Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Money laundering for survival and profit

The last two books I've finished have been about money laundering and there's a reason for this. I saw that Neil Strauss had released a book entitled Emergency about Strauss' preparations for the upcoming armageddon. I had thoroughly enjoyed his book on pickup artists, entitled The Game, reading it twice and I figured this would be good, also.

I read a number of excerpts online and one mentioned that Strauss had referenced a book called The Laundrymen by Jeffrey Robinson that was about, surprise, money laundering. The library system had that book but not Strauss' book so I started with it.

I've become more cynical about certain things as of late. One of those things is the belief that to make and keep money, you have to be dishonest. As I struggle to make ends meet while unemployed (well, employed part-time), people who have run businesses into the ground are being rewarded with bonuses and bailout money. This isn't a new concept, though. Robber barons, Ponzi schemes, fast food. People are always making money in a morally corrupt way.

Laundrymen, ostensibly, is about money laundering. What keeps it from being a great book is that it really is about drug dealing. That in itself would be fine but it's just too much. I don't need to know about every major international drug dealer and how they created their various shell companies and how they moved their money from country to country. I get the concept and the details, while interesting the first couple times, get tedious as it really become a matter of changing names.

It's not all about drug dealers, though, and those departures are fascinating. It is also immensely interesting to understand why different countries have different banking regulations and how and why these different situations are used by money launderers. Also interesting is how governments, particularly that of the U.S., break the law themselves to try and stop the drug trade. One of those instances of the ends justifying the means, at least in theory.

The Laundrymen is a good and informative read. A little tedious in its repetition of concepts but a great primer if you're interested in how and why money laundering works.

And why would you be interested in how money laundering works? For Neil Strauss it is because he makes my cynicism look tame. Emergency is about how Strauss came to feel that the United States was on the verge of a collapse and his preparations to deal with that upcoming collapse.

One of his concerns was what would happen to his money in the event of a financial collapse. So Strauss began exploring offshore banking which is tied into money laundering. Although Strauss didn't set up shell companies (his publishing company in St. Kitts is supposedly legitimate) he did explore how he could set up bank accounts in other countries. Much to his dismay, he discovered that other countries aren't too keen to work with Americans in opening bank accounts, at least not those with average net worths.

His inability to open an account and his fear of being unable to get into other countries as an American if something should happen leads Strauss to explore dual citizenship. He eventually does become a citizen of the Caribbean island of St. Kitts.

Strauss realizes, though, that it doesn't do much good to be able to have somewhere to run to if you can't get out of the country. As a result he turns his attention to developing survival skills, both urban and wilderness. He learns how to avoid kidnappings, find food and a whole lot of other stuff you would and would not expect someone interested in survival to know. Nonetheless, Strauss' obsession with this gets to be a bit extreme and even cynical me thought he was going overboard.

Then something interesting happens. Strauss realizes that we're all mortal and that while he prepares himself to not get killed when the system collapses, he's still no less likely to die from car accident, old age, illness, etc. He also finds that a lot of his survival preparation training has value even without the end of the world a we know it. He gets certified as an EMT and joins his local emergency relief corps. Strauss finds it heartwarming to be able to contribute to those around him instead of being fearful of them in the event they come a'lootin' once lawlessness reigns.

I like Strauss' writings and his topics are far different from anything else you might read. I was a bit baffled by the library system's decision to classify this book with a humor call number. You'll find it right after David Sedaris and on the same shelf as Erma Bombeck and Dave Barry. I don't know why that decision was made as there isn't a whole lot funny about the book. It is a good read, though, and I'm putting it in my top 10 for the year.

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