Offshore tax havens aren’t being used by the 99 per cent

Last week over 13 million files were leaked from Appleby, an offshore law firm. The Paradise Papers, the name given to the leak, revealed that many of the world’s elites are hiding their money offshore and evading taxes. The leak covers a wide range of figures and companies, from the Queen of England to Loblaw and former Canadian prime ministers. What leaks of this size show is that those at the top of pyramid are benefiting more from privacy than you and me.

Data leaks have been remarkably controversial, as in the case of the WikiLeaks document release during the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and the Edward Snowden leaks.

The partisanship in these two separate moments was striking. Republicans (for the most part) celebrated Wikileaks because it targeted Hillary Clinton, yet complained about patriotism and treason when Snowden betrayed the government. In the same sense, Democrats (for the most part) cheered on Snowden and criticized the shady political maneuvering of Wikileaks. Leaks like the Paradise Papers offer an exception to this partisanship.

Across the board, people despise the way the elites of the world game the system in a manner which epitomizes greed, selfishness, and corruption. But the papers do bring up a question we as a society will have to face. With the internet being the most powerful tool in modern society, to what extent ought we to value privacy when using it? The thought of the government watching everything you do online is worthy of skepticism. But the Paradise Papers prove you have to look past that intuition. With full internet privacy we wouldn’t know who was using these tax shelters.

In many ways, your information is not nearly as private as you think. Mega-corporations like Apple and Google are in the business of collecting your information and selling it to companies for more effective advertising. The government may not directly have your information, but you can be sure it is in a data bank somewhere, capable of being accessed and leaked (just like the Paradise Papers) by anyone with the means and intent to do so.

Secondly, such an emphasis on privacy is what enables the elites of the world to keep their trillions to themselves. It goes without saying that such a quantity of money could greatly benefit even you individually. Since 2011 Canadian tax holes enabled corporations to avoid paying taxes on $55 billion in profits.

Just for scale, the federal deficit last year was a measly $17.8 billion. An economist at the University of California, Berkeley estimated there could be up to $7.6 trillion hidden in tax havens across the globe. What it does tell us is that we are dealing with trillions of dollars not contributing whatsoever to society. The majority’s attraction to internet privacy is certainly reasonable. But the Paradise Papers show that the elites of the world might be benefiting much more from ‘privacy’ concerns than you.