Monthly Archives: February 2016

Being Offshore in a Globalized Economy

The notion of the “offshore” suggests a realm out of reach of the law of the land, existing just off the coast of the regions supervised by regulators and taxmen, but has wildly expanded with the perpetuation of the legal fictions of the offshore as a place that offers an escape from national programs of taxation.  Rather than exist only as a region beyond the shoreline or coast, and lie of the known map, the “offshore” is what escapes legal overview–and lies outside of national legal bounds.  Arising as a convention to designate “offshore spaces” that lay outside of the recognized sovereign tax codes.  But “offshore” regions need not properly be removed far from the mainland, or even from it at all–and are found on most any region or continent, save Antarctica.  They are places where money of the superwealthy is invisibly routed, out of sight, not to remain, but to escape regulators’ oversight or the payment of a national tax or subject to national sovereign claims. The map of the offshore is increasingly a map of the unseen paths of where the superwealthy’s funds go.

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The growth of the offshore is not a place to locate money, indeed, but through which circuits of international capital travel in a globalized world.  For the expansion of the offshore is a not so odd consequence of globalism, and the increasing fluidity of finance to travel smoothly across territorial bounds–an ability to sequester funds just out of site, nestled in offshore accounts that are not subject to state scrutiny or traceable by paper trails.  We have recuperate the notion of islands, removed from the shore, as a new way to symbolize and achieve the escape from regulation:  the offshore as an entity emerged with the ability to dislocate and remove global capital from any place, and all oversight, as the circulation of global capital among the superwealthy resists being parked or located in a national framework or onshore spaces, but can be invested in sites of excessive demand and overvalued property.  

The “offshore” is the ultimate example of the uneven nature of the valuation of space in an age of income disparities, and a fiction to allow these income disparities to be preserved. It is the geographic manifestation of a logic of tax avoidance that has become the exclusive privileged operation of the superwealthy, who feel entitled to subtract their wealth from the community they live, escaping the demands of living in any nation by shifting their wealth–“parking” their luxury cars to secure parking places or garages–that guarantee tax-avoidance, and indeed sanction a geography of tax-avoidance that is the privileged exemption of the superwealthy, those of a guaranteed worth of $30 million for the next twenty years, a coterie of increasingly large size as a bracket, that in 2010 included 62,960 ultra-high-net-worth folks in North America; 54,325 in Europe; and 42,525 in the Asia-Pacific, per Wealth-X, with the latter predicted to leapfrog both by the 2030’s. havens located offshore currently enable the super-wealthy–the richest 0.01%–to evade 25% of owed income taxes, in a global scam that, per Gabriel Zucman and colleagues, effectively conceals over 40% of their personal fortunes, rendering them opaque to any national government, and as a consequence erodes claims to national sovereignty, and indeed the authority of the post-Westphalian state that was defined by its borders. If the map of territorial waters loosened national authority from borders to accommodate a global economic playing field allowing actual offshore mineral extraction–in what were felicitously termed “international waters, free from taxation, and outside the nation-state.

United States Territorial Waters

The rise of the “offshore” as an geoepistemic category, or “geoepistemology,” in Bill Rankin’s terms, effectively legitimized by the broad “tax amnesties” granted by multiple governments extended to tax cheats after the 2008-2009 financial crisis. The amnesties from sovereign taxes many–even before the release of the Panama papers–to for the first time try to “to map out the frequency of tax avoidance, by income level” that was long unmapped, first among Scandinavian countries, to start to plot the range of financial subterfuges and conceits that removed the wealth of the super-rich from any actual tax franchise, affirming the existence of a perilously increasing wealth inequality: in America alone, the disappearance of a “tax gap” that only between 2008-10 amounted to a massive $406-billion between what taxpayers owed Uncle Sam and what they actually paid. This removed their wealth from the territory, and indeed from the sovereignty, that create a deep crisis in the form of a time bomb for the sovereign state, making conceits of “tarriffs” and “imports” almost pale as a lower level of financial transactions occuring in real time, or on the books, rather than offshore.

Is there any surprise that no moral authority existed able to compel Donald Trump to reveal his actual tax returns as U.S. President, when a gap of such proportions was the norm in the Obama era? The decreased in likelihood that America’s millionaires would ever find their returns audited have dropped up 80 percent than in 2011, suggesting a tacit acceptance of a gap in wealth that the geography of the offshore perpetuates and enables. Even after the stock market’s boom and bust cycles, returns of the upper 1% jumped in capital gains for mutual funds and financial accounts–measured in trillions of dollars in the last decade–that only solidified wealth inequality as a reality.

New stratospheric wealth levels pushed the collective net worths of the 1% considerably north of a hundred trillion; these rates of return were both not shared by other income groups, and not able to be comprehended by them. And such wealth generation granted rights to park wealth in an exclusively available geography of tax evasion of an expanded offshore constellation of money managers, outside sovereign reach; they would be no longer beholden to sovereign taxation agencies and were without obligation to states. The concentration of a hundred and twenty trillion in the wealth of the upper 1% created new spaces for wealth, apart from sovereign surveillance, where they might accumulate and grow, unable to be tracked in the global projections by which we are used to monitor other global events.

If the notion of the offshore is a relic of the post-colonial era–and began as a legal clarification of the category of offshore jurisdictions or overseas dependencies, removed from the European colonial powers as they enjoyed a liminal connection to formerly colonizing states–but it is perhaps better understood as the hegemony of a new notion of financial empire and wealth inequality. Today’s offshore are an exclusive insider knowledge, not open to many, but accessible to all initiated in schemes of tax avoidance, brokered in a bespoke maner by agencies–as Mossack Fonseca–who exploit loopholes of international law and the financial fictions of the ius mari to enable clients to sequester vast sums from national oversight–lest financial transactions be mapped.  The offshore ensures opacity ing financial mapping, or the ability to place vast sums of money off the table, that sanction frictionless cash flows off the map.

In a global economy whose cash flows are more difficult to detect or embody–based less on the face-to-face, and rooted in the borderless fiction of the friction-free, increased integration of markets open multiple loophole for syphoning off national tax franchises, facilitating the sequestering corporate money–as the wealth of super-rich long tolerated to hold accounts described euphoniously as offshore, or, even more opaquely, as overseas, opening up fantastic speculation as to what that might really mean.

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Filed under globalization, Mossak Fonseca, offshore, Panama Papers, tax shelters

Mapping the New Authoritarianism: Trumpism, Tampons, Misogyny and the Volatile American Electorate

It seems, goes the popular wisdom, Donald Trump stunned the country by being able to make up for the lack of a party organization by followers he developed on Twitter.  But Trump was able to tilt against a candidate he was able to identify with an establishment, and an establishment that he convinced voters had not served a plurality of states, as a salesman of something different than the status quo, adopting a highly mediated populism that was rooted din claims to reorganize the state and its effectiveness.  The bizarre combination of an outsider who promised a range of constituencies that the state would be remade in their own interests–defending American sovereignty; returning jobs to depressed regions; defending anti-immigrant interests–may not be able to be aligned directly with the appeal of a fascist state, but provided a collective identity for many that gave meaning their votes, at the same time as dropping voter turnout across the midwest and new restrictive voting laws, including in Wisconsin and Ohio.

Trump gave a greater sense of urgency to the crucial number of undecided in his favor–before a broadly declining turnout nationwide, but also decreased turnout in many states where differences in the popular votes were small, as Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa, and pronouncedly higher in the “deep south,” based on estimates of the U.S. Elections Project.

 

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The extraordinary effectiveness of Donald Trump’s affective appeal to voters in the 2016 Presidential remains particularly difficult to stomach for many, moving outside of a party or any civic institutions, but rooted in the adroitness by which he branded himself as a political alternative.  Trump’s uncensored comportment was central to the success of that campaign, many have noted, as it lent cathartic license for exposing emotions of fear, hatred, and anger rarely seen in political discourse–and seemed to run against reasoned discourse.  The performative orchestration of a wide range of emotions–tilted toward the red end of the spectrum market by fear; resentment; indignation; anger; disorientation–which drew lopsidedly from an atlas of emotions.  If the range of emotional responses were triggered in a sense by the prominence of social media, which allowed a quite careful orchestration of retweeting and public statements designed to trigger emotions to make political decisions, it was orchestrated carefully more from Reality TV than Reality,–orchestrating its audience’s attention by means of quite skillful editorial manipulations of footage, fast cuts, and clever stagecraft to create the needed coherent story from declarations, angry accusations, and assertions.  Trump’s campaign touched on issues of fear and anger, hopping between nearby sectors of the below map, but focussing attention on a fear of women and scapegoating of others to manufacture an actually illusory model of strength.

The emotional integrity was more important than the language–leading to bizarre debates as to whether his supporters took him literally, or if his references were serious in content even if the actual utterances he made were not in fact as central his appeal as the feelings of antagonism and alienation that he so successfully seemed to tap.

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As a creature of the airwaves, Trump used emotions as a way to orient voters to the changing world of globalization by emotional venting that appeared to defend a past order:  despite his lack of qualifications to serve as President of the United States, the defensiveness created a source of validation for his candidacy that few expected, but are so familiar to be available to install as browser extensions via Reaction Packs.  The recognition of Trump’s display of emotions are so familiar that they convert easily to downloadable Reactions as emoji, so iconic has been Trump’s animated orchestration of anger, fear, and resentment across the body politic, in ways that remain difficult to map.

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The popularity of such “rage faces” recouped the repeated registering of emotions in Trump’s campaign.  Indeed, Trump’s–or the Trump campaign’s–active retweeting of 140-character declarations defaming individuals or amping up socio-economic antagonisms prepared the way for the recognition of these emoticons which, although not released or sanctioned by Facebook, had first become recognizable in American political discourse that summer in much of the American subconscious.

The animated reactions engaged many online not politically active or voted in previous elections, redefining the political landscape outside of red versus blue states, and mirroring tools of psychometric profiling–first successfully used in political settings to mobilize support online for “Leave E.U.” in the Brexit campaign–first framed by researchers at Cambridge Analytica, developed by an psychologist Aleksandr Kogan, before changed his name to Dr. Spectre, sold to the MyPersonality tools of Cambridge University’s Psychometrics Centre to the shady Strategic Communications Laboratories, who in 2013 established Cambridge Analytica in the United States.  The tools had indeed boasted the ability to measure voters’ personality from their digital footprints, decrypting psychological criteria for emotional stability, extraversion, political sympathies, able to predict sexual orientation, skin-color, and political affiliations by using FB likes as an open-source psychological questionnaire based on an OCEAN scaling of personality traits that rank the positive-sounding values of Openness, Conscientiousness, Aggreeableness, and Neuroticism, all the better “to understand [their] unique personality type” in order better to define their decision-making process–each letter can be clicked to reveal a face registering individual emotions on their website, in ways that creepily echo emoticons as tools to achieve “better audience targeting” by “better audience modeling” through 5,000 data points per individual.

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Through such data profiles and the pseudo-scientific claims of “audience insight” or “targeting”, Trump was helped to orchestrate emotions to construct a sense of belonging.

For despite his lack of political qualifications, if in part because of it, Trump represents the victory of the unqualified–“the people”–and an illustration that someone outside of a political system can assert their importance in government, and to discredit the political system itself.  While Trump’s campaign had not been data-heavy, the use by Democratic strategists of big data analysts from BlueLabs had perhaps encouraged the Trump campaign to turn to Cambridge Analytica, whose boasts of a huge ROI for political campaigns would be wildly boosted by the June success of “Leave” in the Brexit vote.  The orchestration of emotions most familiar from the production values of Reality TV have little precedent in politics, but was honed against those assumed to be part of a political class and designed to refute any notion of scientific expertise.

The particular targeting of emotions of dislike, fear, and resentment increased in the Trump campaign from mid-August 2016, about a month after the marquee event of the Democratic convention celebrated diversity, with the entrance of Stephen K. Bannon, serial wife-abuser of Breitbart fame, and he who invoked the “church militant” to explain the need to bind together church and state in fighting for the beliefs of the West as campaign chief of the Trump campaign, united a deep fear of refugees, terrorism, and “Radical Islam.”  The accentuation of such a call to militancy was tied to an accentuation of misogyny in the Trump campaign, as Bannon joined Trump’s new campaign manager pollster Kellyanne Conway,to play to the lowest common denominator of voters through their economic and social fears, in ways that particularly distorted the campaign that benefited Trump and tilted to the unique brand of misogyny.  In ways that shifted the logic of the campaign for U.S. President after both conventions had concluded, the expansion of Team Trump helped direct a model of behavioral sciences–already used by NATO in Eastern and Central Europe as propaganda against the dis-information released by the Russian government–as a rallying cry uniting many ranges of hatred–the “deplorables” Hillary Clinton famously and perhaps fatally invoked–within the highly charged emotional language of Trump’s campaign.

Many refused to label Trump as recognizably fascist in his political thought, despite his outright xenophobia, manipulation of fear, and cultivation of a rhetoric of crisis, refusing to recognize the roots of his strong authoritarian characteristics by a name that has long been identified with utmost evil, in an attempt to explain Trump as something else.  Most notably, historian Robert O. Paxton allowed that Trump only openly took a selective rehabilitation of the anti-modern fascist movements, whose strongly authoritarian character offered “echoes of fascism,” rehabilitating the sanctioning of social violence, suspension of rights, and dehumanization from fascist movements in his assertion of openly extra-judicial rights he asserts as a leader.  Yet in its open aggression motivated by a the violence of urgency–and in its turning in from the increasingly complex world that Obama attempted to navigate, and rejection of globalism, as in its rejection of civility and disdain for women, Trumpism closely rehabilitates fascism in its doctrine of prerogatives of the protection of the state that transcend constitutional law, or the subordination of constitutional law to Staatsrecht.  Whereas fascism arose in response to international communism, Trumpism seems an open response to globalism of the twenty-first century.

While not a direct descendent of fascism, Trump has defined himself as a man of action–together with Bannon–in his proliferation of executive orders as a form of decisions, creating the relation of individual to state in his own oratory and the security of America that he claimed to guarantee.  The championing over urgency and privileging of emotions and accusations over issues–a hallmark of fascist politics–serves to fabricate public consensus, cast in Trump’s tacitly gendered assertion “America needs a CEO,” as if to call into question the existence of a historical authority in the state. While Paxton rightly lamented increased usage of “fascist” as an accusatory epithet, able to be applied interchangeably to the intolerant authority of the Tea Party, the intolerance of the Islamic State, or Donald Trump, but failing to discriminate its actual target, Trump’s near-consent courting of the limits of Freedom Speech led him to launch attacks that test the limits of Free Speech and First Amendment, shocking many neighboring countries,– “I’m so tired of this politically correct crap”–labelling political correctness as “the big problem in this country” to which he claims his own authority will create a long-awaited corrective.

His campaign, notwithstanding serial unrepentant falsehoods, his campaign promised to rectify confusion by the ability to Make America Great Again, invoking an idealized notion of country to which he invited all to rally behind and stigmatizing the most vulnerable scapegoats–the undocumented; the refugee; the poor–as targets of collective anger, albeit without racialized theorization of a subordinate status or staking openly ethnic claims.  Trump sewed a steep set of divisions in the nation that were concentrated in non-urban areas in “swing states,” but which corresponded to the emotional aesthetics of and a deep feeling of abandonment–a deeply declining distrust of government across the nation not adequately mapped a full year before the election, far deeper among Republicans than Democrats but at  record low–but supported by a broadly declining belief in government fairness, across “red” and “blue” states.

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In many ways, the vote was the victory of a performative model and the emotional satisfaction that that model of performance offered.  Trump’s victory made sense to those who bought the promise of those who believed that America Needed To Be Made Great Again–and who entertained the importance of time-travel to do so, and entertained  a delusion of going backwards in time.  For Trump appealed precisely to those areas and regions that entertained return to a past, conceived of often as a rebirth of a lost economy, peacefulness, and prosperity, but concealing an era of small government, and proposing the myth that there was indeed a chance of returning to a bygone of the imagination:  many saw a rejection of globalism and of multiculturalism or of a disturbance of a past gender politics, and they saw it as best embodied in someone himself moored in an earlier, whiter era,–and a civil society in which charges of Trump’s gender could not be made to stick.  Trump’s performative model seemingly surpassed logical contradictions  inherent in his words or person, making it all the more difficult to comprehend, even as we have repeatedly turned to maps to do so–even as we were frustrated by them:  Trump’s wealth papered over the huge contradictions of someone whose wealth was apparent, as he performed the role os a man of the people; his age was apparent, even if his improbably marriage to a younger woman could conjure an image of apparent potency; his lack of political convictions was concealed in a patriotism that few saw the need to question; his lack of political expertise affirmed the lack of relevance of expertise to getting the job done, as it only confirmed a belief in the failures failures of a political class and distrust of government already at historic lows across the country.

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Filed under 2016 Presidential election, 2016 US Presidential Election, data visualization, Donald Trump, Reality TV