Brian Holmes on Wed, 6 Apr 2016 00:40:44 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> Ten Theses on the Panama Papers

Nicholas Shaxson has written the so-far definitive book on tax havens, entitled Treasure Islands (2012) - a fantastic book, I am amazed no one seems to be talking about it right now. His central thesis is that with the waning of Empire, British elites sought a way to retain their disporoprtionate power - and found it by setting up a complex offshore financial circuit based in numerous remaining overseas possessions, such as the British Virgin Islands. Shaxson traces this network back to its center, the City of London, which has enjoyed extraterritorial privileges since the Middle Ages. Most importantly, he shows that through its continuous economic competition with the UK, the United States has become one vast "treasure island" - effectively obviating much of the need for US citizens to park their money overseas (although they still do, and the treasure islands are still crucial to many tax-avoidance operations).

I respectfully disagree with Patrice and Florian about these leaks. What is being "revealed" here are the basic functions of neoliberal capitalism, and therefore, the modus operandi of what sociologist Leslie Sklair calls "the transnational capitalist class" (the TCC). Since they rule, it is clear that their power will not be dissolved in a day. Indeed, as is said everywhere in the media, "offshore accounts are legal" - because the ruling class effectively writes the law. However, since 2008 those laws are slowly being rewritten and the only reason why is more understanding of the tremendous harm being done by the TCC. The answer to this is not the de-institutionalization that Florian calls for (bypassing the press), but rather, a multiplication of institutional efforts spurred on and kept honest by global grassroots networked civil society. The day when it's possible to say "the TCC" and everyone knows what you're talking about, is the day when things will really start to change. But for large numbers of people to really "know what you're talking about" (and not just spout dangerous populist nonsense like a current US presidential candidate) it's going to take a huge educational effort from all directions. In my view, if more institutions don't take part in that, it's unlikely to happen with the scope and depth required. Anarchy is complementary to, not the opposite of, institutionality.

Here's to the Panama Papers, at last,


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