Dirty money makes the world go round

Money isn’t called “filthy lucre” for no good reason. Not only do many hands touch the stuff, somewhere along the way, it  may have been involved in the oppression or deaths of others. Maybe you sell arms to dictators or gangsters. Perhaps selling crystal meth to minors is more your thing. Whatever the case, your utility provider doesn’t care where it has come from. It’s all money and money is good. Or is it?

Ayn Rand worshipped money

Ayn Rand once argued that capitalism is a “moral system”. If that is the case, then what is so moral about mass killings being funded by your taxes and channelled to some bloodthirsty tyrant overseas in a country that you’ve probably never heard of? If capitalism is a “moral” system, why doesn’t your utility company or mortgage lender never ask you the question, “How did you make this money” when you pay your bills? Surely, by accepting money that has been made from the proceeds of crime, does the recipient not become an accessory to the crime? If someone gave me some money that they’d made from crime, wouldn’t I be guilty of being an accessory?

As things currently stand, a pimp can go to his utility provider and pay his bills using the money that he obtained through immoral means. Arms dealers can pay for their meals at restaurants with money they’ve earned by selling guns, tanks and rockets to some violent dictatorship. Yet no one bats an eyelid. Who cares? I do and so should you.

Money laundering is a common method of cleaning dirty money and even legitimate institutions like banks become involved. Recently HSBC Bank was charged with money-laundering. Its CEO found himself answering the Senate’s questions.

A report compiled for the committee detailed how HSBC’s subsidiaries transported billions of dollars of cash in armoured vehicles, cleared suspicious travellers’ cheques worth billions, and allowed Mexican drug lords buy to planes with money laundered through Cayman Islands accounts.

Other subsidiaries moved money from Iran, Syria and other countries on US sanctions lists, and helped a Saudi bank linked to al-Qaida to shift money to the US.


HSBC’s Mexican operations moved $7bn into the bank’s US operations, and according to its own staff, much of that money was tied to drug traffickers. Before the bank executives testified, the committee heard from Leigh Winchell, assistant director for investigative programs at US immigration & customs enforcement. He said 47,000 people had lost their lives since 2006 as a result of Mexican drug traffickers.

HSBC Bank said, “Sorry”. So I guess that makes it okay. If you or I had done the same thing, we could expect to spend years behind bars but not HSBC Bank or any of its executives: they get a fine and a slap on the wrist. Naughty boys! Don’t do it again!

It’s hard to estimate how much money has contributed to the death and misery of its victims. Some people simply aren’t interested such details. These people tend to worship money and for them, the stuff can do no wrong. But is the money that’s been laundered really clean or are we deluding ourselves into thinking that such processes magically disinfect the money? To be honest, money is magical and I don’t mean that in a nice, fluffy Harry Potter kind of way. Its magical powers are derived from the meaning that people project on to it.  In other words, it isn’t real, but it isn’t tied to anything real as it had been in the past. It is based on nothing. Not gold, not oil, not platinum. You can’t even take your paper money to a bank and demand your pounds of silver in exchange,  because the teller will laugh in your face if you try.

Yet for all its magic, money is dirty, nasty stuff that ruins people’s lives. But without it, none of us can do anything.

There really has to be a better way.

Next time you pay your bills or your rent, tell the other person that you earned your money by nefarious means. I guarantee you that they won’t refuse it.

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Filed under Money, Society & culture

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