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If you haven’t yet taken the time to explore what this massive leak of financial information entails, I don’t blame you. I write about this stuff for a living and it’s daunting even to me. Honestly, many of us journalists waited for other journalists to boil it down enough for us to understand, so we could distill it further for a piece like this, where I can render a dry topic more relatable by adding “fam” at the end of a paragraph about offshore accounts.
But you’ve shown some initiative by reading this far and I promise you’ll be rewarded for your efforts.
The 11.5 million documents released in this leak constitute the biggest whistleblowing effort in recorded history. Hundreds of news outlets worked together (because individuals doing this would legitimately be assassinated) on this multi-year effort to expose how the upper echelons of society have been hiding money to avoid it being taxed. TRILLIONS of dollars have been squirreled away and were previously unaccounted for.
The money was being funneled through the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, which is where the name Panama Papers came from.
If you’ve ever entertained ideas about the existence of the Illuminati, this is about the closest thing to proof you can hope to get.
“But wait, didn’t we already know the super-wealthy were doing offshore banking and being evil plutocrats since the concept of tax evasion was invented?” you must be asking. Of course. Don’t think for a second any of us are out here gobsmacked at the news that the wealthy have widened the income inequality gap through nefarious deeds.
What the Panama Papers DO give us, however, is proof. And names. Names that aren’t just the equivalent of 1 percenter middle management. Big ol’ names. Vladimir Putin. We’ve already seen Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, the Prime Minister of Iceland, step down for his hand in this fuckery, and that’s just week one. People are still combing through the endless reams of content to see who and what else we can find. You’ll see the full impact of this leak if and when some heads of state and corporate bigwigs go to prison.
If you’ve ever entertained ideas about the existence of the Illuminati, this is about the closest thing to proof you can hope to get. It’s not as sexy as Eyes Wide Shut orgies, but trust that the fools implicated in this scandal have enough crazy orgies on yachts without needing dusty cloaks.
Where the Panama Papers really shine is in revealing just how much wealth there is in the world. It’s an OBSCENE amount, estimated between $21 and $32 trillion. The revelation of this figure has bolstered arguments that we have the ability to live in a post-scarcity society. We currently have the tech and resources to live in a utopian Star Trek universe where, at the very least, nobody’s dying of starvation or without a place to call home. The only thing that seems to be standing in the way of this (safe-to-assume universal) goal is a bunch of rich pricks hoarding and not spending wealth they’ve accrued by finding loopholes to get out of paying their fair share into the society that—with all its roads, legal systems, and internet—helped them find success.
The Guardian has posited that this data leak proves once and for all that the concept of a Universal Basic Income (UBI), a no-strings-attached annual stipend meant to prevent anyone from sliding into abject poverty is not just feasible, but a better system than the complicated hodgepodge of social programs we currently (barely) enjoy.
Unemployment and disability pay, food stamps, housing assistance—why not just start fresh with a comprehensive payout that isn’t so embroiled in politics and bigotry? Expect to see this idea pushed more and more as time goes on, especially as the United States gets closer to universal healthcare.
Maybe you still don’t really care about the Panama Papers. I get it. You’ve got your own shit going on. But maybe you can enjoy a little schadenfreude in knowing that a bunch of people who have never known what it’s like to wonder if their card will be denied, or if they’re gonna have a full meal that night, or if they’ll be able to pay rent on time are, possibly for the first time in their lives, shaking in their boots.