“A week is a long time in politics” – said Harold Wilson, allegedly.
It’s also a very long time in the otherworldly mainstream media, as the past seven days since the “Panama Papers” were first revealed have shown.
We started with the “shocking” revelations that corrupt, power-hungry Putin, surrounded by oligarchs, may have dubious links to people, profiting through tax havens – and we’ve ended with the “shocking” revelations that snivelling, greed-fuelled David Cameron, surrounded by Etonianophiles, may have made himself even richer, through the use of tax havens.
Hold. The. Front. Page.
These revelations in themselves are not “shocking”, unless you’ve been sitting on a Panamanian beach, smoking cigars and sipping cocktails your entire life. But what the leaks do shine a blinding light into is the incestuous relationship between politicians, law-making and corporations, and the fact that the urban legend of the “One Percent” is even more pertinent than ever.
Not that you’d have noticed if you’d been following the bastions of the free press who’d been reporting this story on loop – namely the tax-avoiding Guardian (whose Chair works for Sage, with its 43 offshore subsidiaries), or the Establishment-entrenched BBC (whose Trust’s Chair works for PepsiCo, with its offshore base in Bermuda).
There is a dangerous narrative emerging, which if we’re not careful will ensure this story goes the way of every other huge leak in history (i.e. a Wikipedia entry created by someone in Whitehall) – that is, we seem to becoming preoccupied with the personalities in this debacle, and not their collusion with a system which is essentially shafting us in every possible way.
As Abi Wilkinson (who organised Saturday’s excellent demonstration outside Downing Street) succinctly wrote in Vice: “The problem doesn’t lie with one particular individual, it’s systemic. The politicians in charge of our country seem to believe that there’s one rule for ordinary people, who pay their fair share of tax, and one rule for the wealthy who can employ clever accountants to come up with all sorts of get-out tricks.”
“Systemic” is the key word, there. This is not some issue which is confined to the UK; neither is it one which affects merely the OECD. This is a global problem, where the ramifications are far worse in African and South American countries – and we must view it as such.
The Democratic Republic of Congo is one example. In just five mining deals with multinational corporations they lost an estimated $1.3bn through money being ferreted offshore, which amounts to nearly 4% of their annual GDP.
In the UK the equivalent would be around three quarters of the NHS budget for this year. Gone. £75bn – just lost.
Or take a company like Chevron. The 16th biggest corporation worldwide, operating in 180 different countries, with assets of $266bn operate a staggering 264 (yes – two hundred and sixty-four) different subsidiaries out of Bermuda alone.
Then look at Oxfam. Unshakeable campaigners against global inequality – but who accept money (to the tune of $4m) from The Hewlett Foundation, who raise their own capital from HP’s shares, which have subsidiaries working out of Bermuda; furthermore the Foundation employ the Bank of New York Mellon to manage their investments and provide them with credit – with this bank operating out of tax havens and also being repeatedly fined for dubious practices.
The offshore “game” infests every area of our lives, like a globalised, corporate, financial plague-induced putrid rot, setting into the very fabric of society – and it’s one that needs gouging out. Quickly.
Implementing regulations like the blacklisting of tax havens, country by country reporting and Base Erosion Profit Shifting (BEPS) counter-measures may appear like there is the political will and way to try and address this pandemic-like problem – but in reality? These measures don’t go far enough.
When you have America itself now becoming a major “player” in this offshore game (with states like Nevada and Delaware fast becoming the “onshore” equivalents of the Cayman Islands or Bermuda), it being ranked third in the “Financial Secrecy Index” and it refusing to sign-up for previous international agreements relating to tax havens, there should be a great deal of cynicism as to whether any international agreements will actually be effective when the world’s largest economy wishes to play no part.
Also, we need to view the “system” for what it really is: a mythological, financial Hydra – as soon as you chop off one head, another one sprouts up again to take its place.
The greedy will always find ways to fuel their deadly sin, within a system that is intentionally weighted towards their gain, and our loss.
It is this point that we need to take from the Panama Papers’ revelations and work with, to come to a collective resolution about what “we” (as in, the “Ninety-Nine Percent” of us), are going to do about it.
Targeting individuals and their activities are basic components of solving this problem, as they highlight in an easy-to-digest manner just how entrenched, and how far-reaching, all of this is.
But they are cogs in an offshore wheel; and it is our global financial system which is the vehicle, driven by corporatists in all countries at breakneck speed towards their destination of choice – self-interest.
Until we change who’s in the driving seat of our economies, our financial system and ultimately our lives – then we will remain passengers.
Impoverished, unequal and always in second class.
Links to my other stuff on “Panama Papers”, this week:
RTUK News, 04.04.16 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WMU6V7B2wFA&feature=youtu.be&a
Al Jazeera’s “The Stream”, 07.04.16 – http://stream.aljazeera.com/story/201604071600-0025185
RTUK’s “Sputnik”, 09.04.16 – https://www.rt.com/shows/sputnik/339022-panama-papers-offshore-deals/
Al Jazeera’s “The Listening Post”, 09.04.16 – http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/listeningpost/2016/04/panama-papers-media-censored-story-160409095509553.html
“Panama Papers: this changes nothing” – http://www.consented.co.uk/read/panamapapers-this-changes-nothing/
Anon Radio UK, 10.04.16 – https://www.spreaker.com/user/anonukire/anonukradio-t0pg3arliv3-mrtopple-pana
Sputnik Intl, 11.04.16 – https://soundcloud.com/radiosputnik/panamapapers-its-not-about-cameron-its-about-trust-in-financial-system-steve-topple
Talk Radio Europe, 15.04.16 – https://t.co/0UELj5BA6v