Our directory of things of interest

University Directory


  • Written by  Jonathan Wright
  • Published in Books
01 Sep
We live in an increasingly ‘offshore’ world. Many corporations seek out overseas tax havens as a matter of course and, when the sums make sense, transfer manufacturing plants or service hives to places with less onerous regulations and cheaper labour

Governments send their agents to distant climes when they need to interrogate prisoners with, shall we say, greater vigour, and individuals pack their suitcases when they feel an urge to indulge in activities (from drug use to shady sexual liaisons) that are frowned upon at home.

Many countries rely heavily on external energy supplies and when they accumulate too much waste, there are massive cargo vessels ready to ship it half way around the planet. These are just some of the symptoms of our madcap globalism and John Urry’s diagnosis may leave you feeling angry.

The financial revelations of this book are particularly distressing. Urry informs us that although the population of the Cayman Islands is only a little more than 50,000, the islands are also home to 80,000 company registrations. Given such figures, it’s reasonable to suggest that offshore business mechanisms have been taken to absurd extremes.

Urry reports that somewhere between a quarter and a third of global wealth is held offshore: this was US$21trillion in 2010, compared to US$11billion in 1968.

There’s nothing wrong with corporations, within limits, doing their best for their shareholders but, as Urry laments, it’s often difficult to work out exactly how a business operates, and one has to wonder where the lines are sometimes drawn between tax avoidance (ethically dubious) and tax evasion (flat out illegal). Many companies are ‘like Russian dolls, with multiple layers of secrecy and concealment’, and this can only be damaging to transparency, accountability and other assorted bedrocks of democracy.

Technology has only added to the opacity. At the click of a mouse, the corporate movers and shakers have access to ‘de-localised virtual environments’ that allow ‘information, money, trades, images, connections and objects to move digitally as well as physically’. Good luck keeping tabs.

In recent years, we’ve grown more scandalised by this bewildering landscape but, for the most part, there’s precious little that national governments, let alone the individual, can do to confront the consequences of the neo-liberal economy. There has been a radical ‘restructuring’ of ‘global power and domination’ and mighty CEOs are every bit as influential as elected leaders. It’s sometimes difficult to decide who’s really sailing the ship.

There is, then, an awful lot to complain about, but this book isn’t a rant. The author doesn’t expect a return to an idyllic, non-existent past when everyone paid the appropriate taxes, sourced their energy locally and only went on holiday to gaze at crumbling architectural splendours. Although a realist, he exposes contemporary excesses.

There are still, thankfully, lots of honest, honourable businesses out there, but there’s also a frightening, overcrowded digital demi-monde. Similarly, international trade is absolutely fine, but do we really want the next generation of monster vessels: 20 storeys high, the width of an eight-lane motorway and capable of carrying 18,000 containers?

Above all, is there not some way that national governments can puncture the secrecy and regain more control of some of the most basic facets of the economic process? Perhaps, as Urry predicts, the advent of 3D printing will transform manufacturing and many more commodities will be produced locally.

This would be splendid, but the savvy businessman will still presumably squirrel away some of his profits in a distant bank account.

Any hope for a solution begins with a painstaking analysis of the current situation. Here, Urry’s book scores highly. There are useful facts and figures, excursions to the banks of Switzerland and the pleasure palaces of Dubai, and a finely struck balance between indignation and scholarly precision. The result is an enlightening, albeit rather unsettling, read.

OFFSHORING by John Urry, Polity, £14.99

Subscribe to Geographical!

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

Sign up for our weekly newsletter today and get a FREE eBook collection!

geo line break v3

University of Winchester

geo line break v3


Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Derby




Travel the Unknown


Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • Natural Capital: Putting a price on nature
    Natural capital is a way to quantify the value of the world that nature provides for us – the air, soils, water, even recreational activity. Advocat...
    The human game – tackling football’s ‘slave trade’
    Few would argue with football’s position as the world’s number one sport. But as Mark Rowe discovers, this global popularity is masking a sinister...
    Essential oil?
    Palm oil is omnipresent in global consumption. But in many circles it is considered the scourge of the natural world, for the deforestation and habita...
    London: a walk in the park
    In the 2016 London Mayoral election, the city’s natural environment was high on the agenda. Geographical asks: does the capital have a green future,...
    The green dragon awakens
    China has achieved remarkable economic success following the principle of developing first and cleaning up later. But now the country with the world's...


NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in REVIEWS...


One man’s recreation of an epic 1930s survival experience deep…


by Tom Harper • The British Library • £30 (hardback)


by Susan Schulten • The British Library • £30 (hardback)


by Ben & Marina Fogle • William Collins • £20 (hardback/eBook)


by Tim Flannery • Allen Lane • £25 (hardback)


by Keith Wilson • £40 (hardback)


by Gaston Dorren • Profile Books • £14.99 (hardback)


by William A. Ewing and Holly Roussell • Thames and…


by Ben Coates • Nicholas Brealey Publishing • £12.99 (paperback)


by Nicholas Crane • Weidenfeld & Nicolson • £12.99 (hardback)


by Mary Robinson • Bloomsbury • £16.99 (hardback)


by Pieter van der Merwe and Jeremy Michell • Bloomsbury • £18.99…


by Simon Reeve • Hodder & Stoughton • £20 (hardback)


by Michael Palin • Hutchinson • £20 (hardback/eBook)


Powerful expedition film, screened at the 2018 Adventure Uncovered Film…


by Laura Locker and Julia Scheele • Icon Books • £12.99 (paperback)


by Patrick Nunn • Bloomsbury • £16.99 (hardback) • £14.99 (eBook)


by Oliver Bullough • Profile Books • £20 (hardback) • £14.99 (eBook)


by Thomas Reinertsen Berg • Hodder & Stoughton • £25 (hardback)