The Paradise Papers prove what most of us already knew: it’s all a fucking scam. The rest of us shrug and go about our day.
I’m an adult. At least I see an adult when I look in the mirror. So I should know better. I know people. I seek out the best but expect the worst. It comes from a lifetime of looking around and finally figuring out we’re all cheats. The George Washington story about him cutting down a cherry tree and not being able to lie about it—is a lie. Jesus didn’t turn hydrogen and oxygen into fermented grapes and James Cameron’s movies aren’t that great, they’re just big.
So, I get it. People lie to get by. I’m a small stakes person, so I’m a small stakes liar. “I’ll be there in five.” “Heading to the store now to pick up your prescription.” “I don’t remember exactly what the doctor said.” Those are my lies. Most of the time they just kind of float there for a moment above my head and then drift off into the wind. At worst, they put a temporary hold on my credibility and create a bit deeper hole for me to attempt to crawl out of. At best, they give me something to do.
I didn’t consider myself a full adult till pretty recently. Twenties was just drunken fumbling. Thirties, I felt like I could fake it enough to pretend I belonged at the party. Maybe late-30s/early 40s, I started to view things as an adult ought to: That my life didn’t belong to me. And so, I did what most adults do at that point, I started to shrink it down to things I could control. I no longer extend myself too much. I don’t try to put forth too much effort or ask for too much from others. I don’t trust a lot.
The human race itself is in its adulthood now, well into it. Probably in its dotage. We did a good job for centuries growing up to find life didn’t belong to us and shrinking ourselves down into our little villages and towns. Because of this, we made great things along the way to offset the atrocities: Flight, the burrito, Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks.” But then something else happened. We started to grow more capable of communicating across languages and borders. Capitalism, a cyanide pill lodged in our collective back molars if there was one, took over and the fittest was no longer a question of physicality or virtue or nice chins—not who could outrun or outsmart—but of who could out-scheme the other guy. The ones who would rise up were the predators, the snivelers, the cons.
The Paradise Papers were released over the weekend. The international law firm Appleby had been hacked and 13 million documents ended up in the possession of a group called the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. This group, in turn, worked across news organizations including the New York Times, The Guardian and the Washington Post to expose the hidden financial dealings of everyone on Appleby’s roster: from current Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to Bono to Queen Elizabeth to Jared Kushner to Apple and Nike and Twitter and Facebook.
I won’t go into the details here. You can read a pretty good summary here or listen to one here, but the bottom line is there’s this whole world that we didn’t know about but actually had a pretty good idea existed. A world where everyone is paid like the Friday night babysitter, under the table and with a pat on the ass and a wink.
The richest individuals and corporations among us set up fake charities and trusts where they move money around so they can afford more cars, more homes, more rugs and suits and planes. They launder money, buy elections, arm insurgents and move drugs around in broad daylight but also behind the thin scrim of legitimate businesses.
Just from this hack alone (there are hundreds of similar firms like Appleby with similar clients) we find that they’ve stolen—and yes, this is but a simple, giant heist—an estimated $7.6 trillion which would equal a global tax revenue of about $190 billion. Basically, there’s enough dark money out there floating around to fix every nation’s roads, hospitals, schools—to fund science and get us on 100 percent renewable energy, beat cancer, solve the pending drought and famine in the world’s hot zones and still have enough leftover to buy everyone a pint to cheers to the good fortune of living in such connected, such gilded times.
But that’s not going to happen. Instead, they’ll take over and burn down institutions one at a time, take a steaming human shit all over civility and limbo under regulations while the rest of us fight their wars, get sick and starve.
Once one realizes he lives in the time of the wealthiest and the most advanced global society ever, then understands the very richest of the rich, the powerful of the powerful, choose not to pay in and instead win through others losing, everything else starts to make sense. You see things in their context: Wealth, they have figured out, is relative. And the true amount needed to be untouchable is a metric not of accumulation, but one of suppression.
It’s all a fucking scam.
As an adult, you should know this.