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Treasure Islands: Uncovering the Damage of Offshore Banking and Tax Havens Hardcover – April 12, 2011

4.1 out of 5 stars 82 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“This book is a vigorous and well researched polemic against financial deregulation…” ―Richard Cooper, Foreign Affairs

“Shaxson's story of offshore banking is nothing short of Shakespearean, a drama full of secrecy, treachery and corruption in which wealthy countries, companies and individuals collude to horde wealth in a complex global network of largely unregulated tax havens. To realize this end, they install corrupt leaders, exploit indigenous populations and, ultimately, deny both developed and developing nations of vital tax dollars. There is much here that should generate outrage…An admirable job of both arguing the consequences of offshore banking and providing a succinct history of the practice.” ―Kirkus

“A blistering account of the role that tax havens play in international finance. . . brilliant.” ―London Review of Books

“Perhaps the most important book published in the UK so far this year.” ―George Monbiot, The Guardian

“Shaxson provides a fascinating narrative that is both analytically compelling and rich in institutional detail.” ―New York Times Economix blog

“A useful critique.” ―Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution

“Treasure Islands, Nicholas Shaxson's excellent book on the global offshore tax system.” ―FT Alphaville

“Treasure Islands has prised the lid off an important and terrifying can of worms.” ―Literary Review

“Shaxson shows us that the global financial machine is broken and that very few of us have noticed.” ―New Statesman

“In this riveting, well-written expose, Shaxson goes deep into the largely unexamined realm of offshore money. In the process, he reveals that this shadow world is no mere sideshow, but is troublingly central to modern finance, with the US and the UK as leaders. The resulting abuses are widespread, ranging from tax revenue stripping from African nations to individuals and corporations escaping enforcement and accountability. A must read for anyone who wants to understand the hidden reasons why financial services firms have become so powerful and impossible to reform.” ―Yves Smith, creator of Naked Capitalism and author of Econned

Treasure Islands shines the light on some very dark places. It reads like a thriller. The shocking thing is its all true.” ―Richard Murphy, co-author of Tax Havens: How Globalization Really Works

“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: A Journey through the Global Criminal Underworld

“Trade and investments can play a profoundly productive role on the world economy. But so much of the capital flows that we see are associated with money laundering, tax evasion, and the wholesale larsony (sic) of assets often of very poor countries. These thefts are greatly facilitated by special tax and accounting rules or designed to "attract capital" and embodying obscure and opaque mechanisms. Shaxson does an outstanding and socially valuable job in penetrating the impenetrable and finds a deeply shocking world.” ―Nicholas Stern, former Chief Economist for The World Bank

“The real challenge to America's economy comes not from China – but from the Caymans, the Bahamas, and a whole hot-money archipelago loosely under the control of the City of London. If only as a civics lesson, read this astonishing book to find out the true political constitution of the world.” ―Thomas Geoghegan, author of Were You Born on the Wrong Continent?

“Far more than an exposé, Treasure Islands is a brilliantly illuminating, forensic analysis of where economic power really lies, and the shockingly corrupt way in which it behaves. If you're wondering how ordinary people ended up paying for a crisis caused by the reckless greed of the banking industry, this compellingly readable book provides the answers.” ―David Wearing, School of Public Policy, UCL, London's Global University

“An absolute gem that deserves to be read by anyone interested in the way contemporary globalization is undermining social justice. Give it to your sons, daughters, families, favorite legislators and anyone else needing stimulation of their thought buds. This masterpiece illuminates the dark places and shows the visible hand of governments, corporations, banks, accountants, lawyers and other pirates in creating fictitious offshore transactions and structures and picking our pockets. This financial engineering has enabled companies and the wealthy elites to dodge taxes. The result is poverty, erosion of social infrastructure and hard won welfare rights and higher taxes for ordinary people. Tax will be the decisive battleground of the twenty-first century as no democracy can function without it, or provide people with adequate educations, healthcare, security, housing, transport or pensions. Nicholas Shaxson has done a wonderful job in lifting the lid off the inbuilt corruption that has become so naturalized in the western world.” ―Prem Sikka, Professor of Accounting, University of Essex, UK

“Over my holiday last week, I read Nick Shaxson's book – Treasure Islands. I would go as far as saying this book is the No Logo for a new century” ―Sunny Hundal, Liberal Conspiracy

“Shaxson has undertaken a big task with the book Treasure Islands: Tax Havens and the Men who Stole the World. But the task is well worthy of examination, as it is so vital to the shadowy infrastructure of the global financial system… provides an easily digestible overview of the labyrinthine nature of the world of offshore finance.” ―Seeking Alpha

About the Author

Nicholas Shaxson is a journalist who has written for the Financial Times, The Economist Group, African Energy, and the insider newsletter Africa Confidential. He is the author of the highly acclaimed Poisoned Wells: The Dirty Politics of African Oil and an associate fellow with the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; 1 edition (April 12, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0230105017
  • ISBN-13: 978-0230105010
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (82 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #784,464 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Z. Cohen on April 23, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Before I get into my review, I wanted to point out that for someone without a lot of financial knowledge, this could be a very difficult book to read. I have a college degree in accounting, did some graduate work in tax, and worked for one of the big four accounting firms for a year in their international tax consulting department. I quit working for them and left the field entirely after I realized in vague generalities what they were doing, which was one of the reasons I was so interested in this book. The international system Shaxson describes coincides perfectly with what I saw in the accounting firm I worked for, and some of the specific techniques he describes correspond exactly to the tax structures I used to see discussed in trainings and other meetings. Given that background, I found this book incredibly engrossing and informative, but if you have low financial literacy, you may have a tough time with it. However, it is incredibly well written, uses a minimum of jargon, and tries its hardest to break down complex tax and financial concepts into lay terms.

Treasure Islands does a really incredible job in shedding light on an arcane, complex international financial system that has evolved mainly over the past 100 years. Like most people, when I heard the term tax haven, I would think of a few rogue Caribbean islands who helped a few rich people and crime lords launder money or hide it from taxation. Shaxson turns that conception on its head. While the term tax haven sounds like it specifically refers to taxes, Shaxon defines it more broadly: "Tax havens can be loosely described as a jurisdiction that seeks to attract money by offering politically stable facilities to help people or business entities get around the laws, rules, and regulations of jurisdictions elsewhere.
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Format: Paperback
Shocking, a word that many reviewers have used, is a good one for this book. Terrifying might be another.

I am not an economist by a long shot but am lately reading books like this to understand what is going on.

Shaxson's book is basically about the modern structure of finance capitalism, and he suggests that the foundation stone of the edifice is the offshore system.

The basis of offshore banking is that a global corporation sidles up to some tiny country and offers it some nice little kickbacks in return for an agreement that they will have to pay little or no tax.

The corporation then presents its accounts in such a way as to make it look that all its profits are generated in Jersey, or the Cayman Islands or wherever it may be.

Hence we get headlines like the one the other day where Barclays Bank declared 11.6 billion pounds in profits and paid 113 million in tax.

According to Shaxson this would not be in the least out of the ordinary, more like normal for any really large company.

Because of this these companies grow like Topsy, and generate staggering wealth.

Additionally they venerate at the shrine of banking secrecy which means no-one can ever find out what is really going on with these guys.

Offshore banking started to mushroom around 1960 and although Shaxson doesn't quite say this, it sounds like when the Brits lost their empire they started to look for other ways of making a nuisance of themselves.

Under the influence of these companies, in the last thirty years many large countries especially Britain and the US have effectively deregulated their internal financial systems so that it is much easier for these large corporations to find more and more ways of dodging tax.
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Format: Paperback
This book fills a big gap left by the mainstream media in the understanding of world economics and finance and how it has come to be more and more concentrated in the hands of a relatively small number of people. The resulting system is to a significant extent lawless and corrupt, and addicted to greed.

Offshore tax havens, serving both legal corporations and organised crime, have been a powerful instrument in the corruption of business, politics, government and the media, spreading misery for the many while creating untold wealth for the few.

This book explains how huge businesses, including some very well know names, can pay virtually no tax and avoid laws and regulations. It explains why many top executives are now receiving astronomical incomes. It explodes the myth that this system is somehow efficient and good for society.

This current control of the world by big finance has captured political parties, so that the actions of politicians bear little or no relationship to the traditional policies and philosophies of their parties. In practice, supposedly opposing political parties in the wealthy nations of the world act more like opposing factions of the one party, a party whose unwritten but central policy is to serve the rich and powerful. The result is that more and more wealth is diverted from serving the common good and transferred to the rich. The result is a widening gap between them and the rest, and a growing social dislocation.

This is not a book of the left or the right, but a dispassionate revelation of facts that have been hidden from most of the population. I cannot recommend it too highly. If you value justice and refuse to equate good and right with money and power, you will greatly appreciate the author's achievement.
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