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Taxing into the wind

It's been more than three years since I last had the privilege of writing the editorial in this fine magazine. But after something of a hiatus editing a current affairs magazine, covering such cheery topics as international terror, climate change, North Korean nukes and Donald Trump, I have returned to the world of tax. And what a time it is to be back.

As I write, I am sitting in a lecture theatre in City, University of London where the Tax Justice Network is holding its annual conference. Here, the mood is optimistic. Yes there are threats to everything these activists hold dear – Brexit, the aforementioned Trump, a global race to the bottom on corporate tax rates and social protections. But there is also a palpable sense that I'm sitting in a room full of people who know they're winning.

When I first started writing about tax seven years ago, ideas like country-by-country reporting and automatic information exchange were commonly considered by those in the international tax community as fringe concepts entertained only by radicals. Nothing to take seriously, nothing that would ever see the light of day.

Now these things are as mainstream as motherhood, apple pie and Ed Sheeran.

International Tax Review might have been covering these issues long before anyone else, but in recent years the general press has caught on with their headlines dragging company after company through the mud over accusations they have not been paying their fair share of tax. Multinational corporations, as a result, often have one eye on reputation now when it comes to their tax reporting. But more importantly, the public awakening to the importance of tax in the light of recession, austerity and squeezed living standards, spurred by leaks and media revelations, has stirred the international community into action and it responded with BEPS, making CbCR the norm.

But BEPS was just the beginning. Days before this issue went to press, the European Parliament voted to adopt public CbCR. Across the room from me, Richard Murphy, the accountant who invented the standard, looks like a man who's just achieved his life's ambition. But he's not going to stop there. He has just called for a revolution, overturning the fundamentals of the international political and economic system so it works fairly for all.

These are big words from a characteristically fiery campaigner. Can it be done? Almost every prevailing force of global finance that has operated since Reagan and Thatcher ushered in the last great revolution in economics is lined up against such ideas. But even the smallest of boats can tack into the wind. And if the last few years have taught us anything, it's that a small band of hardened activists, academics and economists can change the world.

It's good to be back.

Salman Shaheen
Managing editor, International Tax Review

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