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.