Panama Papers, and How Affluence Can Corrupt
[caption id="attachment_5301" align="aligncenter" width="452"] A marquee of the Arango Orillac Building lists the Mossack Fonseca law firm in Panama City, Sunday, April 3, 2016. German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung says it has obtained a vast trove of documents detailing the offshore financial dealings of the rich and famous. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalism says the latest trove contains includes nearly 40 years of data from the Panama-based law firm, Mossack Fonseca. The company didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)[/caption]
One of the most recent problems to make headlines worldwide has been the so-called “Panama Papers” scandal, which involves politicians and other worldwide leaders using offshore financial accounts to keep their funds without being taxed. This scandal, which has been referred to as the biggest leak of documents in history, has led to a number of high profile individuals, including politicians, businessmen, lawyers, being placed under a heavy degree of public scrutiny, with one leader, Iceland Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, actually resigning as a result. Without question, this scandal has caused major fallout worldwide, with many of the involved figures facing heavy criticism from the public. However, the biggest negative outcome of this scandal exists on a more philosophical level. The Panama Papers scandal reveals that within our society, being rich, powerful, or famous often gives individuals a feeling of entitlement that they do not deserve, and often causes them to disregard rules that apply to every citizen, including themselves. The Panama Papers scandal is just one example of public figures using their wealth and influence to further their own self-interests, while considering themselves separate from laws to which all citizens are accountable, both legally and philosophically.
The Panama Papers situation arose from documents leaked from a Panamanian law firm, which implicate a number of powerful individuals across the world in hiding funds in offshore accounts, far from the reach of their respective countries. By employing various methods, including hiding funds in shell companies and hidden accounts, these figures hoped to avoid paying taxes in their respective countries. Individuals tied to prominent heads of state, such as Russian President Vladimir Putin, British Prime Minister David Cameron, and Chinese President Xi Jinping have all been connected to the papers, and the fallout has caused these individuals to face increasing scrutiny. Superficially, this scandal has shown significant flaws in worldwide financial policies, which have allowed wealthy and powerful people to circumvent the system for their own ends. Philosophically speaking, however, this scandal shows how being rich and powerful often causes individuals to disregard legal and ethical principles that apply to every citizen, simply because of their own previous fortune. When analyzing this case, the motivation for these individuals’ transgressions seems somewhat shaky. These people are among the wealthiest and powerful people in the world. If there’s one thing they do not lack for, it is money. Therefore, it seems remarkably curious that these people would break the law, and put themselves in heavy public scrutiny once their crimes were revealed, all simply for the possibility of not having to pay taxes, which would essentially mean them keeping more money. When you’re among the richest people in the world, it seems highly unusual that the one thing that you’ll risk public humiliation and legal scrutiny for is more money. This simply proves that in many cases, having wealth and power causes individuals to forget their societal obligations to follow laws that everyone is subject to. These individuals simply choose to ignore these laws, and follow the prospect of further financial gain, even when a serious argument could be made that financial gain was probably the one thing that they needed the least. Having power, fame, or vast wealth often means that individuals will ignore both legal and moral codes, not for any overriding reason regarding their own best interests, but simply because they can. This scandal, ultimately, may have involved these figures committing financial misdeeds, but this incident’s real meaning is that the individuals involved considered themselves separate from the laws of their respective citizens.
This mindset is a major societal problem, because many wealthy and influential people can be subject to thinking that both legal mandates and moral principles of human interaction don’t apply to them. For example, both Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton have garnered significant political followings, despite neither being a stranger to scandal. Trump has almost consistently managed to make inflammatory and prejudiced comments throughout his campaign, often targeting minorities, women, and even specific individuals who have challenged him, including Fox News reporter Megyn Kelly. Meanwhile, Clinton has faced significant backlash regarding her role in the Benghazi attack in 2012, and her possible illicit use of a private email server during the crisis, which may have revealed indiscretions of hers regarding the situation. The actions of both candidates have been questioned and condemned by many, and have tarnished their respective reputations, even while both are experiencing strong electoral success. Trump’s status as a wealthy, famous, and powerful figure has essentially given him a mindset of allowing himself to disrespect anyone who challenges him, essentially blame minorities for several of America’s current problems, and even, inexplicably, accuse GOP rival Ted Cruz of cheating when Cruz defeated Trump in a recent primary. Essentially, Trump being rich and famous has caused himself to believe that he has permission to act like a terrible human being, and can fail to treat others with dignity and respect. Simultaneously, Clinton has allowed herself to fall into scandal by failing to adhere to regulations that any government official is subject to, and caused citizens to question her honesty as a human being, despite being a comparatively capable politician. Both Trump and Clinton are examples of powerful figures allowing themselves to think that their power and influence allow them to act without regard for both legal and moral principles. This is highly similar to the current Panama Papers fiasco, where rich and powerful figures felt their influence sanctioned their ignoring of financial laws.
The Panama Papers debacle shows how wealth, fame, and power can corrupt the thinking of individuals into a dishonest and incorrect mindset. Being rich, famous, or powerful does not give someone permission to break the law, treat people with disrespect, or ignore regulations that apply to both yourself and others. Part of being wealthy and powerful is understanding that your wealth and power does not make you superior to anyone else, and does not remove your obligation to act within the confines of both the law and human morality. The Panama Papers fiasco proves the importance of adhering to both legal and ethical principles, even when you have more resources and influence at your disposal than other citizens.