The Offshore World

In amongst a typically judicious review of Treasure Islands and Winner-Take-All Politics, David Runciman draws a suggestive comparison between the contemporary politics of financial ‘mobility’ and the legacy of colonialism.

Shaxson’s book explains how and why London became the centre of what he calls a ‘spider’s web’ of offshore activities (and in the process such a comfortable home for the likes of Saif Gaddafi). It is because offshore is the offshoot of an empire in decline. It perfectly suited a country with the appearance of grandeur and traditionally high standards, but underneath it all a reek of desperation and the pressing need for more cash.

As Shaxson shows, many of the world’s most successful tax havens are former or current British imperial outposts…What such places offer are limited or non-existent tax regimes, extremely lax regulation, weak local politics, but plenty of the trappings of respectability and democratic accountability. Depositors are happiest putting their money in locations that have the feel of a major jurisdiction like Britain without actually being subject to British rules and regulations (or British tax rates)…

…The other thing most of these places have in common is that they are islands. Islands make good tax havens, and not simply because they can cut themselves off from the demands of mainland politics. It is also because they are often tight-knit communities, in which everyone knows what’s going on but no one wants to speak out for fear of ostracism. These ‘goldfish bowls’, as Shaxson calls them, suit the offshore mindset, because they are seemingly transparent: you can see all the way through – it’s just that when you look there’s nothing there.

In some senses this confirms an established story. Imperialism 101. For others, it will unsettle the idea of globalisation and inter-dependence as essentially the negation of great power politics.

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Ethics of Austerity 3: Cynicism, Sincerity and Fear

“You ain’t never been no virgin, kid, you were fucked from the start.”

-Titus Andronicus, “A Pot in Which to Piss

Police Vodafone protesters oxford street

Police protect Vodafone store from the threat of public exposure of truth.

And you have to wonder what it will take for serious people to realize that punishing the populace for the bankers’ sins is worse than a crime; it’s a mistake.

Paul Krugman

Of obedience, faith, adhesiveness;

As I stand aloof and look there is to me something profoundly

affecting in large masses of men following the lead of those who

do not believe in men.

-Walt Whitman, “Thought”

Hypothesis

The winter air has turned cold enough, has pressed in with its full weight, so that there is no more space for lies. The truth of crisis is that the powerful and the wealthy do not take responsibility, they assign it; they do not suffer their follies or their sins, they pay their penance in the currency of our lives.

We’ve spent the last few years living with the anxiety of impending doom, spurred on by hustlers of panic, addled prophets of economic Reformation, and Janus-faced managers of public interest.

Yet, despite the prolonged disaster-foreplay, the consummation of this crisis was always going to be “us against them” and never “we’re all in it together.” Continue reading