Society for Economic Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
The post-crisis environment of low returns on traditional financial investment has coincided with a boom in certain luxury commodity markets, notably the market in fine art. Alongside this we have witnessed the rapid growth and diffusion of novel geographical constellations that this article refers to as “luxury freeports.” These spaces are secure storage facilities where high-end goods can be stored for unlimited periods of time without meaningful customs surveillance and without payment of taxes and duties. Based on process tracing and semi-structured interviews, this article makes three key contributions to the state of knowledge on this understudied phenomenon. First, it traces the emergence of this practice through a reinvention of traditional freeport activity in the Geneva Freeport and maps its post-crisis diffusion, with new luxury freeports usually appearing alongside established hubs of financial and economic activity. Second, it shows that an ecosystem of expert financial advisory and specialized services has emerged alongside luxury freeports, dovetailing with the exclusive and high cultural capital environment of the art world. Third, it makes the case that one likely reason for the rapid growth of luxury freeports is their role in facilitating tax avoidance but also shows that, in the case of the Geneva Freeport, while there has been some willingness to regulate freeport activity that might be directly illegal (smuggling of illegally sourced art, money laundering) there is no political willingness to define luxury freeports as a new platform for tax avoidance.