"... What? ...": John Key, when asked which secret trusts were being used for tax dodging, hiding stolen assets and/or laundering money, responded with a nonchalant shrug of his shoulders.
THE PANAMA PAPERS have elicited a remarkably low key response from the Prime Minister. The Labour Leader, Andrew Little, has described how John Key, when asked which secret trusts were being used for tax dodging, hiding stolen assets and/or laundering money, responded with a nonchalant shrug of his shoulders. The day before, when challenged about the potential damage to New Zealand’s reputation – now that we’ve been fingered as a simply dandy spot for masking the millions of Mossack Fonseca’s clients – John Key told journalists that there were many, perfectly legitimate, reasons why a foreign investor might park his money in New Zealand, adding that it was quite wrong to call his country a “tax haven”.
Key’s “ … what? …” reaction to the colossal data leak which has already claimed the scalp of one prime minister and put the careers of many other world leaders at risk is rather perplexing. Is he not able to predict the impact the Panama Papers are bound to have on the privileged privacy of the global elites? How the 11 million-plus documents are going to be used to prise open the lid of one of the biggest cans of plutocratic worms the world has ever seen. Why doesn’t he get it?
There are 55 million answers to that question. For a long time now John Key’s fortune has dulled his otherwise acute political judgement. Six years ago, in May 2010, Key’s government came under heavy criticism for tax cuts conferring huge windfalls of cash upon the wealthiest New Zealanders. Not yet two years into the job, he struggled to grasp the motivation for his critics’ outrage.
“We can be envious about these things”, purred the Prime Minister, “but without those people in our economy all the rest of us will either have less people paying tax or fundamentally less services that they provide.”
Seldom has so much of the mythology of the very rich been packed into a single sentence.
First comes the notion that his fellow citizens’ reaction to his government’s massive transfer of wealth from the poorest to the wealthiest members of their society is motivated not by their keen sense of its manifest injustice, but by simple, old-fashioned envy.
Then comes the argument that without such regular transfusions of cold hard cash, the very rich will simply up-stakes and leave for a more congenial jurisdiction. Somewhere that makes them feel welcome – not like lepers.
Finally, Key goes for the clincher. The notion that it is the energy and drive, the wisdom and skill, and the hard-earned cash of wealthy entrepreneurs that provides the rest of us “parasites” with the goods and services that we are simply too stupid and/or lazy to provide for ourselves.
Ayn Rand couldn’t have put it better.
In the light of this earlier demonstration of Key’s deep belief in the superiority of the very rich; and in the very different measures that must be taken of their needs and deeds; should we really be surprised when he struggles to understand exactly what the persons exposed by the Panama Papers have done wrong?
If you believed as strongly as John Key does that the very rich are better than you and me; and subject to a very different set of rules; then you would probably shrug-off the Panama Papers too.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 7 April 2016.