Vladamir Putin and Joe Biden meet in Geneva (Image: Sipa USA/Dmitry Azarov)

To hear Western politicians tell it, liberal democracies are in an existential fight against the forces of autocracy, despotism, and dictatorship around the world. That framing has found a home in US President Joe Biden’s recent rhetoric and is the raison d’être for his upcoming Summit for Democracy.

Biden and the other Western politicos echoing his calls are correct in their diagnosis. Rising illiberalism, swelling autocracies, and increasingly muscular dictatorships from Beijing to Moscow are smothering democratising efforts on the ground and threatening the broader liberal order.

But their efforts to thwart rising autocracy have overlooked a critical way Western democracies themselves enable such regimes to thrive: by providing anonymous financial secrecy tools that allow kleptocrats around the world to move, hide, and launder their ill-gotten wealth, safely away from the prying eyes of their own people.