Thursday, April 21, 2016
michael-hudson | Our next guest, Michael Hudson, says Panama was created as a tax haven by certain sectors of our economy for this purpose. Joining us now from New York is Michael Hudson. Michael is a distinguished research professor of economics at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, and he?s a former balance of payments economist for Chase Manhattan bank. He is the author of many books, and the latest among them is Killing the Host: How Financial Parasites and Debt Bondage Destroy the Global Economy. And if you want to know more about that book, on our site you’ll find Chris Hedges interviewing Michael Hudson on this book. Thanks for joining us, Michael.
MICHAEL HUDSON: Good to be here, Sharmini.
PERIES: Michael, so let’s begin with a short history of the creation of Panama and how it was bought from Colombia by the United States, and its relevance today vis-a-vis the Panama papers.
HUDSON: Well, Panama was basically carved off from Colombia in order to have a canal. It was created very much like Liberia. It’s not really a country in the sense that a country has its own currency and its own tax system. Panama uses U.S. dollars. So does Liberia.
The real story didn’t come out in the Panama papers. Reporters naturally focused on criminal people laundering money. But Panama wasn’t designed to launder money. It was designed to launder earnings – mainly by the oil and the gas industries, and the mining industry.
Panama and Liberia were long noted as having “flags of convenience.” Oil tankers and mineral ships would register themselves under the flags of Panama or Liberia, or some other country that used the U.S. dollar, not its own local currency.
I first found out about this about 40 years ago, when I was doing a study of the balance of payments of the oil industry. I went to Standard Oil, whose treasurer walked me through their balance sheet. I said, I can’t figure out whether Standard Oil and the other oil companies make their money at the producing end of oil, or at the distributing end of refining and selling it. And he said, “We make our earnings right here in New York, in the Treasurer’s office.” I asked what he meant He explained: “We sell the oil that we buy from Saudi Arabia or the Near East at very low prices to the tanker company that’s registered in Panama or Liberia.” They don’t have an income tax in their country, because they’re not a real country. The oil companies then sell the crude oil to downstream distributors in the United States or Europe – at a very, very high markup.
The markup is so high that there’s no room for profit to be made at all in refineries or gas stations selling the oil. So the oil companies don’t pay the tax collector in Europe anything. They don’t pay the American government an income tax either. All their earnings are reported as being made in the tankers, which are registered in countries that don’t tax income.