Money laundering and tax evasion are nothing new in the world of big business, world leaders, and the rich and powerful. The Panama Papers story is the biggest data leak in history, exposing 11.5 million (!) documents belonging to the Mossack Fonseca law firm. The BBC reported that “The documents show 12 current or former heads of state and at least 60 people linked to current or former world leaders in the data.”
But beyond the mind boggling size of the apparatus exposed in this affair, the fact that it happened, and probably is still happening elsewhere, should not surprise us. It would actually be more surprising if such a leak did not expose this much condemning evidence. As long as we are living in a society that glorifies wealth and power, we should expect the exploitation of power and access to wealth to continue to grow.
It is an endless, vicious cycle of human nature that unless uprooted will destroy the moguls and take down all of us along with it. To break out of this cycle, we must rethink the entire structure of our economy, and therefore our society. The alienation and narcissism permeating every level of society are natural breeding grounds for the individualistic economy. But in a world where everyone is interconnected and interdependent, such an approach is lethal to the economy and to society.
Psychologists refer to continuous discontent with what one has by the title, “Hedonic Treadmill.” They explain that it is “the tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major events or life changes.” Therefore, if I strike a deal where I gain a billion dollars, soon after I will become accustomed to it and begin searching for the next big thrill, meaning another profitable deal.
The Midrash (Kohelet), written many centuries ago, makes an even more extreme discernment: “One does not leave this world with half of one’s desires satisfied. Rather, one who has one hundred wants two hundred, and one who has two hundred wants four hundred.” By this logic, as soon as I have a billion dollars I will want another billion, and when I have two billion I will want another two, and so forth.
This trait is precisely how we reached this low point in our evolution. The Panama Papers affair is a testament to an imperative transformation that we must make in our society.
There is no doubt that regulation and preventive legislation are required. However, taking legal action and collecting due taxes, albeit necessary, will not solve the problem at its root. Human craftiness will always be one step ahead of the law.
So as a scientist who has been researching and observing human nature for decades, I will present what I believe is the only way out of this predicament:
We are connected to each other like organs are connected in a body. Just as the liver cannot exist without the heart, brain, and the vascular system that it serves, the USA cannot exist without China, or Europe, or even Russia.
On a smaller scale, each of us cannot exist without support from the entire society that serves us, brings us our food, gives us our jobs, and teaches our children. And yet, far too often we behave as though we aren’t part of the system and can do whatever we want as long as it’s passably legal. The result is that we feel alone and insecure. No wonder so many people turn to “medical” marijuana and anti-depressants for comfort.
The economy, and therefore society of the future, must be balanced and sustainable. We need to inculcate within us a sense of belonging, commitment to our communities, and care for our world. We do not have the prerogative of saying, “The little person can’t do anything about it; it’s the government’s job.” We need to gradually educate ourselves into applying mutual consideration, mutual responsibility, and mutual concern to all aspects of our lives.
Such a process will diminish our conflicts and enhance our sense of security and overall happiness. The need to keep to ourselves will decline as we learn to trust our communities to support us.
When this process takes place on the national, and then global scale, it will transform human society. Suspicion and hostility will make way for trust and approachability. Fundamentalism will wane as life becomes more full of meaning, and the urge to destroy will dissipate.
If we do it with resolve and conviction, we will take the world to a better place, where all the hidden money in tax havens cannot take us.
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