….The rise of offshore finance is not solely about capital moving to banks in exotic islands, it is also about the creation of a two-tier global system.
….Challenging the Capitol
….At the turn of the millennium, offshore finance became the engine room of global capitalism. Its spectacular growth is now tied up with wider financial and technological change, such as rampant corporate fictionalization, seeing corporations assume ever more financial traits, driving the rise of non-regulated, non-bank, market-based finance, which is chiefly orchestrated offshore……. Indeed, overall it is safe to say that now “global finance” is offshore finance.
These changes have unfolded in a wider process of incessant neoliberalization, having accelerated global income and wealth inequality, as the rich and powerful can now simply choose whether or not to pay taxes, which often is perfectly legal.
It is this very development which undermines the social fabric of society, effectively bisecting it, as elites increasingly evade their public duties, having legally detached themselves and their properties from their respective countries of origin, as if they lived elsewhere, or nowhere at all.
It is these developments which have driven popular resentment throughout the world, with a rising number of nationalists vowing to ‘drain the swamp’.
Unfortunately, given that the offshore dominium undergirding global capitalism is primarily built through the national politics of imperium, the idea that nationalists will “take back control” from the globalists is debatable.
Offshore finance is built out of the unilateral commercialization of what mostly constitutes national sovereignty in order to attract capital principally mobilized via a global web of bilateral tax, trade and investment treaties.
In other words, present-day global capitalism, captained by trillion-dollar corporations and the billionaire class, does not necessitate a multilateral order — far from it, as it thrives on sovereign borders and related legal mechanisms of exclusion.
Summarizing recent developments, Slobodian argues that:
the formula of right-wing alter-globalization is: yes to free finance and free trade. No to free migration, democracy, multilateralism and human equality.
Indeed, global capitalism adores national sovereignty, and merely despises its popular democratic foundations and applicability, which decades of neoliberalism have systematically corroded.
The present rise of illiberal forces, therefore, might not prove a rupture to the established order, but rather anchor its global dominance, as “political illiberalization might equally shield the economic core of the neoliberal project from popular resistance, effectively functioning as its toxic protective coating” — not least to safeguard the offshore world of property.
A quick look into the data leaks mentioned earlier reveals that most authoritarian “strongmen” themselves have secured their assets and incomes offshore, along with a sizeable faction of the global billionaire class who sponsor them.
Cynically, the same is true for the global media barons having supplemented their neoliberal narratives with nativist venom, selling the virtues of patriotism while themselves living as true “citizens of nowhere”, owning multiple passports to minimize the taxes on their vast business interests structured offshore.
No single state can meaningfully control contemporary offshore finance since the introduction of regulation in one place will result in capital moving elsewhere.
The rise of Bolsonaro or Trump, the advent of Brexit — on closer inspection these and other political developments driven by “dark money” suggest an offshore billionaire’s rebellion rather than a people’s anti-establishment revolt.
Meanwhile, even the chairman of the high church of neoliberalism — the World Economic Forum (WEF) — is semantically distancing himself from “globalism” to better accommodate “national interests” under globalization, notwithstanding the fact that global capitalism built by and for the offshore billionaire class annually congregating in Davos simply rages on like before.
Looking at what has euphemistically been labelled Alt-right, moreover, we find a vulgar celebration of unrestrained corporate power behind a facade of “refreshing” memes and cultural narratives, revealing a remarkable continuation of neoliberalism in general and a radically deepening of corporate sovereignty in particular.For their ideal capitalist state fully rejects the premises of liberal democracy, seeing presidents replaced by CEOs running their states as corporations, maximizing shareholder value for their ultimate beneficial owners: the global billionaire class.
Under what thinkers like Nick Land and Curtis Yarvin label Gov-Corp, politics is deemed illegal and citizens are stripped of their rights — the only human right will be “exit” for those who can afford it, meaning capital flight, upholding the cast-iron right of capital mobility.
In what can only turn into an endless race to the bottom, future Gov-Corp states will forever compete for hyper-mobile offshore capital.
Notwithstanding populist appeals of popular democracy, the aim of these self-proclaimed challengers to the global order is to reach neoliberalism’s final frontier: the full corporate takeover of sovereign governments and states themselves.
Although this prospect has yet to materialize, contemporary capitalism is increasingly turning into a global platform economy, with offshore finance as its central operating system and the rest of the world plugged into its dominant operating logic on various terms.
Where ordinary citizens and businesses are subject to global capitalist rule via their respective states — enforcing austerity, taxes and, increasingly, authoritarianism — offshore residents have grown above territorial enclosure, having effectively become a global “stateless” oligarchy, living secretive and tax-free lives with their vast fortunes supported by expansionary monetary policy.
Representing the very crown of capital’s defeat of labor, the offshore world is threatening to give rise to an age of ultra imperialism, as an increasing number of states have effectively joined in an offshore federation, “replacing imperialism by a holy alliance of the imperialists”.
The offshore world already operates as a global incorporated Leviathan, as the world’s ultimate creditor state, with a handful of global banks, law and accountancy firms “seeing like a state“.
In this capacity, moreover, these (para-) financial players wield classic hegemonic power elsewhere, exerting “functions of leadership and governance over a system of sovereign states”, as clearly exemplified throughout the financial crisis, where they advised clueless governments to bail out the troubled offshore portfolios of the few at the price of austerity for the many.
We have reached the point, like in the Hunger Games trilogy, where citizens across the “districts” of the world need to rise up and unite against the Capitol of our age — the offshore world — threatening to transform the international system of states into a present-day Panem, enforcing its global rule through local strongmen.
Although the fight will prove difficult, with no quick fixes, it offers a narrow political target to mobilize a broad political base, one that can bring together the indignant and deplorable, uniting red squares, green ambitions and yellow vests.
For only a truly collective struggle to dethrone offshore finance opens up possibilities to really take back control.
This excerpt from an essay is part of the Transnational Institute’s “State of Power 2019” report.
Read Nick Buxton’s introduction here, and you can find the full report here. by Reijer Hendrikse and Rodrigo Fernandez …works as a researcher for SOMO, specializing in tax avoidance, tax havens and shadow banking.