Oliver Bullough
Oliver Bullough

In Moneyland, author Oliver Bullough provides bucket-loads of what he promises to deliver in the first part of the title – ‘Why thieves and crooks now rule the world…’

But if you are expecting to find out what he promises in the second part ‘…how to take it back’, you are going to be sorely disappointed if not vexed.

Throughout the book Bullough plays variations on the same riff over and over again: “The laws of Moneyland are whichever laws are most suited to those wealthy enough to afford them at any moment in time.” Or: “The rich live globally, the rest of us have borders.” Around this constant refrain he builds layer upon layer of how this happens, ranging from the extravagance of the former president of post-Soviet Ukraine Viktor Yannkovich to the way many post-colonial leaders have exploited the extractive policies of the former colonial powers to their own advantage.

Corruption oozes from the pages of this book as it explains how the portals of Moneyland suck in more and more filthy lucre as its guardians find ever more ingenious ways to defend its borderless inhabitants. Offshore havens and shell companies abound and facilitate the untouchable inner sanctums. Meanwhile Bullough reminds us that ‘estimates for the total amount stolen each year from the developing world range from $20 billion to an almost unimaginable £1 trillion. And this money makes its way, via offshore secrecy jurisdictions, into a handful of western cities – Miami, New York, Los Angeles, London, Monaco and Geneva.

For a brief period the Bretton Woods agreement held all this up by stopping uncontrolled capital flows and promoting economic growth. But a simple device conjured up by Scottish banker Ian Fraser proved its downfall. His Eurobond holed Bretton Woods below the waterline and heralded a new industry of ever more clever devices to circumvent national borders and legal restraints.

Even now, as the USA bullies other tax havens to come clean, so it becomes one of the biggest tax havens of all, along with the City of London.

The book piles it on relentlessly, but what keeps one going is the second half of the title – how to take it back, even though experience tells you that similar pledges from other books never fully deliver. And so with this book but more so.

“But if you are tempted therefore to say that this just too difficult, and that Moneyland is simply the inevitable result of globalisation, and one that we must accept, please consider what this means. Moneyland is a country that subverts traditional nation states: it is everywhere and nowhere, somewhere in the ‘cloud’, a new development – a legal construct that is divorced from anywhere on the map.” And his solution? “We cannot see it now, but the stronger it becomes, the more obvious it will be. And it will never be easier to confront than it is today.” Really? That’s it? I’m sorry, but after more than 270 pages that builds a tsunami of gut-wrenching black bile, of soul-destroying melancholia, is that all you’ve got? All that is left after reading this book is impotent RAGE!