The Panama Papers and Perception Management

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), as well as a few other outlets have posted a couple of interesting pieces on how the Panama Papers have disclosed that the game is “rigged” (“Panama Papers taunt the masses with proof that game is rigged“, “Inversions, Panama schemes mean the ordinary wage-earner gets stuck paying the taxes“). There are insistent calls for greater “transparency” in the global financial system, and promises and assurances that “transparency” will be the keyword from hereon in.

All of which makes Bastian Obermayer of the Suddeutsche Zeitung, the original recipient of the trove of leaks, smile, because he’s heard it all before. Particularly after the 2008 market meltdown, “transparency” was on everybody’s lips. But, in the end, it only amounted to “perception management” — cosmetic reforms to give the appearance of transparency but without the reality of it.

How much do you want to bet that it will be attempted again? The Panama Papers pretty much reveal that a lot of politicians, or their associates, supporters, and donors, are entangled themselves in the global “web of corruption” disclosed by the Papers. And as is usual, attempts will be made to save Capitalism, or the corporatocracy, once again from its own hubris and excesses.

So what if there’s greater “transparency” in the global financial system? It will be little better than a reality TV show. We get to watch the 1% flaunt and shuffle their obscene wealth around the globe “transparently” even as we can do little about the outflows because our hands have been tied by laws and so-called “free trade agreements”. You can bet that the recovery and reconstruction of neo-liberalism will be foremost in the minds of those tasked with making the system “transparent”, even if its just another coat of varnish over same-old, same-old — cosmetic reforms.

Maybe, as in the financial crisis of 2008 and the bailout, a few heads will roll just to give the impression that something was done, while leaving the system, and the ideology which sustains it, basically intact and unquestioned. Whether these kinds of exercises in “perception management” will continue to satisfy the outrage is another question. But it may well be that the Panama Papers are the proverbial “last straw” or “the straw that broke the camel’s back”.  The Panama Papers are proof, if more proof was even needed, that nothing was really done following the financial crisis of 2008 and that any purported remedies were just pretense.

Underlying that pretense is the assumption that Fukuyama’s “end of history” and Maggie Thatcher’s TINA principle (There is No Alternative) are unquestionable dogmas of the faith. And not just dogmas, but also fates, as well as being “the best of all possible worlds”. In this “best of all possible worlds” every child should be raised up in the “virtue of selfishness” and the social benefits of competitive egoism. That’s really what underlies all the multiple crises of Late Modernity. The “Invisible Hand” which is supposed to sort things out, act as constraint, and prevent the social order from atomising completely, is apparently not doing its job any more.

This “Invisible Hand” is, simultaneously, an abdication of responsibility. It relieves one of having to have a sense of responsibility at all — becomes “Providence” itself. It’s an example of what, in Adam Smith was only a metaphor, becomes “reified” as something concrete, and so becomes a fetish. Fetishism is symptomatic, too, as Gebser notes, of mind at the end of its tether and which unconsciously reverts to magical thinking.




5 responses to “The Panama Papers and Perception Management”

  1. Scott Preston says :

    God, apparently, has become an economist, and more specifically a neo-classical economist, distributing economic rewards and economic punishments indifferently, and therefore :”justly”. But it seems he favours the rich over the poor these days. And I actually read recently a very pious man (a banker) who insisted that gross inequality was “God’s will”, since it was the will of the “Invisible Hand” apparently. So, I guess to a banker, God is a financial wizard.

    I guess he was following in the footsteps of Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs, who insisted that he and Goldman were “doing God’s work”

    This is presumably because the “Invisible Hand” has become identical with Providence, and in those terms a fetish. To question the wisdom of this Invisible Hand (and even to doubt its very existence) is the contemporary heresy. It proves you’re a “communist” and, therefore, an atheist. And in those terms, neo-liberalism is effectually a surrogate religion.

  2. Scott Preston says :

    An example of the kind of maneouverings you can expect, as described above, — the pretense of doing something by doing nothing at all — was just posted on The Guardian, in the case of Iceland and its PM who was implicated in the Panama Papers

  3. Scott Preston says :

    Capitalism’s “great crisis”? Rana Foroohar at Time seems to think so too.

  4. Scott Preston says :

    The mind-boggling scale of wealth held in offshore tax havens, according to the CBC

  5. abdulmonem says :

    What is transparency but the process of truth-telling. Transparency is an encompassing concept that pervades all human activities. It is a call against hypocrisy. It knows no zones. Ill-intentioned peoples try to evade their human responsibility through the ambiguous phrases like the ill-coined phrase ( the invisible hand) or all other coinages that are touted to deceive and manipulate. Iceland story tells the interplay between hypocrisy and concealment very clearly. What is tax- haven but a shelter to hide, to deceive and to evade responsibility. It is a ripe time to expose the hidden ugliness of our so-called civilized world. It is high time to call things by their proper names. Who do you think the producer of the tragic play being enacted on the Iraqi land by so-called iraqi hands, but those who the Panama papers are talking about under the supervision of governments with their crooked accomplices. Iraq funeral heralds the funeral of our civilization , everything is connected. Certain event plays the basic igniter in the domino collapse of our so-called strong civilization. The deluded vision. Blaming god for or ascribing to god, our crooked action is not a new invention, it runs with us ever since the beginning. ( the claim of Bush in the invasion of Iraq is revealing in this context)
    It is part of the human play, among us the honest and among us the cheater, the trustworthy and the worthless, the faithful to the one and those who change their faith according to their desires. We are in constant constrains to see who will stick with honesty and who will move to the other side. Let us not forget that we are all players in a divine multi-dimensional drama. Is it not ugly to let the poor shoulders the financial burdens of the state and let the rich runs away with the loot. Nothing runs, haphazardly as the stupid assumes, without limits, everything has a limit and death is our final limit but no one knows his limit. John Whitehead one of the icons of the ill-fated Goldman Sachs had died and I do not know how much money he took with him to his grave. The stupidity of the rich is tantalizing and may the remainders wake up before joining Mr whitehead with a more responsible consciousness. It is pity most people are oblivious of the program of the divine questioning, after they have been convinced that god has died and the human is free now to dance on any music he wishes.

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