Oliver Bullough is the author of Moneyland: Why Thieves And Crooks Now Rule The World And How To Take It Back, an urgent, searing account of corruption in the world's financial systems.

In This Week in Moneyland, Oliver will update us weekly on the extraordinary sories of financial corruption currently in the news in the run up to publication of Moneyland on 6th September.

Follow Oliver on Twitter @oliverbullough.


 

Apple and Moneyland, the two sides of globalisation

There is no greater icon of globalisation than Apple. Founded 42 years ago, it now designs its phones in California, makes them in China, and minimises its taxes in Ireland, Bermuda, Jersey or anywhere else that suits its accountants. Thanks to its globe-straddling genius, last week it became the first company worth more than a trillion dollars.

One-with-nine-zeros

A trillion is a stupidly big number. If you had that much money in one-dollar bills, and sat down to count them – one a second, without stopping to eat, sleep or go to the toilet – it would take you more than 31,000 years. Put another way, if the first anatomically modern humans to arrive in California had started counting back then, and their descendants had continued ever since, they wouldn’t be even halfway to a trillion by now.

Years before Apple, however, another icon of globalisation hit the trillion-dollar mark, though with far less fanfare. According to analysts from Global Financial Integrity, five years ago, the volume of illicit financial flows in the world passed the one-with-nine-zeros level for the first time, having increased relentlessly for years. In 2004, the amount of money being sucked out of the world’s poorest countries was assessed at less than $500 billion. By 2013, it had more than doubled to $1.1 billion and still rising, at a rate faster than the economy as a whole.

Stolen money

One out of every 25 dollars generated by the world’s economy was being stolen, a figure that rose to one out of every 17 for sub-Saharan Africa. The total was far greater than all the aid sent the other way, and greater even than all foreign direct investment added together. The most vulnerable people in the world are being looted, and denied the money they need to improve their countries, for the benefit of the rich and the powerful.

Because it is overwhelmingly government officials, their cronies and their business partners who are stealing this money, who are grabbing an ever-greater share of the world’s wealth. They are washing it offshore, and they are spending it on luxury goods and properties in places like Manhattan, Mayfair and Monaco. The same revolution of convenience that allowed Apple to burst out of a garage in California and dominate the world, has also allowed crooks and thieves to steal as much as they like with impunity.

The dark side of globalisation

Like many people, I own a number of Apple products – I am writing this blog on one, in fact – and it is easy to see how it became so valuable with its beautiful, well-designed consumer goods. But this other trillion-dollar industry is less obvious. It is the dark side of globalisation, and is kept hidden by intelligent and well-remunerated professionals whose sole aim is to stop you or me from finding out what their clients are up to.

In my new book, Moneyland, I reveal the results of my investigations into the secrets of this global nomadic elite that has been allowed to steal with impunity for so long. They have created a parallel legal system for themselves, one so robust that it resembles a whole new country: which I call Moneyland. Its citizens come from everywhere, are as varied as humans can be, but they all have one interest: they really don’t want you to know about them. And that’s because, as soon as ordinary people realise what’s really going on, we will mobilise to stop it.

But how can we stop it? That’s the trillion-dollar-question.


 

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