04 April 2016
The Panama Papers
The reporters at the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists are quick to remind readers that setting up shell companies through the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca is not itself illegal, but the implication of the ICIJ's massive expose of leaked Mossack Fonseca documents is that Panama provides the world's elite -- politicians and their families and cronies, businessmen and celebrities -- a platform for activities that are essentially if not legally corrupt, from tax shelters to money laundering. The revelations are global in scope and apparently nonpartisan, in that both close associates of Vladimir Putin and the president of Ukraine have been shown to be up to dubious stuff. Privilege knows neither party nor ideology, after all, and both those for whom wealth is power and those for whom power is wealth seem at home in Panama. Both the Saudi royal family and the family of the current President of China have business with Mossack Fonseca, it seems. Wealth and power convey a mobility that keeps the global elite beyond the reach of local regulation. Until law is as mobile -- which is to say until law is global -- powerful individuals, families and corporations will find shelter from their duties in either sense of the word. Even if the "Panama Papers" expose isn't meant to lead to criminal charges against anyone, it's clearly meant to stir up universal outrage. It has had immediate consequences in Iceland, where growing numbers are demanding the resignation of their prime minister, and it has no doubt exacerbated political crises in other places. Let the local consequences be what they will, but if the Panama Papers prove anything it may be the need for greater world government, or at least enough to close off these shelters from the obligations of citizenship in a civilized world.