Wednesday, July 18, 2007

A Short History of Tax Shelters
A. Tax Planning Over the Ages.
1. Tax advisors have been figuring out ways to reduce taxpayers’ tax liability forever.
a. In Ancient Rome, farmers of small farms would obtain relief from taxes by transferring their lands to the nearest military chief or large landowner and rid themselves of tax obligations. The peasant farmer was better off. Tied to the land anyway, he could live in the same house, farm the same land, and use the same animals. Only the tax picture had changed; the Roman tax man would now have to deal with the small farmer’s master, who had the wherewithal to handle the Roman tax man. Adams, For Good and Evil: The Impact of Taxes on the Course of Civilization
(London and New York: Madison Books, 1994) at pages 113-14.
b. During the Middle Ages in Syria, Egypt and other areas of the Islamic world, the land tax could be avoided by newly conquered native populations if they became Moslems—unfortunately for the tax collectors, mass conversions of native populations to Islam drained off a large percentage of their tax revenue. Adams, For Good and Evil: The Impact of Taxes on the Course of Civilization (London and New York: Madison Books, 1994) at page 132.
c. In the 1600’s, landlords in Russia developed an interesting tax avoidance scheme. A new landlord would pay off a peasant’s debt and refinance the peasant on his own land. Poll taxes were based on a census, which was conducted every five years. Before the census was taken, new serfs would not be taxed since they were not on the census rolls. (The Russian government eventually had to pass a law preventing this practice.) Adams, For Good and Evil:
The Impact of Taxes on the Course of Civilization (London and New York: Madison Books, 1994) at page 169.
d. In Charleston, South Carolina during the first half of the 19th century, real estate taxes were based not on the value of the house or other structure situated on a lot but on the footage of the portion of the lot directly next to the street. Tax planning led to houses being built on deep lots which were very narrow where they fronted the street. Thus, a typical house built during that time might be 10 foot wide but 80 or even 100 feet deep—many of these houses still exist today.
2. The search for shelter continues. See The Wall Street Journal (“WSJ”) on
10/13/05: The Search for a Safe Tax Shelter

A Short History of Psychopaths
Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work. By Paul Babiak, Ph.D., and Robert D. Hare, Ph.D.; published by ReganBooks, (Web); 353 pages; $26.95.

Psychopaths and the damage they inflict on others are a popular topic in books these days. Nearly all of these books, however, concentrate on criminal psychopaths and are based on prison interviews. Snakes in Suits fills an important gap, examining the chaos that can result when a psychopath enters the workplace.

One hallmark of psychopaths, who make up about 1 percent of the overall population, is that they seek opportunities to promote their own self-interests unburdened by conscience.

With that as a motivating factor, psychopaths in the workplace operate in three general ways: some bully, some manipulate, and others are "puppet masters," adept at operating through others.

The authors provide advice on what the average employee should do if he or she believes that a coworker or boss may be a psychopath: Document everything, never confront the individual, and be prepared to seek work elsewhere.
Psychopaths may come to a corporate security department's attention when they cross the line of what is permissible behavior in the workplace, which could result in an investigation into harassment or criminal activity.
Perhaps the book's most valuable advice is that companies always conduct preemployment screening—checking educational, technical, and work references thoroughly. Doing so may give the human resource department the red flags it needs to spot the signs of psychopathic behavior before the person is hired. But the authors also note that it is not illegal to be a psychopath. What companies should be focusing on is whether someone exhibits inappropriate workplace behavior.
The authors also warn readers not to try diagnosing psychopaths, but they do describe behaviors and recommend actions that can protect a company and its employees.
The authors mix discussion and case studies to explain how psychopathic behaviors can cause problems in the workplace, and the liability companies can incur if those problems are not addressed.
Written exclusively for Beautiful Minds and Hearts