Treasure Islands

  • by Nicholas Shaxson
  • Narrated by Tim Bentinck
  • 12 hrs and 51 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Most people regard tax havens as being relevant only to celebrities, crooks and spivs, and mistakenly believe that the main offshore problems are money laundering and terrorist financing. These are only small parts of the whole picture. The offshore system has been (discreetly) responsible for the greatest-ever shift of wealth from poor to rich. It also undermines our democracies by offering the wealthiest members of society escape routes from tax, financial regulation, and other normal democratic controls.
Treasure Islands brilliantly articulates the problem in a completely new way, and exposes the deep corruption that impacts on our daily lives. This is the ugliest chapter in global economic affairs since slavery - and secretive offshore tax havens are at the heart of the trouble.

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What the Critics Say

"Shaxson combines meticulous research with amusing anecdotes, resulting in a very readable account of the murky world of offshore and a strong moral message that the system needs to be changed." (Financial Times)
"Perhaps the most important book published in the UK so far this year." (George Mombiot, The Guardian)
"At last, a readable - indeed gripping - book which explains the nuts and bolts of tax havens. More importantly, it lays bare the mechanism that financial capital has been using to stay in charge: capturing government policy-making around the world, shaking off such irritants as democracy and the rule of law, and making sure that suckers like you and me pay for its operators' opulent lifestyles." (Misha Glenny, author of McMafia)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Amazing book on tax havens

I learned more things in this book than I typically do in 10 books combined.

Shaxson provides an eye-opening account into the seedy, underground world of offshore finance. Most of the stuff Shaxson discusses is not well known in public and is rarely commented on in mainstream media or newspapers.

For example, were you aware that the two biggest offshore zones are in fact the United Kingdom and the United States? In fact, the state of Delaware is actually the biggest "offshore" location in the United States. It has more incorporated organizations than anywhere else, and some of the laxest regulation. Just take a quick scan of some of the biggest companies in America and you'll find a majority are incorporated in Delaware (Bank of America for instance, or Sallie Mae, Amazon, Pfizer, etc.) It's too many giant companies to be merely coincidental.

The overall picture he paints is both fascinating and frightening, but it seems very possible that something could be done about tax evasion and the looting of poor countries by the rich countries if the main financial centers that aid the businesses in their looting decided to crack down in unison. But for them to ever do that, more people are going to have to understand how the whole system works. It's complicated, but very interesting and Shaxson does a great job explaining every facet of it.

As for this audio recording, I'd recommend getting it and listening to it. But be warned that the guy who does the reading does the most bizarre job I've ever listened to here at Audible. There are multiple times during the course of this book where he reads the same sentence over again. Often he'll stop, and start again with noticeable random pauses mid-sentence. A couple times he stopped reading and I could hear talking in the background. None of this is edited out -- it's like they let him read it all, first time through, and didn't do anything over and didn't bother to edit out the mistakes. Just bizarre, but he still successfully passes along the information of the book in a somewhat entertaining manner (this guy makes up about a thousand voices for the many different people Shaxson quotes from to tell his story).

Pick up this book. I liked it so much I also bought a hard copy to re-read it.
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- Toombs

Nice story, but pure Utopianism

The book starts with a useful framework to define tax havens (secrecy jurisdictions) followed by a very interesting history of their development. However, all along the read, there are little signs that we're being taken for a ride.

The first off-note comes from Shaxson's attributions that nearly all of the world's woes lay at the doors of the tax havens. He goes so far as to say that they played a leading role in the financial crisis by hiding the leveraging. hmmmm, I've read about a dozen books on the financial crisis (the best being "All The Devils Are Here") and that angle is not supported by anyone except Shaxon. The leveraging was well known and visible.

Throughout the book, he uses straw-man arguments to support his assertions. He references some of the most extreme libertarians to argue on behalf of tax havens and then eviscerates their points. So what? Anybody can do that - they're kooks. The tactic was overused enough that it became a clear form of deception.

Gradually, the book moves from interesting argument to utopianism. He paints a picture of the world before tax havens as idealistic. He embraces the US Senator Carl Levin's assertions that the tax havens are costing billions to the US Treasury and other governments without a challenge. The US Congressional Budget Office has shown Levin's arguments to be false and this is out there for Shaxson to see.

On the positive side, Shaxson does a great job of exposing the hypocrisy of US and UK efforts to reign in tax havens, while maintaining their own leading positions as tax havens. There is a humorous moment involving 1209 North Orange Street in Wilmington, Delaware. But even then, he pulled punches ... a disappointment.

He touched on one of the legitimate reasons that tax havens exist: Some governments resort to confiscatory tax schemes. He had no defense for these governments' actions (good for him), but he argues that tax havens are to blame for this too - a logical contortion indeed. By his argument, havens hide these problems from the electorate's scrutiny and deny the people the opportunity to demand changes to the laws. Naive... More than that, it's a dangerous naivety.

It's more likely that tax havens are a more effective response to such laws... and that's a pity, but a lot better than no response at all. It is more likely that without tax havens, there would be a confiscatory tax specially designed for each weak and voiceless demographic. And this is just as true for developed democracies as it is for dictatorships.

Did you know that the US capital gains tax rates on the foreign pensions of Americans living overseas (0.5% of the US population) has exceeded 100% for the last ten years and will climb above 200% in 2013? More importantly - do you care? Do you think those laws will change?

The book comes down to utopianism dressed up as journalism.
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- Mark A. Fitzpatrick

Book Details

  • Release Date: 06-29-2011
  • Publisher: Audible Studios