Unmasking the UK’s ‘Second Empire’: Slobodian’s Timely Analysis in The New York Review of Books

Cambridge, MA — 09/22/2023 — Historian and writer Quinn Slobodian poses for a portrait on September 22, 2023, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Quinn Slobodian, Professor of International History at the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies, recently authored an article for The New York Review of Books titled “Safe Havens” which was published in the May 2024 edition. In his article, Slobodian explores the intricate web of tax havens that constitute what he terms the UK’s “second empire.” He critically examines the recent works of Oliver Bullough and Kojo Koram, “Butler to the World” and “Uncommon Wealth,” respectively, shedding light on Britain’s historical and contemporary role in perpetuating global financial inequality.

Slobodian reviews these two books, which provide a fresh perspective on modern Britain’s history, suggesting that its modernization was fueled by the creation of a network of low- and no-tax jurisdictions. The story goes back to key moments, like the rise of the offshore Eurodollar market in 1956, which reveals how British financial institutions helped create a parallel banking system that crossed national borders.

Bullough and Koram’s research, according to Slobodian, shows how this system allowed individuals and corporations to protect their wealth from taxation, ultimately weakening sovereignty in both former colonies and the UK. Slobodian’s article also highlights the role of British bankers and their accomplices in exploiting and expanding loopholes in global financial regulations, leading to the creation of tax havens that reinforce racial hierarchies and weaken the welfare state. He writes,

“British bankers and their accomplices searched for gaps in global financial regulations and sought to widen them. This venture drove them across the world to some long-neglected corners of their former empire.”

The article stresses the political decisions that have reinforced tax havens, pointing out their negative impact on social justice and fiscal democracy. Slobodian contends that understanding Britain’s imperial past is crucial for tackling current challenges, as it reveals the underlying factors driving global financial inequality.

Through his analysis, Slobodian presents a strong argument that examines the historical roots and present-day consequences of Britain’s role in shaping the global financial landscape. It encourages readers to reconsider ideas of sovereignty, accountability, and economic justice in a world increasingly shaped by financial interconnectedness.

Quinn Slobodian is Professor of International History at the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University. He is also a contributing writer to the New Statesman, co-editor of Contemporary European History, and co-director of the History and Political Economy Project. Learn more about Quinn Slobodian at his faculty profile.