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Editor's note

John Maynard Keynes, that most famous of economists, has received a lot of renewed coverage since the financial crisis as most governments have followed his proposal that when suffering a downturn, they should borrow and spend money to boost economic activity.

The depth of the current crisis is highlighted by the fact that the end of Keynes' proposal – that part of the proceeds of the resulting economic growth should then be used to repay the debt – is currently being usurped by dramatic cuts to public spending and an increase in taxes as growth struggles to increase by any meaningful level.

It is worth remembering that Keynes had much more in his locker than the above staple of modern fiscal policy. He was also a keen investor, championing concentrated investment portfolios, and had some illuminating thoughts on tax: "the avoidance of taxes is the only intellectual pursuit that carries any reward," he once famously commented.

Given the current climate in which governments around the world are persuaded to increase taxes on their wealthiest citizens, many will be looking to follow Keynes' rhetoric. However, one family office managing director, who kicks off our tax focus, asks whether despite the "rewards" it is morally right for the wealthy to mitigate their tax returns.

"If only the wealthy applied the same philosophy to their personal contributions to the exchequer as they do to their currently fashionable corporate social responsibility policies," argues our UK-based MD. 

Crucial to this debate is what is "fair" and what is "excessive" when it comes to taxation, yet this is something no one can seem to agree on. Look at the myriad of different tax regimes on offer in Switzerland and the US alone.

Selwyn Parker attempts to find some clarity amid the convolution by looking behind the headlines. As one family office manager puts it, "Families are looking at different countries and taking a very broad brush assessment. They're asking themselves questions like: Where is this country heading? Does it have a future?"

It is unlikely we will see large scale changes or movements while the economic picture remains unclear, but tax is clearly back on the agenda in family office strategy meetings the world over.

In Asia, certain financial centres are looking to use the uncertainty surrounding western families' tax planning by offering an attractive base in a region whose growth rates are substantially higher. The same centres are also looking to benefit from the transition of wealth from first to second-generation wealth holders in Asia as the family office model gains credence. Paul Golden assesses the likely winners and losers.

But what of Asian family offices themselves? As I found out, the picture is a complex one. The very term family office is misunderstood in places, while for those outside the main financial centres there are no examples for others to follow. At the other end of the scale, where the family office concept is well established, wealth holders are asking serious questions about the investment model they have been following and wondering whether there is an "Asian" alternative.

What is certain is that the next generation will have different ideas to their parents. More global in outlook and more willing to accept the expertise of outside professionals, they are starting to re-evaluate what they and their family offices stand for. As ever, it will not happen overnight, but it is evolving and most experts anticipate the next decade will define the family office model in the region.

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