Entanglements of value and wealth are essential features of contemporary global capitalism. Still, value and wealth have until now mainly been studied in isolation from each other. For our understanding of how value and wealth entangle, gold is a case in point. The Singaporean state has become a key player in the gold industry – establishing the country as a key gold hub – and not least in the shaping of value and wealth entanglements. Essentially, gold is allowed to flow unhindered to/from and within Singapore. It is placed behind a veil of secrecy that embraces free flows of gold among banks, corporations, refineries, consolidators and other key actors within the Singapore gold hub.
In our newly published paper State action and inaction in the shaping of value and wealth entanglements: The role of Singapore in the global ‘gold chain’, we reveal the entanglements of value and wealth in the gold sector. We unpack the roles played by the Singaporean state and distinguish between state actions and inactions in shaping the ways in which both tangible and intangible assets are configured and mobilised for value creation and capture, and for wealth accumulation and protection. While specific state actions are prominent in areas such as developing capital markets and allowing tax and license-free gold trading, we show how state inaction is also essential in value and wealth chains. Such inaction includes not monitoring the buying, selling and storage of gold. Thus, we pinpoint how the Singapore state is involved in the gold industry in ways that relate to its well-established functions as a financial centre and low-tax platform for Asian and global elites. Its functions embrace relations to gold mining beyond Singapore, gold refining, jewellery production, retail, pawning, and also to finance, trading and storage. Gold is both a financial instrument, and involve physical gold, bullion operations and vaulting infrastructure as key elements in the country’s wealth protection system.
Based on our examination of the gold sector, we suggest a typology of state roles in value and wealth entanglements, arguing for the importance of including and distinguishing both active and inactive state roles. Such roles are highly interconnected and may change over time as a way of further supporting and shaping value and wealth entanglements. Examples include the carving out of ‘spaces of exception’ such as ‘luxury Freeports’ with discrete vaulting of gold bullion, ‘investment grade’ jewellery pieces and other collectibles for the super-rich. State inaction thus has bearings on attracting and retaining ‘the wealthy’ (to Singapore in our case) through a practice that we term ‘turning a blind eye’ on grey-zone activities. Thus, we pinpoint how state roles may not always address existing inequalities, but sometimes even develop new patterns of inequality, catering to protection of the rich rather than mass consumers or poorer households, shaping the processes and outcomes of value and wealth entanglements.
Read more in our newly published paper – it is open access:
Thomsen, L., Lai, K. P. Y., & Ponte, S. (2023). State action and inaction in the shaping of value and wealth entanglements: The role of Singapore in the global ‘gold chain.’ Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space, 0(0). https://doi.org/10.1177/0308518X231181128