In the early 1990s, economists coined the term "the resource curse" to describe a paradox they observed in countries where valuable natural resources were discovered: Rather than thriving, such countries often crumbled, economically and politically. The newfound wealth, instead of raising living standards for all, generated violence, as well as accelerating the growth of inequality and corruption. Terry Karl, a Stanford political science professor, dubbed this the "paradox of plenty." The same story has played out again and again all over the world, from Venezuela (where Karl did her research on the destruction wrought by oil wealth) to Sierra Leone (home of blood diamonds) and Afghanistan (which, despite $3 trillion in mineral wealth, remains among the poorest and most corrupt countries in the world).
A similarly insidious pattern has developed in recent years among the countries serving as offshore financial centers. Many, like the countries affected by the resource curse, are former colonial states struggling to stay fiscally viable; the "resource" they discover is human capital, in the form of a population literate and numerate enough to provide financial services, such as the filing and compliance tasks linked to offshore corporations, trusts, and foundations. For these economically and politically fragile countries, the influx of cash provided by involvement in international finance seems like an unmitigated blessing, offering jobs and revenues for a relatively small investment in infrastructure, such as high-speed internet access.