The Rise Of The Swiss Tax Haven In The Interwar Period: An International Comparison
The history of tax havens during the decades before World War II is still little known. To date, the studies that have focused on the 1920s and 1930s have presented either a very general perspective on the development of tax havens or a narrow national point of view. Based on unpublished historical archives of five countries (Switzerland, Great Britain, Belgium, France, Germany), this paper offers therefore a new comparative appraisal of international tax competition during this period in order to answer the following question: What was the specificity of the Swiss case – already considered a quintessential tax haven at the time – in comparison to other banking centres? The findings of this research study are twofold. First, the 1920s and 1930s appear as something of a golden age of opportunity for avoiding taxation through the relocation of assets. Most of the financial centres granted consistent tax benefits for imported capital, while the limited degree of international cooperation and the usual guarantee of banking secrecy in European countries prevented the taxation of exported assets. Second, within this general environment, the fiscal strategies of a tax haven like Switzerland differed from those of a great financial power like Great Britain. Whereas the Swiss administration readily placed itself at the service of the banking community, British policy was more balanced between the contradictory interests of the Board of Inland Revenue, the Treasury, and the English business circles.
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