A view of the beach at Pompano Beach Club in Southampton, Bermuda.
Every time that the painstaking and dangerous work of investigative journalists exposes some major tax avoidance scandal like the so-called Lagarde List or, now, the Paradise Papers, we are called upon to rehearse the A to Z of being.
Frustrating as this dystopian gospel may be, it explains the fate of humanity, which while having made progress in some areas remains stubbornly stagnant and archaic in many others.
The chapters of this gospel-in-reverse, as it were, are limited in number and brief in size. Chapter 1: “All people are equal, but this axiom has already gone down in history as the Munchausen dogma.” Chapter 2: “You can serve any god you may, mammon too if you wish, as long as you have enough pharisaism in stock.” Chapter 3: “The proletariat has indeed no country, but make sure to replace the term proletariat with that of capital.” Chapter 4: “How many laws are there? As many as there are loopholes. What do they look like? They look like the web of a spider.”
The Paradise Papers expose part of the global network of legitimate lawlessness and the immorality of the powerful: 13.4 million documents, hundreds of names involving prominent politicians, show business figures and private firms. About 8 trillion euros squirreled away in tax havens in the Cayman Islands, Bermuda, in Antigua.
Even if we assume that half of that money comes from organized crime, drug trafficking and weapons, the rest sits in more-or-less disguised accounts belonging to ethical citizens, even more ethical politicians and market giants who like to donate to charity every once in a while.
The money was not taxed in the place where it was earned as profit since certain individuals fooled tax and police authorities via the offshore trick – a trick which is all too popular among Greeks who, out of a mix of curiosity, love of knowledge and good old internationalism, cherished the pleasures of the globe’s tax havens after they were done with the pleasures of Switzerland. Crisis-hit Greece owes them a debt of gratitude for their patriotism.
What would the economies of the US, Britain, China or Greece look like, what would these countries’ hospitals, schools, roads and sports stadiums look like had all those piles of money been taxed in the countries where they were earned in the same way that authorities tax the salaries of workers and the incomes of small and medium-sized businessmen who are unable to dream of paradise on Earth – they can only aspire to the one after death.
It would be a fair question, but one for another world.