The Pandora Papers, Money Laundering, and the Theft of a Nation’s Wealth
In the annals of Greek mythology, when Prometheus stole fire from heaven, Zeus, the king of the gods, took vengeance by presenting Pandora to Prometheus’ brother Epimetheus. Pandora opened a box left in her care that contained sickness, death and many other unspecified evils which were then released into the world.
This story of Pandora and the box has been passed down through the ages, and is still omnipresent in our times. It means doing or starting something that can cause many unforeseen problems. You can also say opening Pandora’s Box is akin to opening a can of worms.
Opening Pandora’s Box is the curse of shortsightedness, doing things without thinking of the long term ramifications—something in ample supply in our day and age. The damage to the environment in the quest for profits, demagogues filling the head of the populace with false narratives in the quest for power, the wealth accumulation that has led to obscene levels of wealth inequality—all these and many more are the result of opening up Pandora’s Box and doing shortsighted things that cause many unforeseen problems.
The problems that are being caused from what I listed above all point to one thing: the potential collapse of society, especially in the U.S.
Which brings me to the latest expression of Pandora: the Pandora Papers. Thanks to a whistleblower, in early October, 12 million leaked documents were given to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, who, in conjunction with the Washington Post and The Guardian, have published stories about the significance of this information.
The Pandora Papers are the latest trove of documents—before them there were the Panama Papers, the Paradise Papers and the FinCEN files—that point to the hundreds of trillions, if not quadrillions, of dollars that are being moved secretly around the world into tax havens. The individuals and corporations whose money this is move it into tax havens to avoid paying taxes, and also to hide their wealth.
The name Pandora was given to these documents because they may prove to open a Pandora’s box of investigations and lawsuits in the future. Many people were named in the Papers; the list includes celebrities, political leaders, royalty, dictators and criminals.
These Papers also point the way to the potential collapse of society.
How do the Pandora Papers point the way to the potential collapse of society? Because as money gets laundered and hidden, robbing countries of tax revenue, the countries then don’t have the resources to take care of their own people. And so, while there is a global class of the superrich squirreling away their wealth, the rest of the populace are left with crumbs.
Just in the U.S., hundreds of billions, if not trillions, of dollars are the amount of taxes evaded, per year. Imagine how that money could fund investment in human capital: the Biden administration is attempting to pass the $1.8 trillion Build Back Better Act, with many provisions that could create a more equitable and prosperous society for all.
And since the bill is payable over 10 years, it would only cost $180 billion a year. That would be chicken feed if the money laundering that the Pandora Papers exposed around the world wasn’t taking place. Instead, because of the revenue they are losing out on, the government says they don’t have enough funds to pay for taking care of their citizens. What people get instead are austerity measures.
These austerity measures lead to a great number of people—in the U.S. it might be at least 200 million people—who are hurting, struggling to make ends meet. I derive at the number of 200 million people because in the U.S., 80 percent of the population live paycheck to paycheck.
This shouldn’t be. The U.S. is the richest nation in the history of the planet. Yet, thanks to the money being laundered, it acts more like a poor nation, unable to meet its obligations to its citizens and be a more fair, equitable and just society.
People who are struggling to make ends meet become easy prey for predators—in this case, the predators are demagogues who tell the people false narratives, saying that the reason they are struggling is not because of the global class of superrich who are laundering their wealth and not paying their taxes, but because of the people who look and act different than them who are taking their jobs and/or expecting “entitlements.”
People being fed these false narratives then end up voting against their best interests. They vote in the demagogues who only care about power and the money they can accrue from that power.
There’s more to this story, and I will delve more into it at another time, but for now I leave you with one other aspect of the story of Pandora’s Box: according to Greek mythology, once Pandora realized what she had released from the box, she quickly moved to close it. But there was one thing left behind in the box: Elpis, the spirit of Hope.
Elpis is usually depicted as a young woman, carrying flowers or a cornucopia in her hands. A cornucopia, also called the horn of plenty, is a symbol of abundance and nourishment. So after Pandora released countless evils into the world, what was left? Hope.
In other words, hope is our saving grace—and it is hope that can extinguish the evils.
How does hope show up? As Elpis demonstrated, in the form of abundance. An abundance for everyone, and not just for the small sliver of society who have amassed untold wealth.
Hope is Pandora’s true gift to the world: We are being called to move towards abundance, towards coming together in collaboration and cooperation, with an open heart, and to act for the greatest good.
It might feel bleak to hear of what Pandora unleashed, and to hear of what the Pandora Papers tell us, but ultimately, it helps shine a light on the seamy underbelly of the world, and helps us go somewhere new: to a world of hope, to a world of abundance, and to a world where we all can thrive.