Apr 07 2011

London Review of Books: Treasure Islands is ‘brilliant’

Posted by: Nick Shaxson in: Thoughts

Following my appearance in the Financial Times and NY Times online, now David Runciman has written a long review in the London Review of Books, and judging from the online version (I haven’t seen the hard copy yet) it seems to be the cover story. Here’s the quote:

“Brilliant  . . .a blistering account of the role that tax havens play in international finance.”

The review does a really good job looking at all the complexities of this stuff in broad overview. There’s one section where I’d perhaps disagree, though, and that is where he deals with Jersey. He says

“a nice, genteel place, with a strong sense of civic responsibility and plenty of opportunities for public participation, including elections to all manner of public offices (senators, deputies, parish constables), but weak political parties, staggered ‘general’ elections, and never a meaningful change of government.”

Nothing completely wrong about this. But I think it’s too kind to the Jersey establishment. Compare this to what I heard the other day on Skype from the controversial Jersey senator Stuart Syvret, currently on trial for what seems to be his opposition to certain things that have happened there. As Syvret put it to me:

The Jersey oligarchy, it is a gangster regime, more corrupt than parts of Italy. Even in Italy, big time mafia people do get prosecuted, some of the judiciary works. But here all the power of any description is utterly controlled by the same people: all the senior judges, the prosecutors, Jersey cops. The UK ought to step in and clear out the entire system. Lots of people would go to jail. It would be too catastrophically messy. A piecemeal approach isn’t going to help – my life and those of a lot of others have been destroyed – they are never going to get justice.

My honest sense is that whatever any of us in Jersey do – we are going to lose.

There would be howls of protest in Jersey at this characterisation, I’m sure – and Syvret is undoubtedly a controversial politician there. But don’t just believe him about the corruption of Jersey. Try this series of videos – Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. Interviews with Graham Power, Jersey’s former chief of police. Nasty stuff.

Not everyone loves Treasure Islands, of course. We have good old Anthony Travers once again firing off all his fire-belching piratical cannons at me again from the safety of the Cayman Islands, after having (once again) apparently not read the offending article all the way to the end. It’s a pleasure to hear from you again Tony!

And there’s good ol’ Bob Bauman of the Sovereign Society, keen to sign you up to the delights of that muckiest of tax havens, Panama, with another blistering attack.  I posted a short and exceedingly polite comment on the article, which he’s had the grace not to publish. He has, shall we say, an unfortunate history: once a stridently anti-gay Republican, he was caught soliciting sex from an underage gentleman. Then he turned to supporting tax havens. You can read all about his conflicted story, in his own words, here.

For more reviews on Treasure Islands, click here.

5 comments so far

benen mc donagh 5th May, 2011 11.29 pm

one of the best books l have read in 25 years. We all had a strong feeling we were being shafted this book tells us how. If the rich and Powerful are threatening you then you are doing something right. Brilliant illustration how the rich celebs and comPanies “charity” work is a hyPocritical lie
bono should take note that the very jurisdiction in which he is avoiding Paying his fair of tax in Ireland is the same one that transnationals and corruPt Politicians are hiding the money they are sioPhoning out of the third world countries he PurPorts to care about so much, where the street have no name and neither do the PeoPle… just numbered bank accounts!!!!

Pandu 11th November, 2012 10.30 am

I have just read Treasure Islands. Great info on the way rich people and corporates siphon off wealth.

But I have following questions:

You seem to suggest that the 2008 Financial Meltdown was due to the tax havens , they started it? How can this be true? It may be one of the causes/

Your ten point action plans are too naive to deal with the global financial crisis

Nick Shaxson 11th November, 2012 2.21 pm

i’m afraid you badly misquote me. p150 of Treasure Islands (Uk edition):

“This is not to say that all of these problems don’t have other explanations too; they always do. Tax havens are never the only story, because offshore exists only in relation to elsewhere. That is why it is called offshore. Without understanding offshore, we will never properly understand the history of the modern world. The time has come to make a start on filling this gap in our knowledge – to appre- ciate how offshore has bent the world’s economy into its present shape, transforming societies and political systems in its image.”

On the ten-point plan: well, some of these are already being implemented, so no, not naive. the alternatives are to say ‘there is no hope’ or ‘let’s tear down the entire global economy’ both of which i think are rather naive

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