Monday December 06, 2021

Rampant inequality

October 22, 2021

In 2015, the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung got hold of a huge cache of private financial records and shared it with the ICIJ. After a year-long investigation, they published the so-called Panama Papers which laid bare the same international cobweb-like network of banks and law firms that has permitted the rich, famous and infamous to keep much, if not all, of their dough and luxury properties safe from the taxwoman or taxman’s limp tentacles.

Sure, the Panama Papers disclosures made oodles of headlines and prompted outrage and protests decrying the unfairness of it all. A few governments hired more bureaucrats to try to find and recover a fraction of the estimated $11.2 trillion of hidden money. A couple of minnows in Malta and the United States were charged with tax fraud. And two Pollyannaish Democrats sponsored a piece of legislation in the US Congress – optimistically labelled the ‘Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act’ – where it will, no doubt, die a swift and convincing death.

Meanwhile, the rich, famous and infamous keep skipping down the gilded road like happy, lollipop-sucking kids knowing that, beyond a passing burst of embarrassment, they enjoy lifetime immunity from any concrete consequences for their obscene greed and selfishness.

As Alex Cobham, an economist and chief executive of the Tax Justice Network, told the British newspaper, the Guardian, focusing scorn on the high-profile tax evaders misses the more urgent point.

“Few of the individuals had any role in turning the global tax system into an ATM for the super-rich. That honour goes to the professional enablers –banks, law firms and accountants – and the countries that facilitate them,” Cobham said.

In any event, five years after the Panama Papers, the Pandora Papers are proof that rather than making the rich, famous and infamous wary or even the slightest bit concerned, the profitable practice has, if anything, accelerated in scope as they have found other, perhaps more convenient homes, to stash their cash. (There will likely be future exposes.)

Couple this shameful, state-sanctioned tax-shirking racket with the accelerating, state-sanctioned chasm between the uber-rich and the rest of us – where the world’s wealth is being hoarded by a handful of recognisable names – and the perilous political reverberations are plain.

A parade of ‘populist’ charlatans, with their distinct, dangerous, authoritarian dispositions and combustible hyperbole, have risen, yet again, from the swamp of ignorance and grievance to claim that they, and they alone, can unrig a rigged system they have exploited and that rewards the few at the expense of the many.

Excerpted: ‘On rich, famous ‘cockroaches’ and tax evasion’