There are basically three forms of dirty money. One is criminal money: from drug dealing, say, or slave trading or terrorism. The next is corrupt money, like the fromer Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha’s looted oil billions. The third form, commercial money – what our finest companies and richest individuals hide from our tax collectors – is bigger. The point – and this is crucial – is that these three forms of dirty money use exactly the same mechanisms and subterfuges: tax havens, shell banks, shielded trusts, anonymous foundations, dummy corporations, mispricing schemes, and the like, all administered by a “pinstripe infrastructure” of mainstream banks, lawyers, and accountants. (p. 225)
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In this parallel secret universe the world’s biggest and richest individuals and firms, News Corporation, Citigroup, and, yes, ExxonMobil – can quite legally cut themselves loose from pesky full taxation and grow explosively, leaving smaller competitors, who pay their full dues along with the rest of us, choking in their dust. This undermines the very notion of capitalism: the big companies’ advantage has nothing to do with the quality or price of what they produce. If you are worried about the power of big global corporations, don’t always attack them directly, but attack bank secrecy instead. This is the clever way to take on the big fish, using a net that would also snag the Sani Abachas, the Mobutus, the North Koreas, the terrorists, and the drug lords.
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Africa’s Gulf of Guinea will produce 20 or so billion barrels of oil in the next decade, worth perhaps a trillion dollars . . . If half of global trade finance flows through offshore structures, and soon a quarter of America’s oil imports will be coming from Africa . . . we have a systemic and fast-growing problem on our hands.
The dirty world of tax havens is no grand conspiracy, but a decentralized global terrain tucked away in the interstices between states. It is a problem of fragmented global political and economic architecture. National politicians cannot solve this one: only a coordinated international response will do.
(Poisoned Wells: The Dirty Politics of African Oil, by Nicholas Shaxson, p.225&227, ISBN 978-1403971944)
So far there isn’t much sign anyone wants to do anything about this. In fact for the last several decades we have been moving globally in the opposite direction. But all countries would be well advised to consider the problem of money flow, at least if they want to maintain any sovereignty at all, even the large countries. Of course the people running most countries benefit from the globalized money flow.
And now corporations can behave even more like states, with their own foreign and military policies, hiring the the growing ranks of corporate spies and militaries. “These companies rival and possibly surpass the capabilities of intelligence services of most nations. . . . Such capacity for covert operations has never before been in private hands–and for rent.” This does not bode well for anyone anywhere in the world.
Capitalism without democracy is gangsterism. When capital is global, democracy needs to be global too, or it is threatened everywhere. Democracy can take many forms, and can adapt to cultures and history. But more people need to have their say in how their resources are monitored and distributed.