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Tax Haven, South Dakota

If we stopped letting the rich hide their treasure in the Mount Rushmore state, would anything change?

Illustration by Peter Ryan

For the extremely wealthy who want to stash their money where nobody can find it, South Dakota is the place to go—or so recent reporting in the Pandora Papers has suggested. The state’s lax regulations have made it possible for all kinds of unsavory characters to protect unthinkable sums from taxes or scrutiny. Is it time to make South Dakota just go away? On episode 37 of The Politics of Everything, hosts Laura Marsh and Alex Pareene discuss how the United States has become a tax haven and what  would help solve the problem. Guests include Timothy Noah, a staff writer at The New Republic; Chuck Collins, the author of Wealth Hoarders: How Billionaires Pay Millions to Hide Trillions; and Casey Michel, whose new book, American Kleptocracy: How the U.S. Created the World’s Greatest Money Laundering Scheme in History, will be published in November.


Chuck Collins: Forget the Swiss bank account. It’s over. It’s done. A wealthy Swiss billionaire can bring their money to the United States, and the U.S. does not disclose. The United States is now a tax haven. People from around the world are bringing their money to the United States to hide it.

Alex Pareene: That’s Chuck Collins, a writer and an expert on what rich people do with their money. One of the main places in the United States that people from around the world are hiding the money is South Dakota, as detailed in recent reporting from leaked documents. So today on the show we’re asking, is South Dakota necessary? Should it go away? Do we need it?

Laura Marsh: So I feel a little bit uncomfortable about those questions. I was chatting with my husband, and I happened to mention that we were doing this, and he kind of frowned and was like, “I’m from the Midwest. And I really hate that idea.”

Alex: Well, I happen to know your husband is a Minnesotan, and I actually find his attitude surprising, because as a Minnesotan myself, I don’t know too many people in the upper Midwest who would not at least be open to hearing an argument for the abolition of one of their neighboring states. You could probably get a Wisconsinite on board with abolishing Minnesota, if you had the right argument. But I want to reassure you that I, speaking also as a Midwesterner, take no offense at your suggesting it.

Laura: So what about the 880,000 people who live in the state of South Dakota?

Alex: Well, we don’t have any plans to do anything to harm them. I mean, look, South Dakota is a beautiful state. It has some of the most gorgeous landscapes in the country. Everyone should go to the Black Hills. We have nothing against the good people of South Dakota, except for the couple hundred of them who work in the financial services industry.

Laura: OK, I can get on board with that.

Alex: I’m Alex Pareene.

Laura: And I’m Laura Marsh.

Alex: This is The Politics of Everything.

Laura: We’re talking now with Timothy Noah, a staff writer at The New Republic. Tim, you recently wrote a piece proposing that we abolished the state of South Dakota. The deck read, “Governor Kristi Noem isn’t the problem. South Dakota is a make-believe state devoted to the preservation of wealth dynasties, and it should just go away.” What got you thinking about South Dakota?

Timothy Noah: There was a series of articles in The Washington Post on something called the Pandora Papers, which was a leak of a huge number of financial records from the 1970s onward that revealed that all sorts of people, including a lot of political leaders, were stashing money in overseas accounts. One of these stories was about South Dakota, which I knew from previous research that, starting in the 1970s, South Dakota started making itself ever more hospitable to financiers who wanted to limit disclosure of assets and funds, and especially family trusts. So South Dakota became, in effect, Switzerland. Actually, Switzerland isn’t really Switzerland anymore, because there was a crackdown on Switzerland a few years ago. South Dakota became the Cayman Islands.

Laura: The Pandora Papers show that there’s all this money stashed in South Dakota. Why would someone want to hide their money there?

Timothy: Usually when people focus on financial deregulation and tax havens, they’re focused on the tax avoidance aspect, but the Pandora Papers show that tax avoidance is just one reason you would want to hide your money. You also would want to hide it if it was derived from criminal activity. A Colombian textile magnate, for example, used it to stash money from an international drug ring. There was another company that stashed money that was derived from screwing local farmers in Brazil, and so on.

Alex: South Dakota is, like, the most unassuming place you could imagine that all of this money would be hiding. It’s just a big, big, empty state with a lot of boring Midwestern people. I say this as a boring Midwestern person myself, no offense.

Timothy: It’s not a fabulous vacation land, as they usually are. It’s generally islands that make the best tax havens, because they’re small and are desperate for revenue. So they will do almost anything to lure capital their way, but you also have other sorts of small states. Monaco is a great launderer of money.

Alex: How did it come to be South Dakota, then? You seem to have other issues with South Dakota, too, including how South Dakota came to be a state in the first place. What’s the brief on how it ended up there?

Timothy: Well, it depends on where you want to start. South Dakota got my goat with its financial deregulation, and then I worked backward to the French seizing it on the sly from a Native American tribe whose identity we don’t really know, but it involved a Frenchman cackling in his diary about how he was duping these trading Indians—they thought he was just palling around with them, and in fact he was claiming the land on behalf of the French king.

Laura: Then you jump forward quite a bit, more than a couple of hundred years, to some changes that made South Dakota’s laws more hospitable to finance.

Timothy: The immediate occasion for my outrage is that there was a governor who was governor of South Dakota forever—I think it was close to 20 years—named William Janklow, or Wild Bill Janklow, as he’s known. In the 1970s, when the South Dakota economy was doing very poorly, he got a phone call from Citibank, saying, “We’d like to take advantage of this recent Supreme Court decision that would allow us to charge outrageous interest rates on credit cards. All we need to do is to get one state to raise its permissible interest rates. Will you do it? Will you get rid of your anti-usury laws?” And Janklow said, “Absolutely.” What this ruling said was that, even though it was a state law that freed up the high interest rates, Mastercard could charge those interest rates to customers all around the country.

Laura: So he helps out the credit card industry, but then he gets into family trusts.

Timothy: If you are very rich, what you want to happen to your money is that you want it never to be taxed, even after you die. This is achieved through the creation of family trusts. It’s a way to avoid, in particular, capital gains tax. The law allows trusts, but it says that they can only last so long. When Person A dies, and Person B, his heir, inherits the money, and then Person B dies, 21 years later that money has to be taxed. That is very accommodating.

Alex: That is, yeah. That does not seem like too much to ask.

Timothy: But you’re thinking small, you’re thinking small. So the trust industry came and said, “Please get rid of the rule against perpetuities.” This was the rule that said, eventually this stuff has to get taxed. And he did, and South Dakota became a financial center as a result. Then other states started competing with South Dakota to try and get some of that money, too. So Janklow got very creative, and he set up a committee to look at other ways they could shovel money to rich people as fast as possible. They came up with all sorts of other regulations that treated family wealth favorably. Thomas Piketty’s nightmarish view of the future is that we are in the process of reestablishing an aristocracy, reestablishing a way of life in which the only way you could make serious money is by inheriting it. We’re not really there in the United States—it’s still true that all of our richest people made it themselves. But we could get there if enough people follow Wild Bill Janklow’s bad example.

Alex: Something you mentioned in the rise of South Dakota as a finance center speaks to the perversity of this whole thing. I’m sure many younger people do not even remember anti-usury laws that would prevent credit cards from charging high interest rates.

Timothy: It sounds quaint, doesn’t it?

Alex: It sounds absurd. But for all of my adult life, every single credit card is officially issued by a South Dakota bank, no matter where the bank’s actual headquarters are. At the same time that they were making it possible to charge incredibly high interest rates to normal middle-class consumers, they were removing any obligation of the superwealthy to pay taxes on their enormous wealth. It’s an absurd system that would allow one state to do that.

Timothy: It’s amazing. I mean, this is something that conservatives used to favor. Republicans were in favor of all sorts of taxes on inherited wealth, because if you think about it, if you believe in a lot of this mythology about wealth creation, you have to believe that it rewards enterprise, and how can wealth creation reward enterprise if we have a system of inherited wealth?

Laura: Is this also a story about how one very small state can affect the way everything else in the U.S. is done? I mean, South Dakota has fewer people than half of the borough of Queens, and yet this one thing that they’ve decided to do has changed the way wealth is dealt with in the whole of America.

Timothy: States compete with each other to be accommodating to business in various ways. And this is one, I think, now the number of states that have eliminated the rule against perpetuities, I think it’s close to 20, very nearly half. You know, the other thing to remember is that South Dakota wasn’t even supposed to exist. The Dakotas were supposed to be admitted as a single state, but the Republicans won the White House and the Congress, and they decided to slice it in half so that the Republicans could get four Republican senators instead of two. These are two states neither of which has anywhere close to a million people.

Laura: So your proposal is that we add South Dakota to North Dakota and get one full Dakota.

Alex: One full Dakota.

Timothy: Yes. Now I concede that there’s a certain amount of whimsy in this proposition because it’s never going to happen. And probably there are some questions about whether Congress can just say, “We changed our mind. We don’t want two Dakotas.”

Laura: Many years ago, Jonathan Chait wrote a polemic in The New Republic arguing that Delaware was the worst state, for, among other things, its friendliness to corporate interest and its extremely loose regulatory standards. You’re basically competing with Chait to bestow the mantle of the worst state on South Dakota.

Timothy: The more the merrier, right? And besides, I would like to make the District of Columbia a state. 

Laura: One in, one out.

Alex: We won’t have to change the flag.

Tim Noah: That’s right. It’ll probably be hard to exchange South Dakota for D.C. because South Dakota is a Republican state. The swap will probably have to involve two Democratic states.

Alex: We’ll have to figure out which ones are willing to sacrifice. All right. Thank you, Tim.

Timothy: Thank you.

Laura: You can read Timothy Noah’s article, “South Dakota is a Moral Sewer and Should Be Abolished,” at NewRepublic.com.

Alex: After a short break, we’re talking to Chuck Collins, who’s written a book that gives away some secrets of how the very wealthy protect their money. We’ll ask him what those secrets are and if we can use them to our advantage.


Laura: Timothy Noah came up with an unconventional way to stop South Dakota from acting as a tax haven for incredibly wealthy people.

Alex: But before we get rid of South Dakota, I want to figure out if I can take advantage of it. So we’re talking now with Chuck Collins, who’s written about how the extremely wealthy protect their fortunes. Chuck, I have a little bit of money. I’ve saved up a little bit of money over the years, can I take it to South Dakota and hide all of my fortune from the government?

Chuck Collins: When you pay your taxes, are you mostly paying taxes on your income, Alex?

Alex: Yes. 

Chuck: Ah, so already we’re in trouble—because, see, it’s very hard to hide income, particularly when it comes from wages. Maybe if it comes from assets, then we can play some shell games with that. But we’re still willing to help if you’re able to pay our initial $300,000 retainer to hire our firm to help you design several trusts and other mechanisms. Because you have to understand, complexity is the bread and butter of the wealth defense industry. We need to add multiple layers of shell companies and trusts, maybe take it offshore but then bring it back onshore. That takes time and expertise.

Alex: That retainer is going to be hard for me to hit, unfortunately.

Laura: Yeah, that pitch has already deflated my hopes of protecting my little $5,000 savings from being taxed.

Alex: You described the wealth defense industry. What is the wealth defense industry? What do you mean by that?

Chuck: It is a class of workers—trust attorneys, tax attorneys, accountants, wealth managers, people who work in family offices (very wealthy people create their sort of in-house offices to manage their affairs). We’re talking about tens of thousands of people whose job is to help the already wealthy preserve their wealth and pass it on to the next generation. It’s an industry that’s well paid—as I say, they’re paid millions to hide trillions—but they’re not quite in the same group as their clients.

Alex: So they would be the people who, if you already have an enormous amount of money, they would tell you, “Here are the vehicles you can use, here’s what you can use to hide your money from the government and to make it last in perpetuity.”

Chuck: Exactly. Their default bias is unlimited accumulation and maximizing transmission to the next generation. So there’s sort of a built-in bias against taxes. They’re going to try to minimize tax, maximize inheritance.

Laura: Most people in society will never come into contact with someone who works in the wealth defense industry. They just won’t be mixing in those circles. In your book, you describe some scenes where these people all gather—there are, like, conferences of accountants and tax lawyers who meet in country clubs. What is that scene like?

Chuck: Well, there are the clients, the very high-net-worth, ultra-high-net-worth individuals. They have meetings, conferences, gatherings, where they talk about their own particular challenges, like, you know, how do you keep your kids from becoming ne’er-do-wells. But then the industry professionals, the wealth defense industry, they have their own meetings where they discuss trust law—is the trust in the British Virgin Islands better than the Bermuda trust, how do you use the offshore system, and also, how do you design complicated transactions? So in some ways, think about it—some of the great minds of our legal profession are sitting around just designing loopholes and tax breaks, innovating in this arcane space of hiding wealth.

Laura: In the book you also talk about not just this abolition of the law against perpetuities but also the fact that in South Dakota there’s secrecy built into the banking system, which basically means that even the IRS may not know how much money some of these people have. And so, therefore, it’s very hard for them to know what they’re taxing.

Chuck: That’s absolutely right. The IRS does not know who the beneficiaries are of these trusts and how much money is there. And that’s true also in Delaware: If you form a limited liability company in Delaware, the tax authorities do not know who the real beneficial owner is. That’s the whole point: You create these impermeable ownership systems that stand up to secrecy challenges.

Laura: How does that compare with what we think of as, you know, the Swiss bank account? That’s what people always think of as the gold standard for having this big bank account that no one can see into. How does a South Dakota bank account compare to that?

Chuck: Well, back to my adviser role: Forget the Swiss bank account. It’s over. It’s done. The reason is, when Obama came in 2009, all these U.S. citizens had Swiss bank accounts, and there were a couple of leaks that resulted in a major treaty where Swiss banks now disclose account information of U.S. nationals in Switzerland. But we didn’t reciprocate. So a wealthy Swiss billionaire can bring their money to the United States and the U.S. does not disclose. And in fact, all the European countries now have disclosure treaties. Just to back up, one of the big findings of the Pandora Papers—not a surprise to me—is that the United States is now a tax haven. People from around the world are bringing their money to the United States to hide it. How did that happen? In part, because the U.S. became a laggard in global transparency. The Panama Papers, five years ago, woke Europe up. Countries started to create disclosure agreements. They started to require banks and wealth management firms to disclose more information. So all of a sudden, people who used to take their money to London to hide it are bringing it to the United States.

Alex: It’s very interesting because the United States is leading the push to raise the corporate tax rate globally. We’re going around and telling Ireland and European countries, “You have to match this corporate tax rate.” But in the United States, it’s very possible to hide a huge fortune.

Chuck: Alex, this is so important. This is such good news that the U.S. and the Biden administration, particularly Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, have led this effort to create a global corporate minimum income tax. It’s kind of like creating the first federal minimum wage in the United States—before that, it was a race to the bottom, every state would compete based on who would pay the lowest wages. When you create a floor between 130 countries, all of a sudden you can’t go lower than that. That’s plugging up the hole around corporate tax avoidance and the corporate use of tax havens. But now we have this problem with individual wealth-hiding. 

Laura: Do you have a sense of just how much money is being hidden in a state like South Dakota? It seems slightly unknowable, but is there a ballpark estimate?

Chuck: There’s a global estimate that’s pretty well informed that somewhere between $30 and $36 trillion is hidden globally in offshore tax havens. I would guess somewhere in the two-to-three trillion is probably in South Dakota. They say there’s maybe a half a trillion in just the trusts that they’re telling us about.

Alex: Three trillion is literally the entire 10-year budget of the Biden administration’s signature domestic policy of their entire agenda. And it’s just hiding, possibly in South Dakota, right now.

Chuck: That’s right. And it’s grown substantially during the pandemic. That’s the other unseemly part of the story. U.S. billionaires have seen their wealth go up by trillions since March 2020. There’s the Joe Manchin version of the Build Back Better bill paid for.

Alex: When we talk about policy in the United States, especially tax policy, but all these other things we’re always talking over, we’re usually talking about income tax rates—we obsess over marginal rates of income taxes, and we talk about means-testing for benefits to make sure no one making over $50,000 will get this benefit. No one, no American politicians—with a few exceptions—talk about wealth taxes and the enormous amount of wealth that is sitting there growing and growing in the United States.

Chuck: Yeah, I think in some ways you realize that all that chatter is such a distraction, because the real value is in wealth, in assets, in the ownership of stocks, bonds, land, real estate, other assets. And that’s not even really in the discussion of how we raise revenue. I mean, thanks to Elizabeth Warren, there’s this discussion about a wealth tax, an annual wealth tax. We do have an inheritance tax called the estate tax. That is so porous, so ineffectual, that Gary Cohn and the Trump administration said only morons pay the estate tax, because if you’re wealthy enough, you would just hire people and plan around it—you put your money in a dynasty trust or in a GRAT, which is another kind of trust. So we have these ineffectual wealth taxation systems, except for real estate property taxes that working people and everybody pays, but we leave the huge, vast treasure untaxed.

Laura: This system is so arcane, and that’s obviously by design, so that it can be manipulated and also hidden from most people. And we don’t hear it explained frequently or broken down. One of the things I loved about your book is that it lifts the lid on this whole industry and explains everything very clearly. Can you tell us what your personal connection to this story is? How did you decide to write about the wealth defense industry?

Chuck: I grew up in a wealthy family. My great-grandfather was the meatpacker Oscar Meyer. And when I was in my twenties, I was told I was going to inherit a substantial amount of money. But I was already sort of veering off course. I just thought this whole idea of a lot of inherited wealth was a really bad idea. It was a bad idea for me, in terms of figuring out what I was going to do in my own life, and it’s a bad idea for society to have dynastically wealthy families. I kind of made a decision to be disinherited, effectively. But what I learned in the process was there were all these people around our family and around wealthy families generally. The trusted family advisers, trust departments, and bankers—they were the ones that were freaking out about my decision. My family was fairly calm. I began to appreciate, Oh, these people have a lot of power, they have a certain set of biases. And then as I grew older, as wealth inequality has grown, as the concentration of wealth has gone to fewer and fewer hands, this industry has just mushroomed.

Alex: It’s really interesting to think of it as an industry, because I think we think of wealth-hoarding as a series of individual decisions made by wealthy people. But what you’re saying is that if people wanted to be disinherited, there is literally an industry of people discouraging them from thinking about that. And that sort of industry logic, the same thing that leads the insurance companies to fight health care legislation or Medicare for All, would lead this powerful industry that makes a lot of money to fight any measure to reduce wealth and inequality in the United States.

Chuck: You said it well. I would say these are the enablers, they’re the gatekeepers, and they’re absolutely essential. I mean, without them, wealthy people would of course figure out ways to avoid taxes, minimize taxes, but they wouldn’t succeed in the same way. Who has these global relationships? Who do you call on the Cayman Islands? I think in terms of the problem of inequality, they are the agents of inequality. They are the facilitators. If we’re worried about hereditary dynasties of wealth taking over the United States, these are the folks who are making it possible.

Laura: This leads nicely to my last question: If we abolish the state of South Dakota, would that help?

Chuck: No, it wouldn’t, unfortunately. South Dakota, they’ve sort of led the pack. But a number of other states would be happy to replace South Dakota if South Dakota didn’t exist. And ultimately, let’s say we shut down the abuses in the trust industry and are able to pass national laws requiring trusts to be registered and to disclose who their real owners are and to pay tax—the superwealthy will then look for the next venue. They’ll look for the next jurisdiction. They’ll go back to the Cook Islands. Until we form a global treaty that basically establishes and raises the bar and essentially relegates those kinds of countries to being pariah states, the wealthy will always pit jurisdictions against each other in the race to the bottom. But the U.S. has so much power. And if the U.S. and the U.K. cleaned up our own act, cleaned up the spheres of influence that we’re involved with, and got on the side of raising standards, not lowering them, just like with this corporate minimum income tax, you see the rest of the world would come along.

Laura: Well, that’s encouraging for the residents of South Dakota, too. Thank you so much for talking with us.

Chuck: Thank you.

Alex: After a short break, we’ll be back to talk about what the U.S. status as a tax haven means for the rest of the world.


Laura: We’re talking now with Casey Michel, whose new book is American Kleptocracy: How the U.S. Created the World’s Greatest Money Laundering Scheme in History. Casey, we’ve been talking about South Dakota and the use of trusts there. One thing we haven’t really talked about is who is using these trusts; what kinds of people are putting their money in South Dakota, and what the effects of that might be. You write about some quite colorful characters in your book. Who are these people?

Casey Michel: One of the fantastic elements of the recent Pandora Papers is that now, for the very first time, we have names of some of the figures. So some of them are politicians, for instance the Ecuadorian president, who moved money and significant assets into multiple trusts in South Dakota—and just so happened to do that after the Ecuadorian parliament passed laws banning the movement of assets into tax havens. Some of them are businessmen in places like Guatemala, places like the Dominican Republic, that have been accused of everything from corruption to gross human rights abuses in things like the sugar industry, or who are responsible for significant environmental degradation. It’s in many ways the worst of the worst, because those are the ones who have the most significant need to take advantage of these financial secrecy services.

Alex: The story of the president of Ecuador is really interesting. The country passed a law basically trying to prevent exactly what he then did, which is hide his money offshore. But it reminds me of the way in which America, the government, tries to act as the world’s policemen. While also, as you describe it, enabling fraud on a massive scale internationally. It seems like a very strange hypocrisy.

Casey: Well, Alex, I think you hit the tension that encompasses so much of this right on the head. We have a federal government in Washington that, in many ways, is a global leader on anti-corruption policy. Think of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in the U.S., which was the first to criminalize the bribery of foreign officials, the first to define money laundering as a specific crime, the first to dedicate a task force to recovering the assets of what we now describe as kleptocracy. So there are elements of anti-corruption leadership and legacy, certainly at the federal level in the U.S. But the U.S. has simultaneously transformed into this absolute font of any and all money laundering services, financial anonymization services, that anybody with a bit of dirty money burning holes in their pocket could possibly need.

Alex: So we were talking with Chuck Collins about how the IRS largely doesn’t know how much money is in these trusts, and who the beneficiaries are. But there’s more of the government than the IRS. Does the U.S. government as a whole have the ability to know this information? Can it find it out for itself?

Casey: Right now, no, it can’t. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with federal investigators, with prosecutors who are trying to investigate whichever network it may be, and they run into a Wyoming LLC, or they run into a South Dakota trust, and they can’t get any further. I mean, they could try to subpoena the information, but all too often the information isn’t even there. So as we have discussions about potential policy, it should be about creating a registry of beneficial owners, a registry of those specific individuals who are benefiting from these legal financial vehicles, so that we can finally have at least an idea of who the actual clients are, or at least who their lawyers are. So that was kind of a long-winded way of saying, unfortunately, no—the federal government is, in many ways, as in the dark as the rest of us are.

Laura: I want to talk specifically about law firms and their role in this, because law firms are generally thought of as very respectable institutions—they’re run by professionals, highly credentialed people, they have a kind of professional code of ethics. In the book, you talk about certain anti–money laundering provisions and things like the Patriot Act, but that there is a loophole for lawyers. How does that work, and how does that end up sustaining what you call the kleptocracy?

Casey: What we have seen develop in the last, especially, two decades is that American law firms have transformed into this kind of one-stop shop for anybody who has any kind of suspect wealth they’re looking to move, hide, and launder. American law firms can do basically anything they want with these funds. There is no due diligence requirement for the American legal sector whatsoever. They don’t have to ask any questions about the source of the finances, about whether or not it’s the proceeds of any criminal financing. And we’re not talking only when they are representing these clients in court. We’re talking about when these law firms set up the shell companies, or set up the trusts, or arrange the real estate purchases, or act as their P.R. agents, or push for pro-offshoring policies, etc., etc.

Laura: So just to get a sense of how this works, is that information protected because of the attorney-client privilege, or is it something else?

Casey: The argument from so many of these law firms is that, indeed, this is protected by attorney-client privilege.

Laura: So what you’re saying is there are two things: One is that they don’t have to get information, so they don’t have to explore where did this come from, is this actually illegal? But the second is, if they do find out certain pieces of information, they also don’t have to disclose that to the U.S. government because they’re acting as attorneys and that information is actually protected by the attorney-client privilege. So it’s kind of a black box within a black box.

Casey: I think that is an excellent metaphor. I might swipe that at some point, if you don’t mind.

Laura: If some of that money is coming from politicians, foreign politicians, for instance, what is the effect of the U.S. acting as a haven for those people to the rest of the world? What are the real-world effects of someone being able to stash a few billion dollars in the U.S.?

Casey: Think of any kind of deleterious effect, in any kind of authoritarian or autocratic government around the world. There’s every reason for these regimes to continue immiserating their local populations as the regimes themselves move all of their money to and through the U.S. What are the aftereffects of any of that? You have the increased likelihood of destabilization, potential revolution, you obviously have the degradation of democracy writ large, you have spiraling wealth inequality, not just in those countries but obviously in any country that illicit wealth continues to touch. But the thing that I want to highlight is that this corruption and this kleptocracy—it doesn’t just happen over there. The U.S. has been importing all of these proceeds of corruption for years and years and years. We’re only just now beginning to see the damaging effects of that.

Laura: What are the effects that we’re seeing in the U.S. of having these trusts and tax havens?

Casey: One of the main case studies I write about in the book was this allegedly wildly corrupt Ukrainian oligarch overseeing a multibillion-dollar Ponzi scheme. He was going to all these small towns across the Midwest and across the Rust Belt—steel towns, factory towns—hiding his money there, nobody could track it back to him, and just letting the buildings effectively rot and drying up these local economies, laying off all the workers, letting these buildings just fall apart. As long as they’re out of the hands of potential seizure by the Ukrainian authorities, he didn’t seem to care one way or the other. And again, we’re only just scratching the surface because of all the anonymity involved in all of these American industries that things like the Pandora Papers, thankfully, have begun shining a light on.

Alex: Thank you, Casey.

Casey: Yeah, of course. Thanks, guys.