British journalist Oliver Bullough explains how the rich hide their money - from regulators and tax authorities - and why we should care.
Moneyland is the story of how the world’s super rich – whether they derived their wealth by fair means or foul – secretly stash away their money, hiding it from tax authorities and regulators. British journalist Oliver Bullough begins the story with the Bretton Woods Agreement, established in 1944. The whole idea of this agreement was to limit destabilising, speculative money from travelling across borders. The rich and big business would have to keep their loot in the one place. This system lasted for a while, but would soon be subverted by the cleverness of financiers and their even smarter lawyers. With the ingenious use of shell companies, trusts, secret bank accounts, bearer instruments and a whole host of other tricks that bent but not entirely broke the law, the ridiculously wealthy could avoid tax. Not only that, they could remain anonymous, especially handy if you’re a dictator looting your own country.
Money at this scale is powerful enough to make the rules. The complexity of the paper trails hiding so much money, created by an army of extremely well resourced lawyers, means bringing cheats and scammers to book has become increasingly difficult. More worryingly, the pile of this secret money buried in complex trust funds and Byzantine shell company arrangements is now in the trillions. The wealthy – a lot of them corrupt, or dodgy at the very least – are only getting stronger, able to buy their own immunity.
There’s no denying Moneyland can make for disheartening reading. The pointless greed and waste is staggering. We read of corrupt politicians and their specially designed toilets featuring a television set at eye level, so one can defecate and watch a favourite show; or the rich woman who wears a nappy on her plane trips because she can’t be bothered going to the toilet. Nevertheless, Oliver Bullough has done us a service by explaining in a lively and easy to follow manner how this complex global trade is effected, and the deleterious impact it has on democracy and equality. While so much financial sleaze and chicanery is hard to swallow, as citizens it’s better to be informed than in the dark. A lack of public outrage – due to the arcane manner of these transactions – only allows this murky underworld to keep on flourishing.
Moneyland: Why Thieves & Crooks Now Rule the World & How To Take it Back, by Oliver Bullough. Profile Books. $22.99
Review by Chris Saliba
North Melbourne Books