Apr 24 2012

Me vs. Anthony Travers on the Today programme: economic warfare

Posted by: Nick Shaxson in: Thoughts

I had a bit of a ding dong this morning with Anthony Travers, chairman of the Cayman Stock Exchange, who has been (in my view) probably my noisiest critic. I took Travers to task in Treasure Islands, and he responded by suggesting I was an ‘imbecile’, among other things. This morning the BBC’s flagship Today Programme carried a short debate between the two of us. You can listen to our verbal warfare here.

Travers suggests that tax havens are ‘blameless’ and that all the things that go wrong via offshore are entirely the fault of onshore laws and regulations. And I . . . well, I beg to differ. I quoted him at some length in Treasure Islands making a similar point, and you can turn to p210-211 of the UK edition to see my shoot-down.

Actually, it was a much longer interview than that carried by the BBC this morning, and in our wider discussion Travers did make a decent point or two, which the BBC didn’t use. The reason, I believe, is that he was so uncivil in his presentation of his opinions that common decency may have required them to cut those sections. It probably didn’t help that his points on that subject were so narrowly focused on the Cayman Islands, and this was a chat about tax havens more generally. Still, it’s an interesting debate.

The bits that were kept in the interview are still fairly spicy.

3 comments so far

ivan 4th April, 2012 4.16 pm

Scary but thought provoking graphics. Note the single digit or negative tax rates being employed by these institutions.

readerOfTeaLeaves 4th April, 2012 7.26 pm

Interesting conversation. Elsewhere on the Internet, I ran into a blogpost that summarizes a lecture given recently in a Stanford Univ Computer Science class (taught by a co-founder of PayPal).

The student’s blogpost nicely articulates how, at the heart of conventional narratives of ‘capitalism’, the notion of ‘competition’ has become romanticized into a cartoonish buffoon. However, pure, raw competition is often suboptimal, a point Travers and his fellows seem to miss entirely.

A snippet from the blogpost:

The usual narrative is that capitalism and perfect competition are synonyms…
The intensity of competition becomes a proxy for value. But value is a different question entirely. And to the extent it’s not there, you’re competing just for the sake of competition. Henry Kissinger’s anti-academic line aptly describes the conflation of difficulty and value: in academia at least, the battles are so fierce because the stakes are so small.

That seems true, but it also seems odd. If the stakes are so small, why don’t people stop fighting so hard and do something else instead? We can only speculate. Maybe those people just don’t know how to tell what’s valuable. Maybe all they can understand is the difficulty proxy. Maybe they’ve bought into the romanticization of competition.
We have a pervasive ideology that intense, perfect competition makes the best world. But in many ways that’s deeply problematic.

Travers seems to have fallen prey to what might be termed ‘the difficulty proxy’, which is one offshoot of romanticizing competition above other criteria.


terry jordon 3th March, 2015 10.28 pm

Hey Nick, something id like to point out.. (also to mr travers but you’d know how to reach him better than me)..

Prolly best if i do it private.. email me? (or text) cheers 614 615 0743

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