 47 YEARS AGO!
 

FOCUSING ON THE ABILITY TO PAY PRINCIPLE

First, consent theory argues that taxing nonresident citizens is justified because retaining citizenship represents consent to such taxation.

 
One cannot consent to something one doesn’t even know about. Is the author completely unaware of the history underlying the persecution of expats once Treasury/Justice went after the Swiss banks in 2008? There are still likely more Americans abroad who remain unaware of the obligation to file taxes and worse yet, the oppressive information returns with penalties simply for not filing a piece of paper (i.e. no tax due). For those who do know and who retain citizenship, keeping it is much a matter of confusion and fear and could hardly be described as “consenting to taxation.”

 

Second, benefit theory attempts to justify citizenship taxation as an obligation of nonresident citizens in return for the benefits they receive from the government.

This argument is so ridiculous at this point it is hard to believe it remains part of the discussion. Cook v Tait is nearly 100 years old and does not address the large changes globalization has produced. There is the endless  nonsense of hearing how “The Marines will come to rescue you,” after which you receive a full bill. How many living in first-world countries have any need for “rescue?” And last but not least we “owe” the U.S. for consular services (for which we pay, dearly in the case of renouncing – $2350 or $50 USD to notarize a single page). All tiresome and nowhere near justifiable for being taxed “the same” as Homelanders.

 

Third, social obligation theory

the underlying assumption of this theory is that people have an obligation to pay taxes to support the members of the society to which they belong in accordance with their ability to pay taxes, which should be measured by their worldwide income.

I remember my reaction to Prof Michael Kirsch’s comments (at the ACA Program in Toronto, May 2014, “CBT vs RBT”)regarding polity and such. It seemed ridiculous to me to consider those of us living outside the United States as being a member of that society in any meaningful way. In my own life, now 35 years outside the U.S.(over half my life), the only times I identified as a “member ” of U.S. society was when defending against strong anti-American sentiment (the first few years away) and national tragedies such as 911. I cannot see any way that those infrequent occurrences defined me as being an American more than being a Canadian.  I would say a more meaningful and valid way to apply the social obligation theory is whether or not I support policies that promote the social welfare of those around me, whether or not I give the homeless guy I see everytime I go to the bank, a bit of money so he can buy some lunch. IOW, except in an idealistic or nostalgic way, one can really only measure his/her “social obligation” based upon what they come face-to-face with, i.e., where they live.

 

Due to the different factors affecting the ability to pay, such as difference in the standard of living or amenities between places, “it would be fairer to calculate a person’s ability to pay by reference to the place where she lives rather than to the place where she holds her citizenship.”

“actually tax them alike,” which would require the repeal of the foreign-earned income exclusion and the allowance of unlimited foreign tax credits, including foreign consumption taxes, as well as the implicit taxes and subsidies to compensate the differences.

 

While all expats readily understand the reality that they are NOT “taxed the same” as Homelanders, the idea of being able to adjust all these factors to the number of foreign countries with all the differences in structure etc., absolutely discourages any realistic notion that this could ever be accomplished. Current retirement-oriented plans such as the Australian Super; the lack of recognition of tax-deferred vehicles registered by governments being treated the same as their US equivalents; requiring capital gains tax on the sale of principle residences which are tax-free in the countries where they are located ; and above all else, the obscene “savings clause,” all speak to the built-in bias the US has for anything “foreign” and its pronounced tendency to punish people for making use of non-US instruments. Add the effect of the Patriot Act, which makes it impossible to even open a US account with a foreign address and a non-resident American understandably lacks the will to try and weave one’s way through all these complicated, impossible-to-delineate requirements and procedures. The fact that the IRS does not clarify ambivalent sections such as §877A as well as the fact that no two compliance professionals can be counted on to give the same opinion is proof positive that disparate tax systems simply cannot be adjusted “fairly.”
 

when its critics condemned the new obligations to file FBARs and FATCA as an excessive compliance burden for nonresident citizens created by the Bank Secrecy Act.

There are no “new” obligations to file FBARs; they have been required (and unenforced) since 1970 and are part of Title 31. FATCA was NOT created by the Bank Secrecy Act. It comprises part of the H.I.R.E. Act (2010) and is part of 26 U.S.C. § 1471–1474, § 6038D.

II.) THE EFFICIENCY ARGUMENT

citizenship taxation may distort both Americans’ and non-Americans’ citizenship decisions, is not convincing

American citizenship renunciation rate is not particularly serious compared to other countries

residence-based taxation confronts an additional hurdle on top of enforcement difficulties: determining the residence of the individuals. Determining residence by considering all facts and circumstances creates problems beyond enforcement difficulties. The facts-and-circumstances test itself contains inherent problems when compared to a bright-line test

….and to what extent renunciation is treated as immoral and/or illegal, and so on.

The idea that citizenship taxation does not affect the decisions of Americans abroad concerning their citizenship is patently absurd. Without question, citizenship taxation IS THE MAIN REASON anyone renounces. Not because of tax per sé (don’t even think of trying to scare with the Reed Amendment) but rather, due to all the complications of trying to match two different tax systems. Add the non-financial issues such as the stress on marriages (to “aliens”), passing U.S. citizenship on one’s children, etc. etc. It has become a nightmare not worth living and something to escape if one can.

Ms. Kim devotes a long section to establishing the idea that the renunciation rate of U.S. citizens is “not particularly serious.” Again, we have someone indicating that unless the numbers are large, whether compared to that of other countries, the proportion of renunciations to the numbers of those abroad or to the number of entering immigrants, there is nothing being lost here. If that is the case, then the U.S. has virtually nothing to lose by simply letting these people go without all the forms, swearing under penalty of perjury and so on. One might occasionally consider that Americans abroad were once the best ambassadors the country could have. Now those tables are turned and some are more anti-American than any “alien” could ever be. Nothing like betrayal to warm the heart.

Regarding determination of residency, it is interesting that all 191 other countries of the world are able to surmount this difficult obstacle, which will be even more pronounced once CRS is operative. The “bright line test” which I presume means using citizenship rather than residency to base reporting on, is not truly useful given the fact that only the U.S. (Eritrea does not count) does this. When a U.S. citizen is living abroad with dual citizenship, with no determinant indicia, ask any bank how easy it is to establish whether or not one is a U.S. citizen. If it were clear, one would not see so many institutions refusing to serve Americans.

The Expatriation Act of 1868 gives all Americans the right to give up their citizenship if they so desire. It is not an issue of illegality. When a country treats its own citizens in the manner we have experienced from 2009 onwards (particularly the Accidental Americans who are not American in any normal understanding of the term), who is there to even suggest renunciation is immoral?

III.) THE ADMINISTRATIVE ARGUMENT

ENFORCEMENT DIFFICULTIES

Citizenship taxation has been criticized as difficult to enforce on nonresident citizens abroad….Determining residence by considering all facts and circumstances creates problems beyond enforcement difficulties

Next to failing to point out the outrageous 30% withholding “sanction” inflicted on every other country of the world, this has to be the weakest argument in this paper. The fact that the U.S. cannot effectively collect anything outside of the country is the number one reason people feel safe in remaining “under the radar.” After the initial scare of 2009/2011 seeing that the people hurt the worst were those who tried to do the right thing, people started considering the reality that being identified (“caught”) may amount to virtually nothing for a number of reasons. First of all, the majority of expats who are not compliant are NOT wealthy tax cheats with foreign accounts in order to deprive the U.S. of tax revenue. They are first of all, compliant where they live, which speaks volumes. Secondly, they have these “foreign” accounts in order to live their lives. This is in no way comparable to Homelanders who are guilty of tax evasion when they stash money in tax havens (and let’s not forget Delaware, Nevada, South Dakota and Wyoming, shall we?). The Revenue Rule still stands; even the 5 countries with Mutual Collection Agreements (Canada, Denmark, Sweden, France and the Netherlands)WILL NOT collect on those who were citizens of their countries at the time the tax was incurred. Canada WILL NOT collect FBAR penalties. With regard to fear about crossing the border, if one is not in the U.S. system, there is nothing for the IRS to report to DHS or CBP etc. All these things may change over time but as it stands now, the most IRS can do to most people, is send them a letter asking them to pay. EXACTLY WHAT IS THE POINT OF HOLDING ON TO CBT IF THERE IS NO WAY TO COLLECT?

Is the Compliance Burden Actually Onerous?

the IRS has provided the OVDI that a U.S. taxpayer can utilize to avoid criminal sanctions for the failure to report the existence of, and income earned on, a foreign account on tax returns as well as for the non-filing of the FBAR. In exchange for avoiding criminal sanctions, taxpayers will generally be subject to a 27.5% penalty on the highest aggregate value of their undisclosed offshore assets.86 In addition, for non-willful violators, IRS provides Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures (SFCP), a program that was expanded in 2014 to cover a broader spectrum of U.S. taxpayers residing abroad and to provide penalty relief. Therefore, nonresident citizens who no longer have a strong economic and social connection with the United States or happenstance Americans are no longer likely to be subject to the severe FBAR penalties.

To suggest that OVDI and Streamlined “make everything alright” is to avoid the real issue altogether which is that citizenship taxation is simply wrong. No other country on earth “claims” its citizens for life. (Eritrea does not count). No other country on earth taxes its citizens after they abandon residence. No other country on earth applies an Exit Tax on assets that were acquired prior to obtaining residence in that country. There are reasons why no other countries do any of the things associated with citizenship taxation. It’s high time the United States stop this appalling abuse of human rights.

THIS ARTICLE FURTHER AIMS TO DEFEND the administrability of citizenship taxation in conjunction with the Foreign Bank Account Reports (FBARs) and the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA).

FBAR-absolutely not the way it is being conceived of now. FBAR, created in 1970 was aimed at uncovering money being laundered in smuggling, the drug trade and terrorism. It also was not originally conceived of being applied to those outside the U.S. Once the DOJ/Treasury departments went after the Swiss banks, they realized they could stretch the intent of FBAR to apply to non-resident Americans and the penalty regime thickened.

The criticism… has continued even after the U.S. government committed to enter into Intergovernmental Agreements (IGAs) in an attempt to address those concerns

A huge oversight on the part of the author. FATCA was without question an extraterritorial imposition on other countries. Only the United States would be as uncivil as to suggest imposing a 30% withholding charge on their allies and trading partners. The U.S. appeared not to understand that other countries could not comply even if they wanted to as privacy laws prevented the level of reporting required by FATCA. Banks would be sued were they to comply. To suggest that the US committing to the IGAs was a gracious act is revolting. Under the guise of being rooted in tax treaties, the IGAs simply bypassed what should have been required; that Congress ratify such agreements and implement legislation to do so. There is nothing in FATCA that warrants the creation of the IGAs. The U.S. downloaded ALL of the costs of compliance to the other countries. There is no mention of any penalties for the U.S. failing to comply. The U.S. made only the vaguest promises of reciprocity. It is simply unbelievable that the immorality of taking capital out of other nations is considered acceptable by the United States.

IV>) FATCA:MERITS AND CONCERNS

The OECD’s AEOI and the U.S. FATCA are two important developments, but FATCA plays a more important role.
First, FATCA provided critical momentum
Second, FATCA facilitates multilateral implementation of AEOI by creating an extensive network with more than 100 countries in the world, at the center of which is the United States.

This is unsubstantiated nonsense. First of all, it is bizarre to say FATCA “plays a more important role” Who gains from FATCA other than the United States? So far, nobody. The United States is at the Center of AEOI/CRS? The US has not even signed on to CRS. There are huge differences that matter greatly. The OECD AEOI/CRS agreements are determined by the countries involved; the terms of residency are established by those exchanging the information. FATCA is vastly different in that the United States alone determines who is/is not a “US Person” “US Citizen” irrespective of the status of such a person to the other country. And so far, the U.S. is not “paying its fair share” by requiring its banks to implement the same systems and legislation required (imposed) by FATCA. The IGAs do not constitute “acceptance” by other countries. To think otherwise is ridiculous. One could not possibly view such stipulations as reasonable.

criticism that…. FATCA exposes taxpayers’ private information to potential abusive use by foreign tax authorities.

This is a matter of real concern to Americans abroad living in some of the more troubled areas of the world-or those living Colombia in South America and particularly in some of the Middle East countries. Ironically enough, the U.S. has had some of the worst breaches of security and leakage of private information; certainly this is disturbing and worrisome.

Ms. Kim’s discussion of the Bopp FATCA lawsuit I will leave to someone else.

Second, opponents of FATCA and EOI argue that an EOI system removes a country’s unilateral control over its own tax policy, resulting in the forfeiture of sovereign autonomy. Although such argument has withered since the U.S. government entered into IGAs with other countries, it was strongly asserted by Canadian opponents of FATCA when the IGA Implementation Act included in Bill-31 was debated in Canadian Parliament.

How outrageous to suggest a foreign country does not have the right to have unilateral control over its own tax policy. The proof is in the pudding. The U.S. would never allow the equivalent. The IGA’s are the proof.
I have watched the video of the Canadian FINA hearings on FATCA many, many times. It is not possible to convey the absolute disgust we have for the majority Conservative government which minimized completely, the capitulation that occurred with the implementation of the IGA. It was nothing more than protecting the banks, without any regard to the effect it would have on Canadian citizens resident in Canada.

However, a government’s control over its tax policy is more severely harmed when a country segregates itself from the global community and loses the ability to enforce effectively its own tax laws against its taxpayers with interests in foreign jurisdictions

More unsubstantiated nonsense. This is an opinion completely unsupported up by any facts.

A Case for American Exceptionalism

conclusion, if FATCA makes the world better off by enhancing global transparency on tax information, then this may serve as another support for citizenship taxation, as well as an example of constructive exceptionalism.

While all of us raised in America understand unconsciously what exceptionalism is, it truly takes living outside the country to appreciate how incredibly arrogant and offensive it is. It is questionable whether FATCA “makes the world better off….” that a questionable tenet should “serve as a support for the imposition of citizenship taxation.” It is nothing short of reprehensible that the author should suggest what the U.S. has done is “constructive” or in any way justifies the gross aberration of power demonstrated by the creation of FATCA.

Irony-“Because it’s the Law” – For once, NOT applied to non-willful expats but a “citizenship” Lawyer

While this particular post is not about a tax-compliance professional per sé, it IS about a person with whom many of us have had interactions and from whom we have been assured we WILL BE CAUGHT in one way or another. Given that, I find it extremely ironic to come across what follows in this post. How many of you who have paid a retainer or left any other type of funds when using a lawyer, ever worry about that person absconding with it?

David S Lesperance used to post comments on Brock. Here is an example of the first of many on the post “Americansabroad in Canada may soon be unable to receive payments from Government by USCitizenAbroad, September 16, 2013.

First comment Continuing to ignore the issue; yell at your foreign banker for closing your account; hoping and praying that FATCA and the Qualified Intermediary Regime will be revoked; etc. are all a waste of time. It is time to either comply with the law or expatriate. Complaining is just a waste of time.

I believe my first real exchange with him occurred sometime back on a WSJ article “The Law That Makes U.S. Expats Toxic” October 10 2015 (paywalled-I can’t get around it with the Google News action). Unfortunately, while I have my own comments via my profile, I cannot access the article nor his comments. This limits what I would like to address for the most part. The first set of comments was his reaction to my referring to him as a tax-compliance professional. He did not agree with that label. It was an exchange where I felt constantly challenged at being tripped up especially because I could not (yet) refute the idea that the Qualified Intermediary program (QI) would “out” us hands-down. And I let him have the upper-hand to a certain degree, because he was a professional and I assumed he would know more than I. We seemed to develop a respectful, civil relationship. On several occasions since, I posted comments for him as he could not log on for some reason. I was aware he was in Poland visiting family as he explained it.

Later comments on Brock:

Comment on US Intention to Pursue Enforcement in Spite of Foreign Law

Comment on Do Canadian or Australian etc Tax Attorneys Advising on United States IRS Compliance Typically Comply with the Professional Code of Conduct of their Law societies?

I was very surprised to see some of the Tweets on Twitter when Keith Redmond tried to warn Accidentals not to put themselves into the US tax system. It is interesting that without any proof as to the ability of IRS able to collect via QI, he presumes it and treats Keith in a manner I found inappropriate and unprofessional. I believe the point of contention was to prove that actual Accidental Americans had been “outed” due to QI. This was not provided, nor has it been since that time. There were others that ganged up in more “attacks” that I will not put up here. Brock/Wed Rally Tweeps will remember this extremely unpleasant incident. After that, I declined to post anything further on his behalf. What is ironic, is a number of exchanges that took place privately, up to as late as March 16, with no indication of any actions such as this:

Law Society of Upper Canada Files a Notice for Interlocuatory Suspension or Restriction Against David Sylvio Lesperance Filed March 10, 2017
 
or this:
 
Wareh vs Lesperance
  Continue reading “Irony-“Because it’s the Law” – For once, NOT applied to non-willful expats but a “citizenship” Lawyer”

When Law Becomes a Substitute for Morality & Causes Cruel & Unneccesary Harm

 

if you cant trust

 
Another comment deserving its own post

USCitizenAbroad says
March 13, 2017 at 7:08 am
@Karen and all

Thank you for collecting and posting these stories.

Our Stories

I would like to offer some general observations (of which Shaun is one of many examples) and suggest some lessons which are largely based on Shaun’s story in particular.

Shaun’s Story

It seems to me that the lesson(s) from Shaun’s story are simple. So, let’s summarize them:

1. Those Australians who have entered the U.S. tax system need to renounce as quickly as possible (hopefully before they are “covered expatriates”) and probably even if they are “covered expatriates”.

Anybody who doesn’t get this does not understand the U.S. tax system. (Not that anybody understands the system.)

2. Because of the prevalence of Superannuation in Australian society, those who are NOT in U.S. tax compliance should not be too quick to enter the U.S. tax system (better clarification on the tax status of one’s particular Superannuation – they are NOT all the same) – is needed.

3. Under NO circumstances should anybody in Australia engage the services of a U.S. based CPA or lawyer. The simple reality is that these “specific life forms” (1) Don’t give care about you in the least (2) don’t understand your local tax system (3) subconsciously believe that you are a “tax cheat” (because all Americans are) and (4) are required to view the world entirely through the “perverted prism” of the Internal Revenue Code (which presumes that anything that is “Not U.S” (not one of “us”) exists ONLY for the purpose of defrauding the U.S. Treasury.

Remember that when it comes to the Internal Revenue Code and Americans abroad:

– Americans abroad are deemed to actually live inside the USA; and

– the assets of Americans abroad are deemed to be foreign (even though they are really local to the individual)

4. It is painfully obvious that Shaun would have been far better off if he had NEVER entered the U.S. tax system. This is hindsight. He could never have understood where this was going. Truth is that things have changed a great deal over his 30 years in Australia. But, Shaun has provided a great lesson to Australian citizens and residents who are NOT in the system.

The lesson is this:

For Americans abroad in general, but for Australians in particular (think Super), the consequences of entering the U.S. tax system lead to far worse results than the consequences of NOT entering it. It’s pretty simple. Shaun lost the following:

– his retirement
– his health
– his happiness (you can be sure that he carries with him anger and resentment)
– he has probably become a very negative person
– if he has an Australian spouse (or still has one) it is likely that this has impacted his family in a big way

Shaun is unique. Although it doesn’t specifically say that he has filed U.S. taxes for 30 years, it is clear that he has filed U.S. taxes for many many years. Poor Shaun. He filed because filing “is the law”. Yes, it’s the law. Shaun probably thought that there was some connection between law and morality or law and “doing the right thing”.

There is no connection between law and morality. Filing U.S. taxes is “obeying the law” and obeying unjust and immoral laws. A great American writer (by the name of Thoreau) wrote a book (considered to be subversive in the land of the free) on this topic. It’s called “Civil Disobedience”. Read it sometime. (He discusses the relationships among: laws, unjust laws and compliance with unjust laws.)

Clearly Shaun (and others who have exhibited this kind of “life time” compliance while living outside the USA) are “model citizens”. Yet they have been proven to have been “model fools”. Through compliance with these laws, they have destroyed their lives.

The U.S. tax system, enforced by the tax professionals (who usually don’t know what they are doing anyway) is such that:

It’s far more punitive to be in the U.S. tax system than not be in it. There are a number of reasons for this, but we see how Shaun loses his life savings by trying to comply (doing the “right thing”).

Believe, me Shaun has lost a lot more than his money. Year ago I wrote a couple of posts based on theme that:

“It’s not what they take from you, it’s what they leave you with”.

Collective psychotherapy – U.S. citizens outside U.S. – Not what they take from you, it’s what they leave you with

followed by:

The agony of U.S. citizenship for U.S. citizens living outside the U.S.

Take particular note of the comments (including one from MarkPineTree who was Dr. Marcio Pinheiro whose anxiety over Mr. FBAR made the last few years of his life a “living hell”). See a tribute to him at:

http://isaacbrocksociety.ca/2015/08/18/another-brock-warrior-down-in-memory-of-marcio-v-pinheiro/

Finally, this story is a sad, sad reminder that those who have been most hurt by the predatory and immoral practice of U.S. “place of birth taxation” are the ones who tried hardest to comply.

The Tax Compliance Industry might say:

“Resistance is futile!!!!”

Those who have tried hard to comply will say:

“Compliance is impossible”

Put it this way:

“It’s very clear that “compliance is impossible”. But, it’s not clear that “resistance is futile”. The proof is rather simple:

Seven out of eight Americans abroad recommend non-compliance and every one of them is in a better state than our friend Shaun!

Burning Down Barns is not Wrong Because it is illegal; it is illegal Because it is Wrong

 

Burning Down Barns is not Wrong Because it is illegal; it is illegal Because it is Wrong

 


 

Every #Americanabroad (along with his/her “alien” family) understands all too well the reality of the betrayal perpetrated by the U.S. government in the fight against “tax evasion.” To have it then furthered by the country of residence changing the law in order to allow it is a further betrayal. One does not feel betrayal unless one has been wronged.
 
The government would have one think that it is walking the moral high road, taking upon itself the noble fight of searching out those who rob everyone else because they are not “paying their fair share.” Isn’t it just and right to do so? On the surface it would apppear it is but the problem becomes twofold. First, it has to be devised well-enough to actually produce the results it seeks to achieve and second, while doing so, certain rules of fairness about how the attempt is applied are required. Every kid on a playground learns this and readily understands when the rules are broken.
 

It is easy enough to see that the FATCA hunt has huge “design problems.” First off, the U.S. indicia are all items that suggest one lives in the Homeland. There is nothing to “weed out” those who aren’t American but don’t have CLN’s (and that doesn’t mean you are an American). Banks turning in people below the thresholds is truly wasteful as those people are so unlikely to owe tax. The crowning glory however, is that there is no simple way for the IRS to get money from people outside the country unless they willingly send it. I cannot think of any aspect of FATCA that would suggest it is well devised.
 
kids fightingTwo groups of kids are on the playground. The more agressive kids’ part of the playground is on their side of a line dividing the space. The other kids have their space on the other side of the line. One of the bullies comes up to the edge and says somebody on the other side really is one of them and tries to forcefully pull them over. There is no reason other than the bully wants something that isn’t his. What would happen? The other side would probably try to prevent the exchange, even if they are smaller and unlikely to win the fight. But everybody knows who started it and which side of the line the kid really belongs on. Then an adult shows up and all kinds of nonsense starts being spewed to try and muddle the issue because admitting wrong is not going to happen.
 
There is no way that an Accidental American belongs on the “American” side of the line no matter how much the U.S. whines and bellows it is so.
There is no way that anyone who chose to leave for education, marriage or employment and is living in another country in tune with the laws there, can be seen to “belong” to the U.S.
 
What are they going to do? A sort of reverse of what may happen soon in the U.S.? Where they kick out “illegal” adults and purposely separate them from their (American) children? Have everybody shipped back? They probably ARE mean enough but the fact is, that costs money. Lots of it.
 
The 14th Amendment, the 16th Amendment, Cook v Tait and all of it, belongs to those people who are on the U.S. side of the line. All the “laws” and arguments about polity and old case law just muddles the real issue. The fact of life is:
 
Everybody else has a right to be on their side of the line.
 
So everytime a condor hits you with that “It’s U.S. law” or “Until it’s changed it has to be obeyed” don’t allow them to drag you into arguing. It’s just plain dumb and so are they for thinking they can fool (or shame) you with such stupid arguments.
 
*****

Brock founder Peter Dunn/Petros says it quite eloquently. Re-blogged from the Isaac Brock Society March 31, 2015

We are living a crisis of morality in which leaders have difficulty distinguishing between what is right and wrong. Today, political leaders facing a legal obstacle to their agenda believe that all they have to do is change the law. So if the government stealing from people is illegal, all that one needs to do is change the law and call it “civil forfeiture“, and suddenly it becomes morally acceptable.

I recall reading a few years back a National Post article that brought up the question of lawmaking and morality came up.  Fortunately, Mark Steyn, cites the money quote from George Jonas:

Back in the Trudeaupian golden age, you may recall, the great man’s barnstorming transformation of Canada was momentarily halted by a storm about barns. It emerged that some overzealous officers of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police had burned down barns belonging to Quebec separatists. The press was briefly exercised over this, but M. Trudeau gave one of his famous shrugs and airily remarked that, if people were so upset by the Mounties burning down barns illegally, perhaps he’d make the burning of barns by the Mounties legal. As the great George Jonas commented:

“It seemed not to occur to him that it isn’t wrong to burn down barns because it’s illegal, but it’s illegal to burn down barns because it’s wrong. Like other statist politicians, Mr. Trudeau seemed to think his ability to set out for his country what is legal and illegal also entitled him to set out for his citizens what is right and wrong. He either didn’t see, or resented, that right and wrong are only reflected by the laws, not determined by them.

The Honourable Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada, is a moral embarrassment. Before he forced the FATCA IGA into law, it was illegal for the government of Canada, based on national origin discrimination, to give the financial information of Canadian citizens to a foreign government. But it is still wrong to do so, and it doesn’t matter how many laws Harper forces through Parliament, it will remain wrong.

When law becomes a substitute for morality

When law becomes a substitute for morality

reblogged from the renounceuscitizenship wordpress blog

Today I’ve decided that I would like to go back and reblog some of the best expat posts from the last five years. For lack of a better title, I am going to call it the “A Blast From the Past Series.” This week I am going to focus on the disconnect between law and morality.

Every now and then I realize that people are still coming into awareness and that they do not realize a lot of what has gone on; how long some of us have been involved in this and most importantly, why some of us are so vehemently resistant and unyielding when it comes to evaluating the U.S. government, the tax compliance industry and so on. I guess some of us are afraid that this long period of lassitude may give a false sense of “safety.”

Without resorting to outright fearmongering, there are a number of things that may not happen (tax reform) or that will change (discontinuation of the Streamlined Program) etc. Our main reason for being involved in this from the very beginning, was to get the word out, to do our own research/take responsibility for educating ourselves and others about this hideous situation. I think it is important for people to understand how this situation has played out since the beginning……..

One of the worst aspects of everything happening today is the growing lack of morality in the world. I mean this in the “big” sense of the word; something which is on the mind of every human being as we watch America turn from being an open and welcoming society into one moving toward closed borders, over-the-top surveillance, etc. Today the Secy of Homeland Security literally said he was considering separating (illegal) parents from their (American-born) children. Unbelievably cruel and totally unnecessary. And the reinstatement of the “travel ban” which has been tweaked a bit but cannot possibly be seen for anything except what is clearly is – a move to keep Muslims out of America.

What does this have to do with us? Everything. Because when you see your government behaving like this, you are forced to evaluate two things:

1) Can YOU trust them?
2) Is there any reason to reject them/protect yourself given the unusual situation expats find themselves in?

In addition to being scared out of my mind and full of doubt whether to renounce or not (late 2011), what I could not ignore was my observation of how the U.S. was behaving outside the law. Clear, undeniable abuse of the law. Invading Pakistani airspace (I don’t care what the reason, that is not supposed to be done); the horrid abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib ; the assassination of Americans without due process and worst of all, holding men at Guantanamo Bay for as long as 12 years without charge, torture, etc. I did not find it difficult to believe the U.S. would think nothing of destroying our retirement by forcing me to sell my home to pay FBAR fines. It was a no-brainer.

Everyone has to come around to this decision on their own terms. All the more reason however, to take a long hard look at what has gone on over the last five years (which should influence whatever decision you choose to make).

Some of the people mentioned in this post you may not be aware of:

renounceuscitizenship – in addition to his/her own blog, one of most influential authors at the Isaac Brock Society from the beginning. Has an uncanny ability to predict long in advance, how things are going to move and a piercing, unbending analytical approach to assessing the source of our issues. Originator of the Renounce & Rejoice meme.

Steven J. Mopsick – aka “30 year IRS Vet” – a former IRS attorney who took part in a lot of the early conversations at Brock. The relationship was friendly at first and eventually disintegrated due to the natural friction between someone from a compliance point-of-view and those who did not intend to buckle under. A nice gentleman of whom was said “You can take the man out of the IRS but you cannot take the IRS out of the man.”

JustMe a much-beloved expat who suffered two-plus long years having entered the 2009 OVDP program, trying to make things right. He coined many of our expat idioms: “LCUs (Life Credit Units – how much of your life lost trying to deal with this); FATCAnatics (you can guess); CC&W (Complain, Comply & Warn-his explanation of what he was doing!),DATCA, GATCA, and so on. After he requested the help of the Taxpayer Advocate, he spent quite a long time devoting himself to our cause and taught a lot of us how to do Twitter, learn html, you name it. He finally needed to put it aside (I am sure his wife was happy about this!) and is much missed……..

Former Secretary of the Treasury Timothy F. Geitner aka “Turbo Tax Timmy” – who hadn’t paid social security or self-employment taxes on income received from the International Monetary Fund from 2001 to 2004; the IRS audited Geithner for tax years 2003 and 2004, which resulted in him paying back taxes and interest–but no penalties–totaling $16,732. Geithner voluntarily amended his 2001 and 2002 returns only after Obama expressed interest in nominating him to the Treasury post. The total bill this time: $25,970. He also failed to get proper verification for three individuals who worked for his family. As a prior Treasury employee who prior to Secy position, had run the NY Federal Reserve, one has to wonder how he could fail to understand social security or SE tax. This was infuriating to expats suffering through the OVDP/OVDI penalties. As well, former Congressman Charlie Rangel (D-NY), a sponsor of FATCA, headed the powerful House Ways and Means Committee that writes the nation’s tax laws, was censured by the House of Representatives in December for ethics violations.A chief violation included his failure to pay 17 years’ worth of taxes on rental income from the Dominican Republic property. GRRRRRRR! (still burns……..)
****************

tombstones

The following tweet appeared as a post at the Isaac Brock Society and generated a collection of comments.

To provide some context:
Steven J. Mopsick wrote a post which was a report of his experience at a recent FATCA conference. He was impressed by how the attendees were exploiting the business opportunity (inadvertently referring to them as “steakholders”) that FATCA has created for the compliance industry. Interestingly, Mr. Mopsick specifically makes the point that:

The focus of the conference was strictly on FATCA from the standpoint of complying financial institutions. Most of the participants did not even know about and individual’s duty to file FBAR’s, Foreign Asset Statements (form 8938) and there was very little talk about privacy concerns, fears about the dangers of an emerging international banking data base system, or how Canadian politicians were doing in shaking their lap dog image as pawns of the US government.

In other words: the focus was on the law of FATCA with no consideration of the morality, unintended consequences or effect on society as a whole. (Most law students would kill to have a prof like this!) To put it another way, the important consideration is the law itself. The fact of the law itself is the only issue. The values that underlie the law are irrelevant.
“Just Me” in his usual “wit and wisdom” commented that:

This is the Truism I take away from Steven: “The people around the world who stand to profit from FATCA are not thinking much about government intrusions into the private lives of the world citizens.”

“Them’s the FATCAs FACTs”, as they say.

Although, they may think it is a ‘business and growth opportunity’ others see it as a pending financial disaster for the World’s economy. Who is right? I think the latter, but we shall see. I could be wrong.

FATCA and US fiscal imperialism threaten to sink global economy

In all due respect to 30 year IRS vet, I think he may have his perspectives twisted (which comes from his background?) when he thinks that profiting off the backs of the government regulatory tit is “free enterprise/free market system at work.” Rather, it represents the worst of unprincipled and amoral aspects of human nature at work. These actions are not based upon free enterprise/free markets, but on artificial markets based upon dubious legal assertions.

Free markets do not require or accept extortion as their engine of enterprise.

I can think of other examples of so called free enterprise ~70 years ago, where other“hard-working, serious, responsible business men and women who were on their way up in their companies” were probably attending conferences on how to ramp up manufacturing and supply of cattle cars for another freight train in another era that he would not be so willing to celebrate. He would not like that comparison, and maybe it is a bit hyperbolic, but the same human nature principle is at work.

More recently, there was an army of war profiteering “hard-working, serious, responsible business men and women” contractors, attending conferences in Vegas to learn how suckling off the “free enterprise” of ‘War Contracting Gone Wild’ could benefit their companies. They didn’t want to get left out of the ‘business and growth opportunity’that an amoral and unnecessary war provided. What if the government threw a contractor party to support its misguided war effort at that time, and no one came? I blame the compliant and willing contractors co-enablers as much as the government initiators for the sad legacy we left in Iraq.

Maybe in fairness to Steven, what he is saying, is yes, human nature is responding to an artificial market that would NOT exist, except for US hubris, financial imperialism and extra-territoriality. I don’t think I would be citing the FATCA Compliance Industrial Complex’s (FCIC) “hard-working, serious, responsible business men and women” as an example of ‘supply and demand’ in action that Adam Smith would identity or praise.

Although I certainly agree that “Free markets do not require or accept extortion as their engine of enterprise”, the Mopsick post raises an even larger issue. Mr. Mopsick has and continues to make an enormous contribution to the discussion of FATCA, FBAR and U.S. tax compliance in general. Some of the best thinking on these topics may be found in the “Mopsick Trilogy” – a series of posts that he wrote about the compliance problems facing US citizens abroad. His posts are a unique blend of raising questions and answering questions. In this case, his post has raised an important issue.

The issue is that, in the America of today, laws have become a substitute for morality. A society where laws have become a substitute for morality, is a society that is past the point of “no return”. This is where “Form Nation” – AKA The United States of America – finds itself today.

“Form Nation” – A country structured by laws and not by men

In the beginning we had the ten commandments which were expressions of the fundamental principles of justice. The ten commandments reflected principles which were for the common good. Gradually legislatures began to create laws. In the early stages of society, these laws were specific applications of fundamental principles of justice and for the most part these laws continued to be for the common good.

What is in the common good is not necessarily what is good for specific individuals. Those specific individuals who control the political process have strong incentives to act in their interest at the expense of the public interest.

Once legislatures saw how easy it was to create laws, they began to create laws which were NOT for the common good but were to benefit specific individuals at the expense of the common good. That’s how the Internal Revenue Code and regs grew to 17,000 pages. It’s simply incredible. Mr. Romney pays low tax on his “carried interests” and U.S. citizens abroad pay confiscatory taxes on their mutual funds “PFICs”. Not only is this unfair, but it’s a wonderful example of how laws are passed to benefit the individual at the expense of the common good.

But, it gets far worse. Who exactly are the legislatures? Democracy in the “Form Nation” of today is controlled by two private clubs. You will recognize them as the Democratic and Republican parties. Not only are they private clubs, but they have the intellectual dishonesty to rely on public funding for their existence. Their job is to campaign and to stay in power. Why? Because they will profit from being power. Those of you who have seen the Movie Chicago will remember Mama Morton singing “reciprocity“.

If you have the money you can get the ear of a Congressman. If you don’t you can’t. If you are the mutual fund industry you can lobby to get the PFIC laws passed. If you are the Romney’s of the world (and I still believe Romney would have been a better president) you can lobby to get your “carried interest” laws passed. As Fareed Zakaria has noted, the system is corrupt at it’s core. A large part of the problem is the way the political system works in the United States. There is nobody who represents the voters. The elected representatives (and they are not really elections because of a lack of choice on the ballot) are in business for themselves. Their business is in passing laws that benefit themselves or their clients. This is the only reason that the IRC and regs grew to 17,000 pages. To put it simply: elected representatives are in the business of making laws.

It’s laws, laws and more laws!

The United States of today is burdened by so many laws that:

– everybody is in violation of some law (show me the man and I will show you the crime);

– the complexity of the laws means that people cannot even understand what they are required to do (the FBAR rules are a weird combination of the enabling statute, the regs and the form itself);

there are fewer and fewer laws where “mens rea” (the intent to commit the crime) is necessary for a conviction;

– people are forced to pay lawyers for an opinion on what they may be required to do (lawyers have become the modern day “priests”);

– the sheer volume of laws means that enforcement is largely discretionary (will the IRS enforce FBAR penalties or not?);

– the focus on laws leads to a presumption of criminality (the fact that US citizens abroad are subject to so many laws means they must be guilty of something);

– the moral foundation (if any) of the law becomes irrelevant. The original purpose of the law becomes irrelevant. All that matters is the mechanical application of the law. Nobody ever imagined that PFIC rules, Foreign Trust rules or the FBAR rules would be used to unleash a “reign of terror” on US citizens abroad. On the “Homelander Front”, do you really believe that Martha Stewart deserved incarceration? Of course, the good old USA has the highest rate of incarceration in the world.

Laws have become a replacement for morality. Laws are the only standard for morality.

If you are not in violation of the law, you are not immoral.

If you are in violation of the law you are immoral.

(If the U.S. is really concerned about the “crime rate” then maybe it should reduce the number of laws.)

Conclusion: The US does not have laws that are fair.

“Form Nation” – A country governed by those who decide when to apply the laws and in relation to whom! (A government of tyrants)

In the context of the laws, the laws are not applied equally

President Obama commented that Mr. Geithner should not be punished for a mistake commonly made. It was okay for Timothy Geithner, a man with the money to get accurate tax advice, to file inaccurate tax returns. It is NOT okay for US citizens abroad to fail to file or to file inaccurate tax returns.

Conclusion: The US does NOT have fair application of the law.

1. The United States of today is country where laws are passed by members of private clubs, which have no incentive to benefit the common good and every incentive to benefit themselves at the expense of the common good.

2. The laws are so numerous that every person in the United States is in violation of something.

3. The laws that passed carry no presumption of morality and simply have no moral force.

4. The laws (regardless of content) are enforced in an unpredictable and unfair way.

The result is that people live in terror of the government.

As Jefferson said:

When people fear the government there is tyranny. When government fears the people there is liberty.

So, what’s all this got to do with #FATCA and the Mopsick post?

FATCA is the “gift that keeps on giving” (well to the compliance industry that is). As Mr. Mopsick confirms, the concern of the industry in on the fact of the law. What does it say? What does it require? As Mr. Mopsick reports:

Many readers of this blog will be disappointed to hear this report. The people around the world who stand to profit from FATCA are not thinking much about government intrusions into the private lives of the world citizens. That is the furthest thing from their minds. These folks were all good students, in effect, knowing full-well that there was a new body of rules and regulations on the table which they needed to learn and master.

The implication is that the “good students”, those “hard-working, serious, responsible business men and women who were on their way up in their companies”, the “best and the brightest” (are they really that bright?) should be concerned with embracing the new morality, getting in tune with the “new world” caring about the implications of their conduct. That’s exactly what happens when law becomes a substitute for morality. Just Me compares this mentality to another time in history when he notes that:

I can think of other examples of so called free enterprise ~70 years ago, where other“hard-working, serious, responsible business men and women who were on their way up in their companies” were probably attending conferences on how to ramp up manufacturing and supply of cattle cars for another freight train in another era that he would not be so willing to celebrate. He would not like that comparison, and maybe it is a bit hyperbolic, but the same human nature principle is at work.

Interesting analogy. What is the purpose of FATCA? What are the moral underpinnings of FATCA? Has anybody ever asked the question? Clearly nobody in the world of the FATCA compliance industry. They would be afraid of the answer!

But, that’s what happens when law becomes a substitute for morality. Many of you are concerned about what reason to give for renouncing your U.S. citizenship.

Why not just say:

I do not wish to be a citizen of a country where law has become a substitute for fairness and morality!
 

TOMORROW : Burning Barns Down is not Wrong Because it is Illegal – It is Illegal Because it is Wrong

Do Canadian (or Australian etc.) Tax Attorneys Advising Canadian Clients on United States IRS Compliance Typically Comply With The “Professional Code of Conduct” of Their Law Societies?

cross-posted from Isaac Brock Society

In a recent post I mentioned the situation of a “Caroline” who seeks advice from a Canadian tax attorney (let’s say in B.C.) regarding a question of (IRS) tax compliance with a country foreign to Canada.

How should the Canadian tax attorney advise this frightened Canadian citizen– specifically, regarding the disclosure of relevant options she (or any Canadian) should consider before entering, or not entering, into tax compliance with United States Internal Revenue Service?

What information should (must) the attorney disclose to the Canadian to comply with professional standards and ethical obligations of an attorney?

USCitizenAbroad suggests that the Canadian tax attorney needs to disclose two relevant facts:

“It seems to me that the first thing that a Canadian lawyer (I note that the rules of B.C. Professional Conduct are included in this post) might be to say:

1. You are living in Canada. There is NO Canadian law (no matter who you are) that requires you to comply with U.S. tax laws. Canada may [find] it amusing. But Canadian law does not require compliance.

2. The Canada U.S. Tax Treaty means that Canada will not assist the IRS in collection on Canadian citizens”

I could well be wrong but suspect that few if any Canadian (or Australian) tax attorneys (irrespective of whether they are US persons or “enrolled agents”) ever provide this disclosure to their clients — who are just seeking good service.

The question I have is whether, by not making this disclosure, are these Canadian tax attorneys in violation of their law society’s (the governing body) Professional Code of Conduct? For example. the British Columbia Professional Code seems to be pretty clear on disclosure of facts and options:

“A [Canadian] lawyer should obtain sufficient knowledge of the relevant facts and give adequate consideration to the applicable law [This must include Canadian law — correct?] before advising a client, and give an open and undisguised opinion of the merits and probable results of the client’s cause…”

It would also seem that any Canadian tax attorney who is an “enrolled agent” with the IRS must disclose that significant conflict of interest (additional loyalty) to the client. Yes? See:

“A lawyer should disclose to the client all the circumstances of the lawyer’s relations to the parties and interest in or connection with the controversy, if any, that might influence whether the client selects or continues to retain the lawyer. A lawyer must not act where there is a conflict of interests between the lawyer and a client or between clients.”

Do these issues of “reasonable disclosure” need to be brought up with the law societies? Could someone from one of the Canadian provincial law societies please respond and address these questions?