WATER WET

Posted in Quick Hits on April 4th, 2016 by Ed

Despite getting little attention over the weekend, the Panama Papers document leak received a substantial amount of mainstream media attention on Monday (at least online). Fortune, the BBC, USA Today, NBC, the Washington Post, and any number of other Very Serious Media Outlets are running with it now, which is a victory by proxy for the kinds of non-mainstream outlets that began pushing hard on the story as early as Saturday evening. The story is unlikely to have much staying power in the U.S., though, and may even fade faster than expected in Europe and the rest of the world due to the nature of the underlying issue.

The first problem with getting U.S. media to cover this extensively is that no major American figures are (yet) involved. It's awfully difficult to get Americans to care about our own politics let alone elected officials in other countries. "Oh man, I can't believe Icelandic Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugson did that!" is a phrase no American news consumer or media personality has ever used or will ever use. Another problem is the fact that outrage fatigue and general cynicism make it difficult to muster much enthusiasm for scandals that confirm what we already know (or very strongly suspect) about the world – in this case, namely that the rich and powerful live in a separate world that operates under its own exclusive rules and they squirrel their money away in proverbial Swiss Bank Accounts so they don't have to pay taxes like some nouveau riche suburban desk commando with an MBA. Is it fair? Of course not. Is anyone really surprised to learn that this is in fact what has been going on? I doubt it.

Clearly it's an important issue and one that validates a lot of what we already know to be part of the deep systemic social and economic inequality built into our system and our way of life. But therein lies the problem; if everyone is already assuming that water is wet, the headline announcing that discovery is going to fall flat. We openly allow corporations to get away with offshoring their money in this country, and if they're People anyway, why would we be surprised to learn that the elites who control them do exactly the same thing with their personal finances?

I'm not saying nobody should care. I'm saying it isn't entirely surprising that nobody seems too up-in-arms over the revelations. It's nice to learn that our suspicions are correct, but beyond that it fits seamlessly into the worldview most half-smart people have long since held.