Oliver Bullough starts off this non-fiction journey into offshore tax enclaves by walking the reader through the opulent mansion that the former Ukrainian president built with his stolen money and it is a damning introduction to the harm wrought by offshore money. Bullough’s thesis is that offshore money harms everyone- not just developing nations where corruption seems most apparent, but also developed countries who miss out on significant tax revenue and suffer increasing inequality when such corruption is allowed to flourish. He traces the global history of chiseling away at tax protections and money-laundering protections- bankers in London and New York looking to increase their profits and lobbying politicians to make their cities/ countries ‘open for business’. He also gives his story international color by taking us to locations around the world: the Caribbean tax havens that make tracing corporation ownership nearly impossible; Harley Street in London, formerly home to gentleman doctors but which now creates shell corporations in bulk; the deserts of Nevada where minimal regulation on trusts has allowed offshore money to flow back onshore with no tax liability.
I initially had a hard time getting into this. Although engagingly written, the dryness of the subject material still made it a tough read at times- a history of tax regulation is hard to sell as a pleasure read, even when interspersed with lurid specifics of riches gained through corruption. Although I appreciate being aware of the issues, and I agree with Bullough’s thesis that ‘moneyland’ negatively impacts everyone (except the tycoons who have passports there), I left this book pretty depressed. Bullough ends with his proposal for ending offshore tax, but he isn’t exactly optimistic- new regulations and enforcement measuers would need to be introduced by western governments and while these jurisdictions are happy to pay lip service to anti-corruption and bribery measures, when it impacts the profits made by their financial institutions they don’t seem to have the appetite to make real changes. I haven’t read Dark Money, but I’ve heard it leaves the same unpleasant taste.