The Panama papers is one of the biggest leaks in recent history. Implicating many individuals and corporations in an extensive (and robust) web of deceit, corruption and deliberate falsehoods, it also arms us with sufficient ammunition to be pessimistic about our moral progress. More than anything, it is also a revelation that shouldn’t be too surprising to anyone: the rich and powerful continue to exploit the social and financial system, even while they pretend to gallop around on unicorns with a moral stick of righteousness.
Were it merely the fault of your typical, obnoxiously unpleasant, smarmy-faced politicians, the case would end here. The problem with the Panama implications are that they explicitly involve head of states both past and present, well-liked celebrities and ‘good’ politicians. Turns out all of them were laundering money using Panama as a tax haven so they could avoid their countries’ own taxes. And the level of hypocrisy that flies in everyone’s faces is absolutely scathing.
The close relatives of China’s president were implicated in illicit money laundering through bogus companies. On its own, it probably wouldn’t raise an eyebrow. However, when you consider the communist’s party’s key tenet (constantly preached ad nauseam) of not abusing one’s power for selfish privileges AND when you realise that the president himself executed an anti-corruption campaign that resulted in the executions and jailings of many corrupt officers, you can only derisively laugh at the level of phoniness that surrounds their ‘sense of moral and civil justice’.
China’s first reaction to the Panama papers was an absolute embargo and censorship of the press and social media. No investigation has been done, no explanations given, just a forceful and insistent silence of “…or else”. Still, the focus shouldn’t be entirely on China even though its dictatorial approach is worth reams of criticisms: Iceland’s prime minister has resigned from the fallout; Jackie Chan and Simon Cowell are left back-pedalling; and Russia’s trying (unconvincingly) to dispute the claim. The list of casualties will be going on for a while.
And what tops it all is that this Panamian law firm is only the forth largest corporate listing. It’s highly likely that the larger firms are where American elites (among others) stash away all their money and commit maximum tax evasion. Whatever the case, it’s clear that none of the moral rules you learned in school or acquired through philosophical reflection apply. None of the moral tenets of Confucius or Lao Zi got through to the Chinese Communist Party, nor did the prestigious qualifications of the British prime minister give him pause on the fraud he was committing.
But as I said earlier, though the initial reaction for most fall between shock and outrage, for me at least, it’s par for the course. Those in power often elevate themselves above the normal rules that govern an individual. A number of years ago, I sat down for a school meeting involving the principal and heads. One of the heads put forward a proposal to distort statistical facts and exploit a loophole for district benefits. Not a single person in authority disagreed. It was merely surmised as acceptable on the grounds of “every other school is doing it so it’s OK for us to do so”. The irony that we were all teachers who taught moral education to students was not lost on me.
For what it’s worth, the ordinary folks will always have to play by the rules. We will pay our taxes, struggle to make ends meet and grapple with the challenges of society. The rich on the other hand, usually coast above conventional rules, or know enough to game (or brick) the system. The Panama papers revelation changes nothing.
So have you thought (HYTA) about human hypocrisy?