We have been told to draw many lessons and revelations from the most recent and biggest whistleblower leak. The responses fall into four broad camps – those telling us to be shocked, those telling us to not be shocked, those telling us to not let this leak fade into obscurity and those telling us action is needed.
The Panama Papers will fade into obscurity, and we shouldn’t be shocked by this. Glenn Greenwald alludes to this in his own article in the Intercept where he stated that “scandal had been legalised”. This kind of behaviour has been legalised and normalised over subsequent decades to the point that when we finally discover it explicitly we aren’t really shocked. An eye roll and a brief sigh, maybe, but we only confirmed what we already knew.
Despite this initial reaction, there is still something to learn from all this, or at least be reminded of. And it is a lesson that has been intently buried by nearly all broadcasters and media outlets, keen to reinforce their own narrative of events in an ominous Orwellian affair. We have many western media outlets such as the BBC screaming that Putin is the chief story in this scandal while outlets not so aliened or western inclined spouting that the Panama Papers show the corruption of western free market capitalism; rotten to the core.
The agendas at hand of course are the reason for this, vilification from all sides to demonise the other. And while we are so caught up in this we seem to overlook the fact that all these guilty parties, be they corrupt Russian premiers or wealthy PM’s fathers, are involved in the same scheme, the same firm and the same immoral acts. One could begin to question all the apparent differences between these wealthy elites when considering how easy it is for their interests to align. It doesn’t seem to matter if you are a member of a communist government, leader of a kleptocratic regime or fierce proponent of free market capitalism.
They clearly have no qualms about getting in the same bed over tax avoidance and evasion, making you reconsider all the rhetoric we hear them throw. It seems that, more often than not, wealthy elites are happy to at the very least coexist to ensure their own interests are secured – and what better shared interest is there for them than making and securing their vast fortunes?
The reason this should be highlighted after this leak is all too often we fall into the narratives woven by the powers that be, despite our best efforts to escape and fight them. The leaked Mossack Fonseca papers are a clear example of this. We should fall in line and form up around our own corrupt elite, ignoring their wrongdoing and crying out in outrage over the wrongdoing of others, seems to be the mantra of the day. Any real change therefore can’t come from one country demanding others step up but unilaterally from the bottom up.
We should not expect an elite claiming to represent our interests to regulate themselves because they simply will not. The recent soundbite that has been coming out of our own government (as an example of this) has been that this government “has done more than any previous to clamp down on tax avoidance”. This I liken to someone claiming to have done more to prevent their friend from committing murder by saying they shouldn’t do so. This comparative argument to previous governments just does not hold. The truth is this government has done nothing of substance to combat tax avoidance and have been furthering it by voting against measure to help end such tax avoidance schemes. This drives home the fact that our government, like any other, cannot be trusted to fight the wealthy elites attempts to avoid and evade tax.
The powers that be are happy to peddle tribalism when it suits them – the “them and us” mentality is always a tried and tested model to ensure political mandate. More often than not it is an outright lie.