Creatures of habit

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 July, 2012, 12:00am


We all need to eat and most of us crave a little stimulation now and again, but when things get out of hand, we use the word 'addiction', and can turn for help to Alcoholics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, rehab clinics and the like.

Where, though, might you find a Wealth-Hoarders Anonymous meeting? Clearly there is a need. According to a report by campaign group Tax Justice Network, an extraordinary HK$163 trillion - and perhaps up to HK$248 trillion - of private wealth has been hidden from the prying eyes of tax inspectors, in places such as Switzerland and the Cayman Islands. This is up from an estimated HK$89 trillion in 2005.

Our hearts go out to these high net worth (or should that be 'gross worth'?) individuals. They must toss and turn at night in their mansions, worrying about the hardships they are perpetuating on the world's poor by withholding their tax; an amount estimated at an annual HK$1.46 trillion, more than rich countries give in aid to the developing world each year.

But as they fret and wonder whether what they are doing is really just theft by another name, their addiction is being facilitated - as surely as pills are pushed in the schoolyard - by 'a highly paid, industrious bevy of professional enablers in the private banking, legal, accounting and investment industries taking advantage of the increasingly borderless, frictionless global economy', says James Henry, the author of the report and an expert on tax havens. Some of the banks involved have been bailed out with public money, meaning the tax of the less well-off has been used to enable the mega-rich to avoid theirs altogether: the ultimate indignity for our tormented hoarders, surely.

Help these poor wretches now! Demand the establishment of Wealth-Hoarders Anonymous and, to the bankers and other top-rankers encouraging this anti-social behaviour: just say no.