Aug 12 2011

Telegraph: Chelsea feral rich as bad as the UK looters

Posted by: Nick Shaxson in: Thoughts

Following my intentional slip-up on David Cameron’s words yesterday, I am now delighted to see this in the Daily Telegraph, of all newspapers. An absolutely superb article by its chief political commentator Peter Oborne. Hats off to the man.

“The criminality in our streets cannot be dissociated from the moral disintegration in the highest ranks of modern British society. The last two decades have seen a terrifying decline in standards among the British governing elite.

It is not just the feral youth of Tottenham who have forgotten they have duties as well as rights. So have the feral rich of Chelsea and Kensington.”

Well, well, never a truer word was said. Just as I said yesterday. And it gets better:

“I’d guess that few of them bother to pay British tax if they can avoid it, and that fewer still feel the sense of obligation to society that only a few decades ago came naturally to the wealthy and better off.

Yet we celebrate people who live empty lives like this. A few weeks ago, I noticed an item in a newspaper saying that the business tycoon Sir Richard Branson was thinking of moving his headquarters to Switzerland. This move was represented as a potential blow to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, because it meant less tax revenue.

I couldn’t help thinking that in a sane and decent world such a move would be a blow to Sir Richard, not the Chancellor. People would note that a prominent and wealthy businessman was avoiding British tax and think less of him. Instead, he has a knighthood and is widely feted.”

This is exactly, exactly, the same point I made in Treasure Islands – and about exactly the same man.

It’s all the more significant this, coming from the chosen newspaper of, among many others, Britain’s feral elite.

16 comments so far

Alien Edouard 8th August, 2011 12.14 pm

Let’s do a little bit of creative editing:

“A few weeks ago, I noticed an item in a newspaper saying that the [business tycoon Sir Richard Branson] WORLD CLASS INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST NICK SHAXSON [was thinking of moving] HAD MOVE his [headquarters] RESIDENCE to Switzerland. This move was [represented] ACKNOLEDGED ON MR. SHAXSON’S BLOG as a [potential] REAL blow to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, because it meant less tax revenue.”


Nick Shaxson 8th August, 2011 9.23 am

Hello Alien Edouard, lovely to have you back. Yes, only the difference is that he moved for tax reasons, whereas I moved because my partner (a journalist) got offered a job here, and I thought it would be a good place to be to write a book about tax havens. As indeed it has been.

When you haven’t got good arguments of your own, always best to target the messenger instead.

Jimmy Robinson 8th August, 2011 4.49 pm


It a fair point and maybe Sir Richard Branson would like to make a reply.
It must be said that there are two sides to every story.
I am a person who does not like to get personal and when ‘Sir Richard Branson’ name is mentioned I think of all those who went before him and those following in his wake.
Perhaps they would like their views known.


Jimmy Robinson

Mike Caddy 8th August, 2011 12.25 pm

I would love to see Richard Branson widely pilloried for his attitude to the British Tax system.

It is the taxes paid by the rest of us that pay for the subsidies to his train company, for a start.

How can we make sure he is seen less as a maverick entrepreneur who has deserved his success and more as a parasite whose companies benefit from an unfair competitive advantage because of their tax avoidance measures?

AlienEdouard 8th August, 2011 12.55 pm


Been on holiday?

So maybe we should ask you partner for her motivation. I believe she is a journalist too.

I hope you realize that writing “I moved [from London] to Zurich to be a journalist” sounds a lot like “I moved to Dubai to study polar bears”.

Nick Shaxson 8th August, 2011 7.14 am

You had previously been engaging in reasoned argument (though with reasons I disagree with.) Why now resort to such feebleness? Yes of course, there’s nothing for journalists to do in Switzerland, of course: no UBS, no Swiss Franc, no BIS, no United Nations in Geneva, and so on. Oh sorry, I may have got that mixed up.

The fact that Switzerland is a major tax haven was, admittedly, a lure for me (though I wasn’t the primary reason for the move.) Switzerland was a lure for one reason only: because I was just starting to write a book about tax havens, and it seemed a great place to be as I did my research. And so it has proved.

You know, I’d describe anyone who moves to a country for tax reasons as pathetic. How sad do you have to be to uproot your life and your family just for that?

Alien Edouard 8th August, 2011 5.37 pm

My problem with your living in Switzerland is not so much your motivations for moving there, whatever those were (and as you said, it would be very sad if it was for tax). Nobody can blame you for making it possible for your family to enjoy Europe’s highest quality of life, first-rate infrastructure, US-standard healthcare, zero crime, a rich cultural life, the company of a diverse and highly educated population, etc.

My problem is more with your inability to understand the policies that have contributed to create this exceptional environment: small government, moderate personal taxes, low corporate taxes, flexible labor market, support to innovators, openness to foreign markets, investors and immigrants, etc. In short, Switzerland is a model of balanced liberal economy with especially good government. If you stopped two minutes to reflect on this you would stopped the constant moaning, either here or over at TJN, about the need to tax the rich and corporations. The opposite is making Switzerland such an exceptionally successful economy.

I also have a problem with your repeated assertion that financial services have a negative influence over their respective host countries (eg. the City for the UK). You live and breath in a place that conclusively disproves this.

Is that enough reasoned argument for you? Pls discuss.

Nick Shaxson 8th August, 2011 12.05 pm

I won’t engage with the first two paragraphs as it becomes tedious after a while to rehash the same old stuff. The third paragraph – that’s more like it. Reasoned argument. I wrote a lot in Treasure Islands about how finance had wreaked great harm on the UK. There is no doubt that it has. Even before the crisis, the ordinary people of the UK were on balance harmed by it. (then crisis came) Now Switzerland is slightly different – much more finance related to the size of the economy. It’s a bit like in my book poisoned wells, when I wrote a lot about the so-called Resource Curse. OIl appears to have actively harmed Nigeria. However, with Equatorial Guinea – population less than 1/100th the size but oil a quarter the size, when the calculation changes a bit. My argument is about the UK – and it is basically unarguable.

Nick Shaxson 8th August, 2011 12.47 pm

and also, they have been having riots in switzerland too

just take a look at this

Alien Edouard 8th August, 2011 8.52 pm

At least you have kept your sense of humor!

I know that your argument in Treasure Islands is very focused on the UK (which I must say makes the book of rather marginal interest for most readers), but your entries on this blog go well beyond Britain: you have commented on the US (many times), Switzerland, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Singapore, Ireland, etc. And there has been a consistent critical tone towards financial services. It is that level of generalization that I find problematic.

Nick Shaxson 8th August, 2011 8.33 am

Well, the UK is on many measures the world’s biggest financial centre, so I’m not sure if it’s that marginal. I do generalise about financial services – all of these countries suffer from the captured state syndrome, the fall-out from crisis, and so on. As nearly every sane person recognises these days – there’s a huge generic problem with financial services. The jurisdictional thing is a part of it.

Alien Edouard 8th August, 2011 12.34 pm

I cannot see my original comment.

Alien Edouard 8th August, 2011 12.46 pm

“all of these countries suffer from the captured state syndrome, the fall-out from crisis, and so on”

erh… Switzerland and Luxembourg did not have a recession.

Singapore had a shallow dip, and is now growing at 15% pa.

So much for the fallout.

Bill Artigas 8th August, 2011 5.04 am

I have a feeling Mr. Edoard may be a foreigner taking advantage of Switzerland’s welcoming nature with “moneyed” immigrants.
I studied in Switzerland in the early 90’s and got a taste of the xenophobia of the natives versus the immigrants, and of the displays of the filthy rich from the Gulf States and Latin America.
Not the paradise people imagine it to be.
It is a screwed up country too. It just hides it well.
Keep up the good work Mr. Shaxson

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