Op-Ed by John Galt
The largest data leak in history has people in a tizzy. Virtual lynch mobs are calling for the heads of all those who have appeared in various infographics documenting their supposedly-possibly-disturbing connections to suggested nefarious dealings … by associates, family members and childhood friends in many cases.
By extension, knowingly or not, these lynch mobs have quickly called on government to rein in anyone who might use a legal vehicle (for now, see below) to protect their wealth.
I’d like to put aside the questions that have been legitimately raised about the geopolitical implications of who has been revealed, or questions about whether these alleged crimes are equal to what some of these individuals really could stand trial for, and focus instead on the reaction from the general public.
Firstly, I’d like to think that I’m not naïve; of course people who seek the darker regions of the real and virtual world tend to be more inclined to interpret “the law” in non-official and even truly criminal ways. However, it also tends to be true that a percentage of those who seek the shadows simply would like to avoid a severe burn brought about by forced exposure to sunshine.
The Panama Papers do indeed reveal a significant global problem. For Barack Obama, and those of his ilk, it is a problem which is stated simply: “that a lot of this stuff is legal, not illegal.” Which gets right to the heart of the matter for anyone who believes in liberty – legality versus, say, morality.
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In this way, the Panama Papers have unintentionally revealed, at the very least, that “the elite” – but by no means THE ELITE – see the global economic system as something to escape from, not something to participate in as instructed by laws and regulations. Some might conclude, then, that all of these politicians and businessmen are admitted criminals. Really, all of them? Or perhaps they are tacitly acknowledging how unjust are the policies which they seek to impose on the rest of humanity?
This is good news. Those within the system – consciously or not – have told the rest of the world (well, leaked to) that the very system they inhabit is one big extortionate scheme that should be dodged at all costs if one has the ability to figure out how to do it.
This should lead to uncomfortable personal reflection, not knee-jerk outrage from the extorted. For example, perhaps the real Big Global Problem is not avoidance of taxes from whatever colony demands that you pay them protection money, but a problem with those who seek misery if only to have company.
In other words, slave on slave violence. It’s becoming an all-too common theme for the oppressed masses to shout for the wealthy “elite” to be brought down to size, rather than seeking to shrug off the chains that keep themselves from reaching financial heights. Namely, the inherent right to keep the fruits of one’s labor.
As an aside: one of the most powerful personal finance books ever written is The Richest Man in Babylon. It is a short book that paints a much different history of finance than what is taught in modern schools. Rather than focusing on wealth accumulation within a dogmatic framework like Keynesian economics, for example, human stories of success and failure form a backdrop for basic principles that can translate through all cultures and through all times which will help put one on a path toward prosperity. Prosperity is different than mere wealth as it takes into account the strengthened relationships and self-worth which financial growth can provide, whereas possessing a mountain of coin for its own sake can often lead to various states of ruin regardless of how high the pile stands. It’s as different as building a real house versus building a house of cards. While there is a discussion in the book about the firm fundamentals that can lead to financial success, the tale of the richest man in Babylon ultimately focuses more on the general concept of slavery. To the modern reader, slavery is equated with outward oppression, which is often correct. However, in terms of finance and the purpose of the allegories in the book, slavery is meant to be understood as also coming from within, as a mindset. A key component of this mindset is the ability to recognize who is the real “master.” As the book progresses, it becomes very clear who is the true master and who is destined to be a slave.
So, yes, perhaps some of the people in high positions may have accumulated their wealth unjustly and might have used their money for barbarous deeds. Those are actual crimes. But consider a wealthy person who provided great value to customers, earned a fair profit, and is seeking to protect their money. That should not be against the law.
Additionally, is it not equally or more possible that someone with a sense of moral duty has merely decided to withdraw their funding for illegal wars, torture, and the conquering of other nations with the product of their honest labor? Perhaps instead they are using a shell company to “hide money” that can be used in a more fiscally responsible and moral way that is not a direct donation to those who would use it for wars, prisons, and other heinous systems of oppression. Is this something that should be made illegal? If so, would it still be moral?