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OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 12-11-2017 00:05

Elites battle for supremacy

It is surely no coincidence that the people responsible for all this are prominent members of another influential group that is also under fierce attack.

Living as we do in an age in which belonging to any kind of elite, no matter how arcane, is considered disreputable (unless you are an athlete or, in some countries, a soldier), it is easy to understand why the so-called “Paradise Papers” (tax haven equals tax heaven, get it?) have aroused so much interest. Of all the many elites, the one based on nothing more than money is the most despised by progressives, so anything designed to make the plutocrats squirm is sure to be given a warm welcome.

Though few of the individuals and companies named in the Paradise Papers have broken any law, the people who are telling the world how members of the “one percent” – which according to North American social justice warriors hogs far too much of the available wealth – handle their financial affairs take it for granted that they should be brought to heel double quick. With this in mind, they hope to win the backing of ordinary folk who can only dream of stashing enormous sums in secretive places such as Delaware, Luxembourg, Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, the Isle of Man and Jersey, or of getting coached by clever lawyers who know how to leave the taxman empty-handed.

By putting online millions of helpfully “leaked” documents found in the files of some law firms, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), a cooperative with ramifications in Argentina – where La Nación and Perfil participate – and most other countries, thinks it has dealt the plutocratic elite a body blow. Among those mentioned are Queen Elisabeth, Prince Charles, Lewis Hamilton, Shakira, Bono, Madonna, a close friend of Justin Trudeau and two ministers in Mauricio Macri’s government, Juan José Aranguren and Luis Caputo, plus companies such as Apple. Guilty of wrongdoing or not, they have all been tarred with the same brush; as the public reaction to what has been revealed so far makes clear, many out there assume that having one’s name crop up in the Panama Papers or their successors from Paradise is evidence of criminal behaviour.

It is surely no coincidence that the people responsible for all this are prominent members of another influential group that is also under fierce attack. The news organisations involved include the BBC, The Guardian, The New York Times, El País and Le Monde which, as luck would have it, happen to be the standard-bearers of the progressive elite whose frequently disdainful treatment of those who do not share its views has contributed greatly to the rise of what its spokespeople calls populism in Europe and the United States.

Indeed, some more or less neutral observers blame progressives who find the uncouth behaviour of the unenlightened inhabitants of rust-belt states utterly deplorable for Donald Trump’s election victory and its many consequences. Will taking aim at the rich and their retainers help reconcile such truth-seeking crusaders with the people many of them openly despise? Or, as seems more likely, will it simply help stoke the resentment that is felt by many downwardly mobile people who have good reason to fear the world is leaving them behind?

Like the men and women who inherit great wealth, professionals of one kind or another who become millionaires because there is a lucrative market for what they have to offer believe they fully deserve their good fortune. Few financially successful writers, television pundits, entertainers or athletes are troubled by the thought that they personally have greatly benefitted from the current economic arrangements.

Many say they are against a system that is allowing the gap separating a minority of haves from the have-nots to get wider and wider. Just how they would react were a strenuously egalitarian government to take the more vocal at their word and oblige them to make do on the equivalent of an average salary is hard to say, but there can be little doubt that most would feel sorely aggrieved.

Back in the bad old days, ruling elites defended their privileges by mercilessly persecuting those who were rash enough to oppose them. Then, when enough people developed a social conscience, plutocrats – much like their predecessors in ancient Greece – started making a habit of privately funding what were in effect public works, such as universities, scholarship programmes, museums, art galleries and opera houses, an approach that, even if it has failed to appease the levellers, certainly has many merits.

Luckily for the disgruntled with the way things are, in democratic countries the holders of power now try to calm them down by giving them plenty of money or prestigious positions in academic or other public institutions. In many of these, strident Marxists rise to the top while defenders of capitalism, that is to say, of their paymasters, get pushed aside. Until quite recently, the strategy of co-opting outspoken enemies of the status quo into the establishment seemed to be working, but as more and more malcontents started to clamour for preferential attention, people at the top found they lacked the resources necessary to satisfy all of them. The result has been a proliferation of groups determined to show they have had a rawer deal than any of their rivals and therefore deserve to get a bigger slice of the pie.

Not only in the US and the UK, but also in other parts of the world where trends set in the Anglo-Saxon countries soon get imitated, competitive victimhood is very much in fashion. Previously overlooked ethnic, sectarian and sexual “communities” that loudly demand to be properly respected and then say that after having undergone centuries of oppression they are now entitled to compensation, are making life difficult for governments almost everywhere.

To complicate matters still further, Christian or post-Christian white heterosexual males are learning to play at identity politics. Many want to restore the old order in which they or, at least, people who looked like them formed the ruling elite. What is more, most tend to be stridently opposed to the progressive elite, seeing it as just a particularly obnoxious part of the “one percent.” and would dearly like to see it get its comeuppance.

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James Neilson

James Neilson

Former editor of the Buenos Aires Herald (1979-1986).


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