I first learnt of Oliver Bullough when he was interviewed on ABC’s Breakfast News program (in Australia) to discuss his book, Moneyland. Frustratingly, the book wasn’t due out for months and after several pre-orders were mysteriously refunded, I wondered if the book actually existed, but finally two years later, I received a copy of Moneyland, ironically from ‘Santa’.
I’ve often daydreamed of a world without borders. One where I could live anywhere, free from the expense and red-tape of visa’s. A few months on an isolated island to write, a few years in New York to photograph, write and fill my brain with art.
This world, is already in existence; if you have money.
I recently finished reading Moneyland by Oliver Bullough which describes the corruption, greed, and the legal systems in place, to allow those with money, to do whatever they like.
Not paying taxes, arranging for someone who’s bothering you to be ‘removed’, stopping negative articles or books about you being published, choosing a new place of residence by ‘investing’ in a passport; these are viable options to the ultra rich. Don’t like the laws? Lobby the government to change them in your favour.
What began as a means for newly independent countries like St Kitts and Nevis to earn a steady income, soon grew into the third largest economy in the world; the art of hiding wealth to avoid paying taxes (or spousal support), which has became an industry on its own.
No one really know’s how much money is held offshore, but it’s estimated to be in the hundreds of billions, if not trillions. Every dollar held offshore, is a dollar taken from health, education, transport and infrastructure.
But it’s not just avoiding taxes, there’s bribery, plus the proceeds of siphoning, stealing and drug money, that all need hiding from authorities. One scam in China, involving government employees (trying to safeguard bribery wealth) were found to steal eggs from their wives (how this was managed wasn’t explained but the mind boggles), they would implant the fertilised eggs into a Japanese surrogate. Then when the baby was born, because it was born to a Japanese mother, it was entitled to Japanese citizenship. The Chinese father, would then open up bank accounts and trusts in the child’s name in Japan, essentially moving huge amounts of wealth off-shore, completely unknown to his Chinese mainland family.
Much of the content in Moneyland I had previously read snippets of in newspaper articles, like when the Panama Papers was released, or when the Ukrainian ex-President Yanukovich was found to have siphoned billions of dollars and spent it on crude, garish and expensive furnishings. I was aware of the passports for purchase program, but having everything, in a sequential order, with background information, helped to gain a greater understanding of why ‘things are never fixed’ or why people keep getting away with things. It’s because rich people don’t want the system to change, so will do everything in their power to ensure it doesn’t change, (unless it’s in their favour).
Some of the key points covered in Moneyland (not a definitive list) include:
- The origin of the off-shore banking system
- The ‘citizenship by investment’ program, the countries involved and benefits
- The ease at which multiple ‘shell’ corporations can be set up, in multiple legal jurisdictions making it virtually impossible for current laws of each country to track finance, company owners etc and how that began
- The real-estate game and how property’s are owned by multiple corporations around the world, purely as a means of hiding wealth, falsely inflating prices, to the benefit of those trying to hide excessive money in the first place
- Russia – So much money leaving Russia
- It covers corruption of the highest levels in many governments including China, Nigeria, Ukraine and Equatorial Guinea (plus many more)
- The army of lawyers, company creators, bankers, politicians etc that make money off helping rich people exploit the loopholes worldwide
- The legal ramifications the author faced in trying to bring some of these stories to light, with threats of long court battles, by ultra wealthy billionaires who could afford it, or worse
- Lastly it discusses the simple legal ways, the country of ‘moneyland’ can be dissolved with the cooperation of global communities
As you could imagine, it goes deep, way deep and the author is a freelance writer who has previously researched some of the above topics for articles (for the likes of GQ, NYT and Guardian) which piqued his interest. He travelled extensively (I believe at his own expense) to many of the places trying to secure face-to-face interviews with those mentioned to get first-hand accounts and wrote this book as it was a story that needed to be told and essentially put his life on the line to bring to light these important stories the world needs to know.
Whilst the book was published prior to the Epstein saga, much of it easily relates to him. It also gives insights into the corruption going on in the world and how current laws aren’t sufficient to put an end to it. Westernised democratic countries aren’t seperate from these loopholes either.
I kept wondering why things aren’t fixed when we have the knowledge and resources to do so. Things like inequality, housing affordability, global warming, the lack of corporate responsibility, and everything wrong with this world.
What happened to the 99% Protests?
Reading the book Moneyland, gave me a greater understanding of the bigger picture of why things aren’t fixed. Simply, because those with means, ensure it is allowed to continue. If one loophole is closed, they shift elsewhere, or pay enough officials, invest enough money, or lobby enough politicians to get the laws changed so they suit them, and then put in place as legislation (so then technically they’re not really breaking the law which is part of the whole problem).
It’s a cracking read, I highly recommend it. The only warnings you should know going in is, expect to come out disillusioned with democracy, governments and the current system in place in western society.
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Listen to an interview with Moneyland Author, Oliver Bullough on NPR. You can also view the full transcript, here.
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