by Jon Mandle on June 4, 2013

ASAP – Academics Stand Against Poverty – is an organization devoted to “promoting collaboration amongst poverty-focused academics, by helping them reach out to broader audiences on issues of poverty, and by helping them turn their expertise into impact through specific intervention projects.” It’s only a couple of years old, although its origins are a few years older. The Board of Directors, chaired by Thomas Pogge, includes professors and graduate students, and their Advisory Board includes philosophers, economists, political scientists, and others from around the world.

They have a number of on-going projects that are worth looking at, but they are just launching a new one concerning an issue that I, for one, don’t know much about – illicit financial flows. They estimate that some $1 trillion per year is transferred out of developing countries through corruption, smuggling, money laundering, and corporate tax evasion, and this directly hampers efforts at development and poverty relief. More information about this estimate and this issue is available at Global Financial Integrity. This focus on the relationship between global institutional structures and poverty is, of course, one of Pogge’s main areas of research and advocacy, as is the emphasis on issues that can create an overlapping consensus of different perspectives.

The United Nations Millennium Development Goals are a set of 8 priorities set to expire in 2015. ASAP is pushing to have illicit financial flows become an important piece of the next set of priorities. So they are looking to raise $15,000 to produce a policy paper articulating politically feasible goals concerning these illicit financial flows and to promote their inclusion in the UN’s next development framework. Take a look.



John Quiggin 06.04.13 at 8:09 pm

I was just thinking about a post on tax havens. One of the few positive developments out of the crisis has been that the developed countries have been forced to crack down on tax havens, most of which are located either in the developed world or in associated jurisdictions like the British Overseas Territories (aka Crown Colonies), imposing requirements for information exchange and so on. That provides a basis for similar demands from less developed countries.


LFC 06.04.13 at 10:56 pm

I don’t know much about this but following a couple of the links led to a short piece by D. Kar, an economist at Global Financial Integrity (I’ll try to add the link later), who suggests that the phenomenon of illicit flows out of poorer countries increases income inequality in those countries. I’m not clear how this works causally, however, and the piece in question doesn’t really explain it; *underreporting* of income inequality I could see as one consequence (b.c the offshore wealth isn’t counted in the statistics), but that’s different. I suppose one cd say that less wealth/income is available for redistributive taxation, hence inequality is worsened, but that presupposes that redistributive taxation is actually going on in the countries affected.

Anyway I’m pretty sure the OP here is right that the illicit flows do hamper poverty alleviation and development. Poverty and income inequality are of course two separate things (albeit often related).


GRE 06.05.13 at 3:20 am

There was an investigation into this last year on Australia’s ABC which looked at Conoco Phillips and Woodside Petroleum in particular. It is estimated that East Timor is owed around US$3 billion in unpaid taxes. See the link below:

or you can watch it here:


ingrid robeyns 06.05.13 at 8:49 pm

Jon, thanks for posting this. I think this is a hugely important issue and I am really grateful to the ASAP team for doing all the hard work on this campaign. I hope many people will consider contributing – this may be much more important in the middle-long run than donating directly to poverty relief (not just from a justice point of view but even quite likely from a purely narrow consequentialist point of view).


roger nowosielski 06.05.13 at 9:07 pm

ASAP, a clever acronym to say the least.

Is it just another NGO, masquerading as a neutral and disinterested entity?


Watson Ladd 06.06.13 at 12:20 am

Why, it’s such a bad thing that people can hide cash from Zimbabwe, so that when they leave they have the means to afford exile! As for unpaid taxes of miners, smuggling ore is a bit tricky. I leave it as an exercise on how one extracts a tax on a bulk material that has to be shipped out of the country on specially designed ships that dock at very few ports.


Anarcissie 06.06.13 at 12:41 am

I am sort of mystified by this. As I’m understanding it — which could be very poorly — it seems we have a group of academics who are exploiting and profiting from poverty in terms of status, prospects, and probably remuneration. We have ‘professors and graduate students, … philosophers, economists, political scientists, and others from around the world’ making use of the poor and their various predicaments as a career.

Perhaps predictably, they appear to be concerned about tax receipts. It seems that some people or other are practicing ‘corruption, smuggling, money laundering, and corporate tax evasion’ (to say nothing of exacting profits, extracting cheap resources, and exploiting markets) and are thus depriving someone else — governments, surely — of making efforts towards ‘development and poverty relief.’ Governments should get more of the loot, evidently.

But we know from direct observation that governments consist of, or are directed by, ruling classes — the rich, in other words — and every major organization of economy since the invention of slavery (I speak of feudalism and capitalism, as well as of classical slavery) has usually been a positive-feedback loop, which, like all undamped positive-feedback loops, eventually blows up, usually in an unpleasant manner. That is, the richer the rich get, the more and harder they extract, until they finally destroy the processes and societies they parasitize, and violent conflict and other breakdowns result. And a new game starts.

So we have some people studying the current game professionally, to dress it up and smooth it along down at the U.N., et cetera.

It’s not a big deal, but it all seems unsavory or perhaps absurd. Or maybe I just have a nasty mind.


LFC 06.06.13 at 3:47 am

The OP says:
They estimate that some $1 trillion per year is transferred out of developing countries through corruption, smuggling, money laundering, and corporate tax evasion, and this directly hampers efforts at development and poverty relief.

And from this Watson Ladd comments:
Why, it’s such a bad thing that people can hide cash from Zimbabwe, so that when they leave they have the means to afford exile!

Why not choose a more functional (less dysfunctional) African state/gov’t than Zimbabwe? Then ask whether it’s better for the money to stay in Kenya, Nigeria, or Botswana than go abroad. Probably better to stay in the countries, even if the govts’ commitments to poverty alleviation vary, along with their effectiveness. Money in a particular anti-poverty or development program may or may not be helping people, depending on the specific program and its efficacy. But you can be pretty damn sure that money sitting in a wealthy businessman’s offshore account isn’t helping anyone.


Gaddeswarup 06.06.13 at 8:44 am

Nicholas Shaxson has a couple of books on these topics (flows out of Africa and tax havens)


Gaddeswarup 06.06.13 at 9:10 am

A review of Shaxson’s book on tax havens( and another book) which suggests that it may be difficult to get rid of tax havens


CleboOmusic 06.07.13 at 3:44 am

I am mystified as to why someone would think these academics are involved in exploiting the global poor.

To receive a benefit from an activity isn’t the same as exploiting the persons involved. A doctor receives a benefit from treating patients, but it is a mistake to take the doctor as exploiting the patients.

One might suggest that these academics receive a benefit because they are supporting policies which places money in the hands of the government, which in turn will end up back in the academics pockets. But even if this were so (which as far as I can tell is completely bananas) supposing that the policy the academics support actually do significantly benefit the global poor and that this was the academics primary goal, it would be clearly wrong to describe what they were up to as exploitation.


LFC 06.07.13 at 4:43 am

Of course they’re not involved in ‘exploiting’ the global poor. The suggestion to that effect @7 is quite absurd. They would like nothing better than for extreme poverty to cease to exist.


gaddeswarup 06.07.13 at 9:27 am

There are some earlier books and articles supporting the comments in #7. For example, this review of Edward Brenan’s book Marion Foucarde in “The construction of a Global Profession: The Transnationalization of Economics”(2006) and more recently David Warsh in
This is not my area (my area is mathematics). I tried to follow the topic a bit whether the emphasis on higher education and research institutes in India at the expense of primary education was a good idea or not.


Roger Nowosielski 06.07.13 at 4:25 pm


All good (read: well-meaning) liberals would, LFC. So what does that prove?


Roger Nowosielski 06.07.13 at 7:15 pm


Thanks for providing the invaluable links.

Of course a general critique of the knowledge-power relationship and how the institutions fit in the larger scheme of things is provided by Jean-François Lyotard in <The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Characteristically, however, our Left seems committed to a vow of silence on the subject.

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