‘Panama Papers’, wealth and values

Written by Gaute Gulliksen
Category: /
Panama papers

We should all read the information published by the ICIJ. The ‘Panama Papers’ is a shocking testament to a reality we bitterly hope is not real. But it is. It is real, because we have lost track of what is important, and we worship wealth beyond anything.


Economic success is apparently a validation of doing something right. Perhaps it would be prudent to slow down a bit and have a look at who we consider successful people. Grant yourself the time to read some of the findings from the *Panama Papers’.


ICIJ logoThe subtitle, “Millions of documents show heads of state, criminals and celebrities using secret hideaways in tax havens”, is particularly interesting. The grouping of heads of state, criminals, and celebrities are worrisome. Particularly because the Heads of State should champion the fight against criminals, while celebrities should use their role to good purposes.

Does wealth really justify all? We do of course know better. Still haven’t met a person that would admit that, but our actions, and our wealth worshipping does show something else. Kind of not walking the talk.

A core problem within business ethics is a philosophy that has been in place for a very long time. It is very closely tied to our core understanding of what business should be like. It surfaces perhaps best in Milton Friedman claim that the only social responsibility of a business is to maximize its profit.

Milton Friedman’s article is uncomfortable on many levels. It has an injudicious interpretation of social responsibility which can perhaps be justified as outdated. It also has a firm belief in a free market system which is a nice concept, but unlikely to be realized while human beings are involved. Honestly it should have been enough data available in the 1970s to realize that. Also the assumption that social responsibility equates with a collectivist mind set is flat out insulting to politically aware individuals. It tastes of intolerance and prejudice.  

Getting a bit carried away here, but the Friedman digression is really a question about our values. Where does it all come from. Our value system that foster this kind of actions. The argument is old. We have done nothing illegal. We have broken no law. It is permitted within our economic system. In fact, it is encouraged through pensions schemes, investment opportunities and savings solutions. 

It is a good indication of our values when we have trained our manager and executives to be objective in their decision making process. The economic rational individual is objective in its decision making. Social Sciences have been preaching that objectivity is essential in any kind of research. It is somehow validating social sciences as if it should be a natural science. 

The problem with such an approach is that values are subjective. Values are shaped around things like our personality, our experiences, our family, our friends, our culture, and our religion. Values can never be objective, and we should accept that. 

We have created a value system around wealth accumulation that makes tax avoidance and hidden wealth a rational and understandable action. It is what we have learned to do, and what we are expected to do. We are of course shocked with the ‘Panama Papers’, but are we prepared to look at the values that leads to this? 

Perhaps we should not be surprised if the ‘Panama Papers’ fades away without any significant changes. 

Visit https://panamapapers.icij.org/ and inform yourself.