A revealing-and chilling-exposé on the hidden side of global wealth and power
A revealing-and chilling-exposé on the hidden side of global wealth and power Offshore is an unprecedented exploration of perhaps the most mysterious aspect of global society today-and one of the most provocative books about money and business to appear in the decade since the age of globalization began.
The world of offshore finance is one of dummy companies, shadow bank accounts, post office boxes, foreign registries, and the like, which allow giant corporations--such as Wal-Mart, British Petroleum, and Citigroup--to keep huge profits out of sight of investors, regulators, and the public.
Whether in the Cayman Islands or the shadowy redoubts of the Islamic financial center of Labuan, Malaysia, "offshore" is where the game of profit and loss is played. A third of the world's wealth is held offshore. Eighty percent of international banking transactions take place there. Half the capital in the world's stock exchanges is "parked" offshore at some point.
Trained as a reporter and a private investigator, William Brittain-Catlin brings both skills to this gripping book. He tells the story of how tax havens have become central to global finance today; in so doing, he takes us into the secret networks of Enron and Parmalat, behind international trade disputes, and into organized crime and terror networks, giving disquieting evidence that, through offshore practices, the key value of capitalism and civilization alike-freedom-is being put in grave danger.
In this ambitious meditation on the soul of capitalism, "offshore" means places like the Cayman Islands, where shadowy holding companies process vast sums of money on behalf of corporate behemoths eager to evade taxes and government scrutiny. But it's also an almost metaphysical realm where finance capital seeks to detach itself entirely from economic and social realities in the "onshore" world, but finds itself inevitably undone by that very impulse, la Enron. Brittain-Catlin, a BBC producer and corporate investigator, blends muckraking expos with dense philosophical rumination in a way that suggests what Hannah Arendt might have accomplished as a business reporter. He delves into the details of epic malfeasances, such as the byzantine scams Enron concocted with its 692 Cayman Island subsidiaries and partnerships, and interprets these frauds in light of Kant's views on the necessity of individual moral autonomy and Walter Benjamin's dissection of the role of secrecy in the bourgeois psyche. Unfortunately, his explanations often fall just short of really clarifying the murky financial shenanigans he investigates, crowded as they are by his grand but ill-digested musings on capitalism, the state and human nature. His promising critique of the global economy would have been more effective had he simply followed the money.