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Treasure Islands: Tax Havens and the Men who Stole the World
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 3 April 2011
The author has undertaken a big task with this book. But the task is well worthy of examination as it is so vital to the shadowy infrastructure of the global financial system. To use the term that the author himself uses throughout the book - the role of "offshore" in finance - has been hugely overlooked in mainstream academic literature on finance and economics and also hardly ever mentioned in the mainstream media.

During the 2007/2008 near meltdown, analysts referred sometimes to the importance of the "shadow banking system" and too often the inability to articulate more exactly what constitutes that system left most people none the wiser as to what was involved and how critical this element is to systemic risk.

Nicholas Shaxson provides an easily digestible overview of the labyrinthine nature of the world of offshore finance and it is, as he suggests, ubiquitous. From its origins in the UK and the development of the euro markets in the 1960's (not to be confused with the EZ single currency - which came much later), he illustrates how the elaborate structures which have been put in place, have enabled wealthy individuals and corporations to avoid - no more precisely evade - massive amounts of taxes in the principal tax jurisdictions by concealing much of the net income in tax havens.

The dynamics of regulatory arbitrage are explained well, and as the author suggests the financial services industry and major banks have effectively captured the policy makers in the major economies and spurred them into a race to see which onshore jurisdiction can provide the most favorable "cover" and opacity to its corporate citizens. The thinking goes that by turning a blind eye and a nod and a wink here and there, the most favorable climate for offshore tax planning will at least contribute some trickle down benefits to the GDP in the "host" nations which still maintain some concept of domicility with respect to their corporate organizations.

The real issue which the author addresses in a slightly indirect manner has to do with the "ethics" of offshore. With public balance sheets in most of the G10 nations in a shambles and growing complaints from the "little people" in those jurisdictions as to their tax burdens, it seems likely that there can only be greater sympathy with the leading edge of civil protest about the injustice of current taxation arrangements in the world's "richest" (i.e. most indebted) economies. Those who reside and work in their home countries under "normal circumstances" are being required to pay higher taxes, while many of those who, despite have all the benefits of unlimited access to selling into the markets and economic infrastructure available in these G10 economies but, as a result of numerous shenanigans and schemes designed to dodge taxes, are left essentially untaxed.

One final sentiment which is quite well explained by Shaxson is the extent to which the UK, and the City in London in particular, has been a huge beneficiary of offshore. UK bankers and businessmen were very instrumental in getting it all started in the 1960's and it was seen partly as a way of preserving Anglo Saxon influence in a post colonial era. The UK still is the preferred haven for the rich and non-domiciled, and this helps to explain why central London has some of the most expensive real estate in the world.

The central question which remains still rather shrouded after reading the book - just like the financial structures in the treasure islands and places like Switzerland and Luxembourg - is whether there will be any progress made to shine a strong light on to this shadowy world of offshore finance. As policy makers become even more stretched to maintain some credibility to their stewardship of the public finances, the balance may tip in favor of demanding more corporate social responsibility and transparency from their corporate citizens in their accounting systems and organizational frameworks.

Having just re-read that last sentence and weighed it against the power of the large banks who just have to drop hints that they may relocate their head offices elsewhere, and the panic induced in the domestic establishments, I somehow think that it is naive to expect that there will be any significant changes in the status quo. The only possibility would be if the citizenry of the principal onshore hosts for tax havens have epiphany moments, admittedly of a different order of magnitude but in some ways analagous to those now being seen by the "little people" throughout the Middle East and North Africa. But I am not holding my breath on that happening any time soon.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 4 July 2014
This is no rant about a few greedy people sticking their money in the Caymans to get around the IRS, but a full-blown expose of the most insidious and least understood sector of global finance on the planet today. The world’s “off shore” banking system has been growing exponentially since the 1970s and today plays host not to billions, but trillions of dollars. Dollars that would otherwise be moving through your national economy, propping up your revenue base and allowing for much needed investment, or the reduction of national deficits.
The book is meticulously researched and beautifully written, presenting both facts and enough clear examples to allow anyone with a median understanding of economics to fully appreciate the extent of the problem. I would strongly urge anyone with an interest in this field, or concerns about the state of the global economy, to get this book under your belt.
If you have an account at Audible, I can personally testify to the quality of the audiobook version.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 5 April 2013
It is hard to understand the intricacies of international finance and tax havens - but that is their whole point! They are supposed to be impenetrable tangled webs so they can avoid legitimate scrutiny and so they can effectively rob society. It is all smoke and mirrors. The author bangs it home many times that multinationals, corporations and the wealth of individuals are the product of society. Without society they are nothing. They require democratic society's infrastructure, rule of law, healthy and educated workforce to employ, etc., to amass their ill-gotten gains. So it is only proper, reasonable and proportionate that their wealth is taxed to pay for these aspects of civilization. Either they pay or we plebs pay through the nose. I think it is more accurate to say that I gleaned the gist of this book rather than memorized portions of it by rote. It really is the most confusing thing since I tried to understand quantum mechanics.
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49 of 57 people found the following review helpful
on 12 January 2011
Shocking (the subject matter not the book itself!). Page after page of information about people cheating the system (forget small-fry benefit fraudsters here). Well written and informative and a book to make your teeth gnash.
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88 of 104 people found the following review helpful
on 28 December 2010
A brilliant expose of tax havens and tax avoidance.Quite topical with all these tory types not paying their fair share but be warned this book is bad for your blood pressure if you are one of the unfortunates who do pay your fair share in taxes. Its frightening how little the rich contribute to the countries they make their money from.Murdoch's companies pay about 6% tax in Britain,which shows what a parasite he is.Every honest tax payer should read this book.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 7 October 2012
A detailed but readable book on the shadowy world of tax havens. Very scary stuff! The chapter about the City of London is a big eye opener
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on 23 May 2015
This the first great book I've read this year. It makes sense of why Private Eye is always harping on tax havens. Shaxson defines them as jurisdictions designed to enable finance to avoid not only tax but regulations, so that capital can benefit from society without bearing any corresponding responsibilities to it. Tax havens act as the battering ram of financial liberalisation and the race to the bottom on social responsibility, forcing governments under threat of capital flight to reduce their own regulations. But most importantly, the book demonstrates that the greatest tax havens and secrecy jurisdictions are not exotic, untouchable, far-away islands, but rather the USA, the City of London, and the network of territories and unregulated markets that are controlled by the leading Anglo-Saxon economies. You can hide beneficiaries under trusts in the City, you can hide a company's directors in Delaware, you can avoid US regulations in London's Eurodollar market, you can avoid tax in Jersey and the Cayman Islands, both ruled by British governors, you can issue toxic CDOs in the Caymans where nobody has the expertise to regulate you. If governments, rich and poor, are ever going to start cracking down on tax evasion and financial fraud, then it requires the UK and USA to look honestly at their own facilitation of the forces that contribute to finance enjoying free reign to suck societies dry and generate debt crisis, after banking crisis, after currency crisis, ad infinitum.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 8 April 2013
Very revealing and informative book, making the case that the global financial industries are the sector who really impact and run our lives. Finance and therefore power is the new politics of this century. The book endorses the lack of trust I already had in the British establishment. Well researched, with gob-smacking revelations about The City of London in particular.
I recommend this good read to anyone who wants to know what really goes on under our noses.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 19 August 2014
I learned such a lot reading this book. I found some of the economics challenging, however I got there in the end. Overall I found it was accessible for someone without a background in economics and having read it I have a greater understanding of just how our banking systems operate. It was a real eye opener. It does make your blood boil about the crookedness and corruption of the system - but I think it's a great book as it answered so many questions.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 19 April 2013
They're even worse than currently portrayed. But given the scale of the problem, is it even possible to contemplate how to put them back in their box? The offshore industry is like an out-of-control virus - big enough, corrupt enough and connected enough to circumvent any government - even assuming those governments want to control them. There is little evidence they do. Compelling reading: it makes you furious and helpless in equal measures.
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