Review: Treasure Islands: Tax Havens and the Men who Stole the World (Audiobook)

An absolutely riveting book . . . . a gobsmacking indictment of a global conspiracy that makes City bonuses seem like small change.
– The Herald


Treasure Islands has prised the lid off an important and terrifying can of worms
– Literary Review


A chronicle of capitalism’s frailty and foulness that digs far beyond its tax haven title and indicts the system that renders such crookedness not merely possible, but entirely predictable. It’s not the banks or the hedge funds or the tame solicitors. It’s the politicians as well, our politicians. It’s not just the Cayman Islanders or the Swiss or the Panamanians. It’s London and Washington, the OECD and the World Bank. It’s the whole damned thing.– The Guardian


Massive amounts of money are involved.  The rich move their money to places where there is less tax, less regulation and greater secrecy.  This destabilises the entire financial system.  Off-shore tax havens (Switzerland, the Channel Islands, the Cayman Islands, Hong Kong, London, the USA and many other places) keep assets out of view of the traditional banking sector, but less oversight means more risk.  Unregulated markets mean no reserve requirements for banks – this means cheaper loans in good times but complete disaster in bad times.

The tax havens compete between themselves to attract money – this makes the situation worse, as this means they remove even more regulation and impose even greater secrecy.  This is a vicious, perpetual circle of increasingly risky business.  The financial industry has so much power and influence in some havens that it can pretty much dictate what proposals should be signed into law   – most prominently Jersey and the US state of Delaware.  Other countries (and not just other tax havens) are forced to react.

The book does a good job of highlighting what is going on and provides a healthy dose of history to explain how we got here.  This is a situation where the financial establishment has become incredibly powerful over the last 50 years, and it has done this by purposely keeping out of the general public’s main gaze. Until 2007 that is – the start of the current financial crisis.  CDOs – WTF?

And it sounds like when people do protest – globalization, Occupy Wall Street, bankers’ bonuses – they are targeting the wrong institutions; choosing the wrong targets.

Much of the material here left me shocked – many times I had to rewind what I had just heard (this is a review of the audiobook remember) to make sure I heard correctly.  The same thoughts came up often – why don’t we know more about this?  Why has this been allowed to happen?  As an example, take the City of London Corporation – I learned a lot about it despite the fact that I have worked nearby for over a decade, and I often drive right through it.  I see the coat-of-arms plaques on the walls, but had not given it much more thought.   We’re not exactly short of coats-of-arms in this country…

We in the UK are not in a position to criticise others – London has a lot to answer for.  The Bank of England in particular.

One point to be made in relation to the audiobook version is that the reader tries to mimic a person’s accent when they are quoted.  I found it off-putting at first, but got used to it.  It would not surprise me if some listeners took greater umbrage.

The bottom line is this:  Everyone should read this book, because there will be something in there that will be new to you.  Then you can ask… Why? and see if you like the answers.


One comment

  1. Pingback: Mini review: “The Establishment: And how they get away with it” by Owen Jones (audiobook version) | Spare Cycles

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