Jackpot watch

How the klept operates in the UK.

Cory Doctorow


A British five-pound note with the Queen’s face replaced by a vintage engraving of a club-brandishing, cigar-chomping thug.

In his 2014 novel The Peripheral, William Gibson plunges us into a far-future London, radically depopulated, quietly authoritarian, and under the iron thumb of “the Klept” — a fusion of the British chumocracy with post-Soviet Eurasian kleptoracy.


The origins of this society — its depopulation, its neo-aristocracy, its captivity to inscrutable AIs called “the Aunties” are lost to history. They all took place during a time called “The Jackpot,” an interregnum where huge swathes of records simply vanished amid social breakdown, climate emergencies and cyberwar.

Gibson will be the first to tell you that he’s not attempting prophecy with his work, but it can’t be denied that he has an eerie ability to reflect back our latent, inchoate fears about the future in fiction, something he calls “predicting the present.”

When I emigrated from the UK to the US in 2016, I explained my reasons in a post called “Why I’m Leaving London.” The basic reason? The increasing obviousness of a city that existed primarily to launder vast, corrupt fortunes, and only incidentally be a place where Londoners could live and thrive.


Since then, the UK — and especially the City of London, home of the nation’s finances — has doubled down on its role as enabler and concierges to the world’s filthiest money, and the psychopaths who come with it. The UK and its overseas territories consistently top the Tax Justice Network’s annual “Financial Secrecy Index.”


Not all corrupt money comes from the former Soviet republics of Eurasia, but these countries — and Russia — embody a special kind of corruption: kleptocracy (“a political economy dominated by a small number of people/entities with close links to the state”).

This form of corruption is closely related to the chumocracy that dominates British politics, and especially the ruling Conservative party. Thus it should come as no surprise that the UK, with its Thatcher- and Blair-era emphasis on finance, and its political…