Book Review #6

Moneyland by Oliver Bullough

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A story from Dylan Pichulik, a New York real estate agent, speaking to Oliver Bullough, author of Moneyland: Why Thieves and Crooks Now Rule the World and How to Take It Back

 

“He told a story about one client – a wealthy Israeli woman – for whom he did everything while she remained holed up in her hotel room, up to and including buying her cigarettes, nine packs at a time. Her son had trouble with his visa, and so was unable to accompany her on the flight back to Ben Gurion airport. She paid for Pichulik to sit up in first class with her, which was a weird experience.

 

‘She wears a diaper, because she can’t be bothered to go to the bathroom,’ he told me with a grimace, as he remembered getting on to the plane. ‘It was all well and good until three hours later I look over and hear this ‘ding.’ The stewardess comes over: ‘I need you to change my diaper’ So they look at me, you like, like ‘ Let your son do it.’ I’m like, ‘That’s not my mother.’ They made the flight attendant do it. So, yeah, we go above and beyond.'”

 

Welcome to the world of the ultra-rich.

Oliver Bullough is a freelance journalist who has spent much of his career writing about Russia and Ukraine. In his latest book, he writes about how the world’s ultra-rich are able to use globalisation to hide money that has been acquired in various illegal and semi-legal ways. He calls ‘Moneyland’ the network of banks, lawyers and real estate agents who help these ultra-rich people hide, spend and enjoy their wealth without worrying about piddling concerns such as taxes that are clearly for ordinary folks.

 

I have written many times about the deliberate (and malicious?) distortion of modern capitalism in favour of a few obscenely wealthy individuals. However, unlike Jeremy Corbyn, a man who until quite recently appeared to think that Venezuela was a reasonable model for a modern economy, I am not against capitalism per se. Communism has been tried and found wanting many times that even countries still ruled by Communist parties – China is the most obvious example – have abandoned Leninist or Maoist economics in favour of some form of state capitalism. What I am against is the modern form of globalised hyper-capitalism that reserves 99% of the fruits of economic growth to the top 1% of earners. Capitalism is almost certainly the best way to organise an economy but it needs to be kept on a firm leash. The logic of capitalism is to reduce costs and maximise revenues and it will destroy any impediments to either. A society is not simply its economy, other things are important too. This, I believe, was the big mistake made by the Remain campaign in the 2016 Referendum – too many people were discussing economics when it was clear that for many Leave voters there was much more influencing their vote than mere money.

 

The story I began this post with is just the most egregious of many Bullough tells throughout his extremely interesting book. It is a tale of $1.2million watches, £140million flats and yachts in the hundreds of millions of dollars, pounds and euros. The key point Bullough hammers home time and again is that law enforcement agencies are limited by national borders but money is not. Highly intelligent lawyers and bankers have created ingenious ways for ultra-rich people to hide their money from tax authorities. Bullough explains how many Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany needed to get their money out of Europe. Unfortunately, this ‘scared’ money paved the way for ‘naughty’ money (that was being used for tax evasion) and ‘evil’ money (the proceeds of crime or money stolen by kleptocrats) to hide in the same way. The figures given throughout the book are staggering – trillions of dollars have been stolen and hidden in various euphemistically-named ‘tax havens’ since the 1960s.

 

Anyone over the age of about six years old who complains about the world being unfair really needs to get a grip. However, it is clear that for many the seriously rich taxes, borders and the rules that ordinary people have to follow are optional. And despite the subtitle of his book, Bullough offers few solutions and little prospect of any chance in the near future.

 

I thoroughly recommend this book although it comes with a health warning for those of you with high blood pressure. Reading this book was certainly not good for my rage!

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