Treasure Islands Book Summary - Treasure Islands Book explained in key points
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Treasure Islands summary

Nicholas Shaxson

Tax Havens and the Men Who Stole the World

4.5 (32 ratings)
16 mins

Brief summary

Treasure Islands by Nicholas Shaxson exposes the murky world of tax havens and how they operate, highlighting the damaging effects they have on the global economy and society as a whole.

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    Treasure Islands
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    Tax havens are jurisdictions for secrecy.

    As you probably know, tax havens have low tax rates – for some. You might’ve heard stories of corrupt dictators or mafia bosses keeping money in Switzerland or the Cayman Islands. What’s the purpose of this?

    It’s quite simple: secrecy. A secrecy jurisdiction enables people or entities to escape certain laws and regulations by relocating their funds to hidden places.

    Tax havens don’t cooperate with authorities from other countries. You can’t tax someone without knowing how much money they have. This is why your bank notifies the authorities when money is put into your account.

    Tax havens don’t provide this information to authorities, however. They only provide information if the authorities already know the specifics of your offshore banking, and even then there’s a process to go through.

    Even if a tax haven does share information with law enforcement authorities, they still provide services to protect their clients.

    Many tax havens have flee causes, for example. That means that if Interpol comes looking for your money, your assets will automatically be moved to another place, like an account in a different tax haven.

    Ultimately, tax havens are able to provide almost perfect secrecy. Another way they do this is through the use of trusts.

    In a trust, the person who pays the money is the owner, and they have to designate a certain goal for their fund. There’s also a professional manager called the trustee.

    The goal of a trust is that the money should be paid back to the owner or their relatives after some amount of time. The trustee is often a professional lawyer who manages hundreds of trusts at once.

    Tax authorities can’t know who the owner is – they only know the registered trustee. Lawyers can’t tell anyone who their beneficiaries are because that would be a breach of confidentiality. The real information stays hidden.

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    What is Treasure Islands about?

    Treasure Islands offers insight into one of the darkest parts of the financial world: tax havens. It explains how wealthy people and corporations are able to avoid paying taxes by relocating their assets offshore. Tax havens are highly damaging to all but the tiny percentage of people who can afford to use them, and they contribute to the growing gap between rich and poor.

    Best quote from Treasure Islands

    More than half of world trade passes, at least on paper, through tax havens.

    —Nicholas Shaxson
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    Who should read Treasure Islands?

    • Anyone interested in tax havens
    • Anyone interested in economics
    • Anyone interested in global power dynamics

    About the Author

    Nicholas Shaxson is a journalist and an associate fellow of the Royal Institute of International Affairs. He’s the author of Poisoned Wells: The Dirty Politics of African Oil and he’s also a researcher for the Tax Justice Network.

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