A sharp attack on global financiers who are destroying the livelihoods of the nonwealthy.
In an apt follow-up to his 2012 book, Treasure Islands: Uncovering the Damage of Offshore Banking and Tax Havens, Germany-based reporter Shaxson uses a variety of economic theories to examine the many perils of wealth accumulation. The theories are often complex, but the author aids understanding by employing helpful analogies and metaphors. He skillfully bolsters the big-picture elements of the narrative with compelling examples of painful microeconomic consequences for the 99 percent of world citizens who struggle with financial issues. Shaxson’s indictees are mostly leaders of large banks, hedge funds, private equity firms, and government entities that enable predatory capitalism through wealth extraction. The author begins around 1900 with oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller, who, at the height of his power, “controlled over 90 percent of the oil refined in the United States, extracting vast wealth from consumers and generating fountains of profit, which were funneled beyond the core business into railroads, banking, steel, copper, and more.” As antidotes to the greed of Rockefeller and other robber barons, Shaxson offers the examples of muckraking journalist Ida Tarbell and renegade economist Thorstein Veblen, whose The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899) was “a vicious exposé of a world where productive workers toiled long hours and parasitic elites fed off the fruits of their labors.” Unfortunately, their work, revelatory as it was, did not bring about lasting economic justice. The author offers a host of instructive discussions of a variety of elements to bolster his argument, including corrupt financiers in London and New York City, geographically obscure tax havens, the bizarre realm of wealth managers in South Dakota, a ravaged newspaper in New Jersey, and a shattered farm economy in Iowa. “Financialization,” writes the author, “hasn’t just sucked money and power away from rural communities; it has extracted their dignity.”
A vivid demonstration of how corruption and greed have become the main organizing principles in the finance industry.