There is a storm blowing in from Paradise. Documents leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists reaffirmed what most of us already at least suspected: that the wealthiest among us have an elaborate shadow network of financial infrastructure in offshore tax havens to skimp taxes in their home countries. In short, rich people are playing by different rules.
(I say reaffirm, because something very similar happened in 2016 with the Panama Papers, which outed wealthy individuals and politicians around the world managing money through offshore shell companies.)
The Paradise Papers are noteworthy for two reasons. The first is the magnitude. The leaked documents come from offshore tax firm Appleby, corporate service providers Estera and Asiaciti Trust, and business registries of 19 tax jurisdictions. They concern about $10 trillion (USD) overall, which is quite a lot of money considering that total gross world production for 2014 was about $78 trillion. We are talking about the global high rollers table here.
The second is that they meet CanCon requirements. Over 3,000 Canadians were named in the leaks, and some of them have connections to the commanding heights of the House of Commons. Even our beloved head of state Elizabeth II was named in the papers. Her Majesty's estate has millions of pounds tied up in a rent-to-buy retailer accused of preying on the poor, which is a shock because the hyperexploitation of unlanded labourers is not something you associate with a feudal monarch.
The real meat of the report is how many of our former prime ministers are enmeshed in the financial heart of darkness. Leaked memos reveal Paul Martin's former company Canada Steamship Lines is one of Appleby's biggest clients, and Jean Chretien is listed as the owner of 100,000 stock options in an East African oil company (He denies ever having a bank account outside of Canada, and says he doesn't know about the stock options.) And lest anyone suggest this was a Liberal family affair, it turns out that Brian Mulroney sat on the board of the company that facilitated the largest arms deal in British history to Saudi Arabia.
Juicier still than the has-beens on the list is the revelation that Liberal fundraising bigwig Stephen Bronfman has not only amassed nearly $60 million in a shadowy offshore tax haven, and that the law firm representing Bronfman had been instrumental in lobbying the Canadian government against cracking down on overseas tax evasion. Coming on the heels of two months of a taxation trainwreck—and a grueling few weeks exposing just how comfortable Justin Trudeau is with plutocracy—this is not a good look for the prime minister. Again, we reiterate: the optics certainly make it look like the extremely rich people around the federal cabinet table don't actually have the best interests of the "middle class" at heart.
The Canadian Revenue Agency has promised to investigate, but it should be reiterated that this tax haven business —while shady, morally dubious, and breathtakingly sociopathic—is perfectly legal. The fact that these fundamentally anti-social tax laws exist probably has nothing to do with the fact that their beneficiaries control most of the legislative and judicial power in this country. This is surely just a coincidence, and not at all symptomatic of late capitalism going further off the rails and jettisoning all pretense to modesty or even the vaguest idea of fairness.
It's an endless cash grab all the way down and when you reach a critical mass of riches they let you order from the secret menu of liberal democracy. (It's like the secret menu at McDonald's except instead of a nightmare stack of mismatched meat patties, it's a disproportionate and unearned share of society's wealth you get to expropriate from the rest of us mere mortals who can't afford the high-powered amoral attorneys available to the haute bourgeoisie. So, it's more like a secret menu at Five Guys.)
Anyway, our social system's worst-kept secret is outed yet again. Democracy is used by the rich to play a shell game in a two-tiered legal system while the rest of us pay a heavier burden for declining benefits. The only thing better than a Gilded Age is a new Gilded Age with drone warfare.
Happy Monday everybody. Let the good times roll. Follow Drew Brown on Twitter.