Scott's Book Review

Moneyland by Oliver Bullough

Scott

We look around Lanark at Christmas 2018. Perhaps we assume that our local amenities and quality of life is a simple given, inevitable, all that can be expected. Notwithstanding the heroic efforts of The Lanark Community Development Trust, however, it’s a largely deteriorating picture. The disgrace of a rotting hotel at Lanark’s centre presents an acutely shameful, embarrassing symbol for the town.

It’s useful, once this acknowledgement is aired, to understand the ugly stagnation in our town as part of a larger picture across the UK.  Nobody should pretend that a full decade of brutal cuts in local government spending (in civil service language ‘austerity’) has not damaged our lives. South Lanarkshire Council has suffered an eye-watering £166 million worth of cuts to its budget in the last 10 years.

The reason all this was necessary in the first place dates to the financial crash of 2008, and Oliver Bullough (https://www.curtisbrown.co.uk/client/oliver-bullough) provides the explanations here in ‘Moneyland’. The monumental greed of clever thieves and charlatans in the finance industry is sucking wealth out of local economies including ours.

Bullough traces the ways in which, over the last three decades, a criminal class of politicians and ‘businessmen’ have been able to move their stolen fortunes around the world, by ‘offshoring’ and shell companies, and have seen those fortunes settle in the places that have the highest-paid lawyers and accountants. Some economists estimate the amount of money secreted in this way at £15 TRILLION. None of that money is available for national or local government spending in the countries where it was generated. Bullough describes the new world in which the get-rich-quick bankers and kleptocrats exist as ‘Moneyland’. It’s a shifting Brobdingnag of “Maltese passports, English libel, American privacy, Panamanian shell companies, Jersey trusts, Liechtenstein foundations”, all designed to keep knowledge of outrageous fortunes out of the sight of tax officials and ordinary tax-paying citizens.

The author gives us a virtual tour of the places where subterranean flows of cash are created (Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Angola, Afghanistan), where they are processed (Jersey, Nevis, Nevada) and where they are enjoyed (New York, Monaco, Geneva, London). He provides an excellent potted history of the ways in which the postwar Bretton Woods agreement designed to prevent globalised speculation was attacked and undermined by bankers peddling Eurodollars in the 1960s, and how we have reached the point today where “money flows across frontiers, but laws do not”. This is the background reality that explains all the excesses and inequalities of our contemporary world. That equation is maintained, Bullough argues, by what he calls “the Moneyland ratchet”, the myriad strategies by which the owners of corrupt fortunes, and the political and financial interests that serve them, work tirelessly to loosen regulations for moving money. How they constantly probe for loopholes and foment the ongoing struggle to destroy the kinds of international cooperation that challenge them.

Is there is a remedy for all this staggering corruption and greed? 
Transparency and accountability are words easier to type into this page than achieve in reality. Bullough has only the obvious answers on how to dismantle Moneyland. Regulation, the rule of law, international standards, supranational cooperation. Those actions would require a collective willingness to accept potential hardship in the glittering Capitals of the West – where offshoring remains a boom industry. Too many people in London are getting fabulously rich to clamp down on their financial service activity. So they remain discrete about where the money came from. These places are the playgrounds of the kleptocrats. You may have noticed that Lanark is not. In the absence of these actions, Bullough fears “the misery in distant countries will become our misery”.

Ding Dong Merrily on High. Enjoy your Christmas Cayman Islands style.

Moneyland was awarded SUNDAY TIMES BUSINESS BOOK OF THE YEAR and ECONOMIST Politics and Current Affairs book of the year 2018

Check if this meticulously researched expose of financial crime is in stock at your local library here by consulting the online catalogue at https://www.sllclibrary.co.uk/cgi-bin/spydus.exe/MSGTRN/OPAC/BSEARCH

https://www.sllclibrary.co.uk/cgi-bin/spydus.exe/MSGTRN/OPAC/BSEARCH

304 pages in Profile Books

First published 6 September 2018

ISBN 978-1781257920

Oliver Bullough

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