If We Can't Stop Corporations from Hiding in Cayman Islands to Avoid Taxes, We All Need to Become Pirates
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The leaders at the G8 summit may recommend some weak international regulations. However, they won’t resolve the implicit conflict of global economic competition. Take the cases of Russia and Cyprus, China and Macao, the United States and Delaware or the United Kingdom and its Crown Dependencies. Every economic power has its own offshore center as a structural financial instrument that cannot be dismantled without major consequences. The use of offshore finance is too big to fail. The financial centers of London, New York, Frankfurt and Hong Kong are today’s toxic factories, and they exploit offshore jurisdictions like the Caymans, Jersey, Zurich and Singapore as noxious, yet legal resources.
As the American Senate and the British House of Commons interrogated the CEOs of Apple, Amazon, Starbucks and Google about their massive tax evasions, it was evident that these companies would get away with the biggest robberies in recent history with nothing more than a slap on the wrist. The public, otherwise powerless, could only laugh at this nonsense.
When impunity and injustice are the new normal, transparency becomes an empty word. Corruption is no secret in Ireland, for example, which never needed to hide the fact that corporations pretend to be based there in order to evade taxes everywhere else.
Embedded in digital technologies, transparency is unavoidable, but it isn’t enough to tackle present and future abuses of power. Leaks of unclassified information are important; however, information doesn’t make any sense by itself. The huge quantity of data published by WikiLeaks and the recent Offshore Leaks can only generate political change if mainstream media filter the leaks sensitively and honestly. (Hence, whistleblower Edward Snowden turned to Glenn Greenwald, because he trusted the journalist, and his outlet The Guardian, to tell the story of the U.S. National Security Agency’s surveillance.) Real change can only come about when people incisively interpret the political and ethical value of information.
We should all be involved in designing alternative tax structures in a process similar to the participatory budgeting initiatives that have spread from Brazil to Mexico to the United States. For example, people and businesses could be empowered with tools that let them determine which area of society needs their funds. People should be able to enact change in a more participatory and fluid manner, rather than waiting on a slow and corrupt legislative system to deliver tax reforms.
We already have the tools for a direct and open democracy. What we need is a cultural and educational revolution that can bring it into being. Designing new ideas for governance is the real creative challenge of today. Faced with the austerity recommended by politicians and economists, artists can activate the utopian imagination, fostering innovative forms of participation and shared cultural values in social structures.
Paolo Cirio interviews John Christensen, executive director of the Tax Justice Network; William Brittain-Catlin, author of The Dark Side of the Global Economy; and Jack Blum, chair of Tax Justice Network USA; and Chris Taggart, co-founder of OpenCorporates.