The Panama Papers and the Philanthropists

PanamaSo, now we have all had confirmed what we thought all along that the ruling classes can avoid or evade tax, and squirrel away the money they may have looted through bribery and corruption in tax havens; which are sometimes British Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories with the British Virgin Islands apparently a particular favourite. All in all the Panama Papers have so far revealed 12 national leaders among 143 politicians, families and friends who are named. More worryingly Mossack Fonseca is only the world’s 4th largest offshore law practice. If only we had access to the rest, where I presume the shredders are humming and fingers growing sore from hitting delete all day.

Zero tax and maximum secrecy is a mighty pull and we are told that there are often legitimate reasons for registering a company in a tax haven and hiding your ownership, or at least it is not in itself illegal but what does it betray about the mind-set of these people? Ostensibly, they are the elect of the people who we have chosen to run our affairs because we trust them to act honestly, transparently and in our interests. That’s probably 143 mega fails then, and hopefully those subject to democracies that are not rigged will be out of office at the next election.

One thing these people have in common is that they are wealthy and intent on growing even richer away from the public’s gaze, but the way they think is far from the mind process of the philanthropists who seek to use their wealth to help society. Yes, they may also be intent on growing their wealth but transparency gives some assurance of legitimately.

The real point comes from the finding that there were very few American names in the leaked material, and maybe they have their own tax havens, but just possibly the American culture of wealthy people gaining respect by giving to non-profits (charities to you) has sufficiently suffused their society that by and large that is what wealth means to them. That is the chance to help others and to be seen to help, because that respect does not come from invisibility but the openness that is prevalent in US giving and often lacking in the British ‘doing good by stealth’ model. We are deeply afraid people might think we are boasting, but fortunately we have seen a steady change in this pattern and wealthy people here are increasingly relaxed about being good examples and encouraging others to follow.

On the other side of the coin there are 143 people who have just lost the respect of their societies, and the speed at which some countries have censored and denied the accuracy of the Panama Papers points to panic behind the scenes.

Hopefully, these revelations will give an impetus to the process started at the top by Bill Gates’s Giving Pledge movement, supported by the waves of progress on corporate social responsibility and encouraged by fundraisers everywhere who are following the money.


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