Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Panama papers: Two views

Tyler Cowen

If you follow the news, you've probably heard about the Panama papers, a huge leak of documents that show how the global elite hid their money.

I've seen a couple of interesting reactions to this.

Steve "Fly" Pratt has a post up, "The Panamamamatrix: Tsarists and Nazis and spooks, oh my!" which sees the leak as a welcome expose of the rich. He writes,

"It seems to me that the 99 % of humanity are justified in the distrust of the 1%, or to narrow it down further, the inner secret sanctuary of international unrestricted finance. The racket, robbing the world, cheating the rest of the 99% of the worlds population out of their equal share of the worlds resources, technological innovations and freedom."

Steve then pulls together clippings suggesting that the folks exposed by the leaks resemble some of the global conspirators Robert Anton Wilson wrote about.

Tyler Cowen, writing at Marginal Revolution, has a contrarian take. He says all of the applause for the leak reflects a lack of respect for the right to privacy.


"Let’s say a group of criminal defense lawyers kept a database of their confidential conversations with their clients.  That would include clients charged with murder, robbery, DUI, drug abuse, and so on.  In turn, a hacker would break into that database and post the information from those conversations on Wikileaks.  Of course a lot of those conversations would appear to be incriminating because — let’s face it — most of the people who require defense attorneys on criminal charges are in fact guilty.  When asked why the hack was committed, the hacker would say 'Most of those people are guilty.  I want to make sure they do not escape punishment'.

"How many of us would approve of that behavior?  Keep in mind the hacker is spreading the information not only to prosecutors but to the entire world, and outside of any process sanctioned by the rule of law.  The hacker is not backed by the serving of any criminal charges or judge-served warrants.

"Yet somehow many of us approve when the victims are wealthy and higher status, as is the case with the Panama Papers.  Furthermore most of those individuals probably did nothing illegal, but rather they were trying to minimize their tax burden through (mostly) legal shell corporations.  Admittedly, very often the underlying tax laws should be changed, just as we should repeal the deduction for mortgage interest too.  But in the meantime we are not justified in stealing information about those people, even if some of them are evil and powerful, as is indeed the case for homeowners too."

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