voice for democracy

The Pandora Papers and the Threat to Democracy by Katharina Pistor – Project Syndicate

In demonstrating how some of the world’s most powerful people hide their wealth, the Pandora Papers have exposed the details of a global system whose basic contours were already well known. Property laws have long been written by and for the wealthy, giving the public ample reason to suspect that the system is rigged.
NEW YORK – The “Pandora Papers,” a new investigation led by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, has fueled outrage around the world. Politicians, businesspeople, sports stars, and cultural icons have been caught in the act of hiding their wealth and lying about it. But how likely is a reckoning for the lawyers and accountants who helped them?
At least 15 million people today are stateless, and millions more are threatened with national exclusion. The issue of statelessness thus demands urgent attention, as do works of history that shed light on the problem.
There is nothing new about the practices the ICIJ’s investigation uncovered. True, the sheer scale, sophistication, and legal fire power deployed to allow today’s ultra-rich and powerful to game the law may be newsworthy. But the only truly shocking revelation is that it took more than 600 journalists from around the world to expose these practices, often risking their own safety and professional futures. The difficulty of that task attests to how well lawyers, legislatures, and courts have tilted the law in favor of elites.
To hide their wealth, today’s rich and powerful have availed themselves of centuries-old legal coding strategies. In 1535, King Henry VIII of England cracked down on a legal device known as “the use,” because it threatened to undermine existing (feudal) property relations and served as a tax-avoidance vehicle. But thanks to clever legal arbitrage, it was soon replaced by an even more powerful device: “the trust.”
Legally encoded by solicitors and recognized by courts of equity, the trust remains one of the most ingenious legal tools ever invented for the creation and preservation of private wealth. In the old days, it allowed the wealthy to circumvent inheritance rules. Today, it is the go-to vehicle for tax avoidance and for structuring financial assets, including asset-backed securities and their derivatives.
Functionally, a trust alters the rights and obligations to an asset without observing the formal rules of property law; it thus creates a shadow property right. Establishing a trust requires an asset – such as land, shares, or bonds – and three personas: an owner (settlor), a manager (trustee), and a beneficiary. The owner transfers legal title (though not necessarily actual possession) over the asset to the trustee, who promises to manage it on behalf of the beneficiary in accordance with the owner’s instructions.
Nobody else needs to know about this arrangement, because there is no requirement to register the title or disclose the identities of the parties. This lack of transparency makes the trust the perfect vehicle for playing hide and seek with creditors and tax authorities. And because legal title and economic benefits are split among the three personas, nobody willingly assumes the obligations that come with ownership.
Enjoy unlimited access to the ideas and opinions of the world’s leading thinkers, including weekly long reads, book reviews, topical collections, and interviews; The Year Ahead annual print magazine; the complete PS archive; and more – for less than $9 a month.
Subscribe Now
The trust became a favored legal device for global elites not through some invisible hand of the market, but rather by purposeful legal design. Attorneys pushed existing legal boundaries, courts recognized and enforced their innovations, and then lawmakers (many of them presumably beholden to wealthy donors) codified those practices into statutory legislation. As previous restrictions were stripped away, trust law expanded its remit.
These legal changes ensured that an ever-greater array of assets could be held in trust, and that the role of the trustee could be delegated to legal persons rather than honorable individuals like judges. Moreover, fiduciary duties were curtailed, the trustees’ liability was limited, and the lifespan of the trust became increasingly elastic. Together, these legal adaptations made the trust fit for global finance.
Countries that lacked this device were encouraged to emulate it. An international treaty, the 1985 Hague Convention on Trusts, was adopted with this goal in mind. In countries where lawmakers have resisted the pressure to sanction trusts, attorneys have fashioned equivalent devices from the laws governing foundations, associations, or corporations – betting (often correctly) that courts would vindicate their innovations.
While some jurisdictions have gone out of their way to be legally hospitable to private wealth creation, others have tried to crack down on tax and legal arbitrage. But legal restrictions work only if the legislature controls which law is practiced within its jurisdiction. In the age of globalization, most legislatures have been effectively stripped of such control, because law has become portable. If one country does not have the “right” law, another one might. As long as the place of business recognizes and enforces foreign law, the legal and accounting paperwork can be channeled to the friendliest foreign jurisdiction, and the deed is done.
National legal systems thus have become items on an international menu of options from which asset holders choose the laws by which they wish to be governed. They don’t need a passport or a visa; all they need is a legal shell. Assuming a new legal identity in this way, the privileged few can decide how much to pay in taxes, and which regulations to endure. And if legal obstacles cannot be overcome quite that easily, lawyers from leading global law firms will draft legislation to make a country compliant with the “best practices” of global finance. Here, tax and trust havens such as South Dakota and the British Virgin Islands offer the gold standard.
The costs of these practices are borne by the least mobile and the insufficiently wealthy. But turning law into a gold mine for the rich and powerful causes harm well beyond the immediate inequities it generates. By potentially undermining the legitimacy of the law, it threatens the very foundation of democratic governance.
The more that wealthy elites and their lawyers insist that everything they do is legal, the less the public will trust the law. Today’s global elites might be able to continue to conjure private wealth from law. But no resource can be mined forever. Once lost, trust in the law will be difficult to regain. The wealthy will have lost their most valuable asset of all.
For more than 25 years, Project Syndicate has been guided by a simple credo: All people deserve access to a broad range of views by the world’s foremost leaders and thinkers on the issues, events, and forces shaping their lives. At a time of unprecedented uncertainty, that mission is more important than ever – and we remain committed to fulfilling it.
But there is no doubt that we, like so many other media organizations nowadays, are under growing strain. If you are in a position to support us, please subscribe now.
As a subscriber, you will enjoy unlimited access to our On Point suite of long reads, book reviews, and insider interviews; Big Picture topical collections; Say More contributor interviews; Opinion Has It podcast features; The Year Ahead magazine, the full PS archive, and much more. You will also directly support our mission of delivering the highest-quality commentary on the world’s most pressing issues to as wide an audience as possible.
By helping us to build a truly open world of ideas, every PS subscriber makes a real difference. Thank you.
Subscribe Now
Oct 15, 2021 Diane Coyle
Oct 15, 2021 Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala
Oct 13, 2021 Josep Borrell & Virginijus Sinkevičius
Oct 13, 2021 Carlo Ratti
Oct 14, 2021 Jim O'Neill
Writing for PS since 2000
24 Commentaries

Katharina Pistor, Professor of Comparative Law at Columbia Law School, is the author of The Code of Capital: How the Law Creates Wealth and Inequality.

Before posting a comment, please confirm your account. To receive another confirmation email, please click here.

A couple of clues thrown out from the clear blue yonder, courtesy of Shatner, that I just happened to pick up today. Something hit me right on top of my head. Ouch!

I hope some real action happens courtesy of the FTC and the SEC before some real goons really start throwing the imaginary black rock and the real black rock to create a vision that definitely confirms the contradictions of any Vision Fund floating around somewhere that is most definitely NOT a clear blue yonder, but is a real really totally flat black line.

Regardless of what Experian is responsible for in the past, today, my encounter with Experian online, and over the phone PROVES that there is absolutely no access whatsoever for any US citizen to verify if their most critical personal financial information is "locked" or "unlocked". How's that apple of the big three that include Equifax and TransUnion as the other two of the really big three that count everything about everyone probably globally within the "debt" piles? At least those last two have websites that function and allow an individual to verify a "lock" and "unlock" status. That verification is a verifications that is one of today's most important verifications of an individual's identity to function as at least some sort of a "thing" in some algorithm's banks of impulses designed by a few biased "physicians" of "some sort of sorts" practicing various levels of ineptitudes, and decreptitudes of limited understandings of reality.

So, this whole bit is about a little clue based on a little critical question which is: who really owns the key to the real organizational structure of some corporate entity labelled as Experian something or other, somewhere, and why is the Experian something or other somewhere or other NOT required to meet the most same basic level of access as the other two apples in that specific group of three imaginary apples, to allow most basic ACCESS to any most common citizen?

Answer that little question and you'll find the answer to property laws starting with Cabot's permit back in the 1300-1400's or so. It'll still be a real process of discovery to see if the FTC and SEC ever do anything about Experian though. It's pretty obvious, in 2021, that in real terms the FTC and SEC are still pretty much not worth the words on paper that formed the FTC and the SEC. A little, meaning extremely paltry punitive, fine of a million or so quite a number of years past is not sufficient when the controlled funds balance the equivalent of more than the US annual GDP. However, when all you, in this scenario, dealers, are dealing with is fictional terms based on piles of fiction, nothing really matters at all. Ants are very easy to step on. Giants do that all the time left and right. Trust does not count at all in any equation of only fictional terminology, especially in any legal, and especially common sense of any words at all. Shadows are in control of the whole she-bang!
RE:"centuries-old legal coding strategies". Those are very important specific words. Many cultures except for the US, are aware of their "cultures" due to coding in behavior and old "customs". Culture is quite complex, with layers upon layers of "code". Legal interpretation of "laws" requires examinations that probe those layers of "action" to examine "intent" and the ways that intent is projected by the actor that is responsible for behavior that transgresses the "law". In the US there are many assumptions by many who are not lawyers, and even lawyers, who are not conscious of those centuries-old legal coding and real strategies, and the old and real laws that have become incorporated into cultures over time. Assumptions vary by each individual. Depending on conscious awareness, what anyone is doing may not be what they are doing "consciously" at all. It is very difficult to project "balanced" behavior every second of the day for any human being. The law establishes the balance points, and the acceptable "rational" approach for certain time periods. The law sometimes addresses emotional behavior, but the realm of emotional awareness is assumed within the law to be controlled by the individual to not transgress other individuals, nor ultimately the power of the state. Modern American culture has been focusing on tolerance and understanding of the emotional aspects of being human, and modern human behavior. The emotional body is not the only real part of the human body, many older cultures have developed more awareness of that reality and incorporate a different type of understanding of being human. China is just one example of those cultures. Americans are essentially children compared to certain people that are educated from "old" schools and "ancient" cultures. Incorporating in-depth education, reading, writing, and expressive arts and then communicating as a learning process from one human being to another is the real sharing and furthering of democracy that the Pandora papers can really communicate further. Some of the super wealthy so far have only been taking advantage of many people, and in very negative ways. Those types of facts are being revealed more immediately, fortunately, and very necessarily.

Here's a quote from Pompeo, from 2020, on ZH(not always a conspiracy source or outlet) today. The article that the quote is from is about how China is attempting to establish some balance in their "media". What Pompeo does NOT communicate is that China may have a better approach, at least for the Chinese culture, on how to use propaganda with reasonable intent. No media is perfect, and the press especially in the US is not a free press. Presently, in the US, people need to start to grasp how important and essential community engagement, participation and "voting" really is. Unfortunately, for us in the US, the information in the US is presently being used to establish "feeds" based on psychological and other profiling of the reader. The propaganda in the US is now even more detrimental in the US because the US corporate propaganda messaging is attempting to capitalize on the "feeding" without presenting clear and factual, reasonable messaging based on reasonable principles of "journalism". There are many types of journalism. The extremes of journalism can really sell, but what is being sold? Certain newspapers, and broadcasting outlets represented integrity and decency, in the modern past. Yes, every message is propaganda of some sort. Presently, only the dry legal context may be the only hope to re-establish some balance to extreme US corporate propaganda. Does any of the politicalization and financialization propaganda emphasize to vote and to understand local community needs? None of IT is free. What the Pandora Papers question is just how bad is the real corruption going to be "permitted" to get? If the legal system in the US continues to cross the lines of basic, essentially simple, reasonable and well-defined laws, the legal system will only be joining the political system and financial system corruption of law rather than balancing power, to prevent power corrupting laws.

The American people are more than consumers of information. The American people are more than consumers. First and foremost the American people are citizens.

The real American people are attempting to report the real free press. The timing may not be perfect. Self control needs to come from within, to be real self control. This self control develops over the lifetime of the individual. Reasonable boundaries need to be defined. There is publicly acceptable behavior. There is privately acceptable behavior. Business activities are designed to make money. Business activities require professional interactions. Little boys can get destroyed if they do not comprehend and understand the real rules. Certain games are only played in certain arenas.

In a way, Pompeo is right. But in the greater scheme of things, he has got the real important message dead wrong.

"We simply want to ensure that American people, consumers of information, can differentiate between news written by a free press and propaganda distributed by the Chinese Communist Party itself. They're not the same thing."
nothing will convince the rich to reform their ways except for a credible threat of expropriation. The Soviet Union provided this threat in the XXth Century and the western world (reluctantly) reformed (a little bit). I am not sure what it will be this time around but I do not think there is any other way.
Capitalism is Failing to Accomplish its Theoretical Benefits to Society:

The real results of the American capitalist system have failed to achieve those results predicted by the Theory of Capitalism since 1980 when Reagan radically changed the structure of the financial system with the 1980’s Bank Laws and the tax system with radical cuts in taxes on the rich.

Theoretically, more [untaxed] profits are invested in growing enterprise and production and wages that increase the quality of life of the general public. The opposite has happened since 1980: the wealthy have used their profits not to invest in production growth but to increase their ownership through corporate stock buybacks and greater property ownership as the wealth of the middle class withered and worker wages stagnated.

Additionally, the wealthy have sent US capital overseas, especially to China, for lower worker wages (considered a cost to corporations) which created further deterioration in the correlation of the Theory of Capitalism with its actual results in America.

The above have led to the deterioration of Democracy in America and the real threat that American Capitalism has few political legs to stand on in reality. The US system that was created to support Capitalism and its positive results for society is in danger of failing because the Wealthy have not behaved as predicted by the Theory of Capitalism.

This is leading to the Crisis of Capitalism and the rise of Socialism as the antidote to the current schism between the Real Results of Capitalism and the Theoretical Results of Capitalism in America.
RE:"There is nothing new about the practices the ICIJ’s investigation uncovered." Yes you do then mention the scale and sophistication etc. However, what is essential to address is the fact of the "permitting". The "right" is being given to certain platforms and essentially secretive MNE funds to essentially "take away" from everything, everyone, and everywhere. The new empires do not exist in tangible reality, only through personal connections and direct power of total control systems. This is beyond an issue of "scale". The focus needs to be on "permission rights" and defining limits. Today the undermining is to such an imbalance of scale that there are essentially no rights left. We are at the cusp of acknowledging a dystopian present that already has existed for over 10 years. The "nation state" is fighting for its life in real streets, and has been.

So glad you mentioned those words, especially the gold standard. Presently, the real gold standard is being criminally undermined. The gold standard that I am referring to is the one that really counts for human beings. Presently the medical industry, and any integrity and any trust in any medical practitioners is being totally undermined.

The physicians that have essentially put their entire reputations and careers on the line include many. The petitions by a Dr. Lee is one that has been totally undermined. That physician was ONLY petitioning for the medical GOLD STANDARD to essentially be used to be the confirmation test to the efficacy of any developing "vaccines" that are in the TESTING phase.

Here is a copy of the critical paragraph, although there are many in the legal document, Docket No. FDA-202-P-2225, Para B.item2, of which I am citing one paragraph of that petition as sent to the FDA, in this comment here:

2. Stay the Phase III trial of BNT162 (NCT04368728) until its study design is
amended to provide that:
Before an EUA or unrestricted license is issued for the Pfizer
vaccine, or for other vaccines for which PCR results are the primary
evidence of infection, all 􀂳endpoints􀂴 or COVID-19 cases used to
determine vaccine efficacy in the Phase 3 or 2/3 trials should have
their infection status confirmed by Sanger sequencing, given the
high cycle thresholds used in some trials. High cycle thresholds, or
Ct values, in RT-qPCR test results have been widely acknowledged
to lead to false positives.2
All RT-qPCR-positive test results used to categorize patient as
􀂳COVID-19 cases􀂴 and used to qualify the trial􀂶s endpoints should
be verified by Sanger sequencing to confirm that the tested samples
in fact contain a unique SARS-CoV-2 genomic RNA. Congruent
with FDA requirements for a confirmed diagnosis of human
papillomavirus (HPV) using PCR, the sequencing electropherogram
must show a minimum of 100 contiguous bases matching the
reference sequence with an Expected Value (E Value) <10-30 for the
specific SARS-CoV-2 gene sequence based on a BLAST search of
the GenBank database (aka NCBI Nucleotide database).

Here's a peer review article of his research:

A brief CV:https://health.usnews.com/doctors/sin-lee-303123

Presently, the entire Global medical profession is being strategically, and categorically undermined. What is at risk during the escalation of that undermining process is the absolute and total destruction of integrity and trust in the entire global medical profession as a reasonable and focused profession based on any gold standard of true scientific methodology in real time and in real terms for all human beings globally.

How about someone investigating the real reason why certain physicians are being targeted in the global undermining and escalating undermining process, especially certain platforms such as FB? Broadcasting ridicule for political and financial gain is the epitome of a specific form of violence.
AND, you don't post comments on the Federal Register to play games either! There is a significant reason for submitting critical information to the Federal Register.


Yeadon and Wodarg are not gamers in any sense of the word. Now, perhaps they are angry and essentially being "blocked" from exceptional financial gains. However, the requests to at least use the GOLD STANDARD is a pretty sensible petition, especially in the Federal Register.

To be honest IT is quite ironic, but really not the least bit funny!

The undermining of democracy and legal process is totally real. A few platforms are in positions of total control and most definitely should not be permitted to maintain their exclusive position of total control and usurpation of all business and entrepreneurial processes of other real human beings.
One doesn't need to trust the law, just fear it and its enforcers financed by the wealthy.
Sure, but a society, based on order via sheer power rather than laws and ethics would have much larger expenses and higher risks for the safety of properties.
The fact is that the concept of any social contract for existence of a real state based on individual citizens having any rights and ownership of any land is being totally and essentially destroyed. This process that is occurring does a super efficient job of destroying the state. The result is the herding of humanity being herded to non existence. Presently, the worst aspect of the external under-mining is the parallel undermining of what will essentially be each individual human being's DNA. That little scenario is just beginning. The external undermining has not reached it's zenith point yet. So, in other words the worst is yet to come. Have a wonderful day. The article is great. I'm sure Stiglitz will appreciate your confirmation of the new narrative economy.
Unfortunately, just writing about the process will not do any thing to actually change the process that is occurring at warp speed.
It appears that you have not yet updated your first and last name. If you would like to update your name, please do so here.
After posting your comment, you’ll have a ten-minute window to make any edits. Please note that we moderate comments to ensure the conversation remains topically relevant. We appreciate well-informed comments and welcome your criticism and insight. Please be civil and avoid name-calling and ad hominem remarks.

At least 15 million people today are stateless, and millions more are threatened with national exclusion. The issue of statelessness thus demands urgent attention, as do works of history that shed light on the problem.
Please log in or register to continue. Registration is free and requires only your email address.
Please enter your email address and click on the reset-password button. If your email exists in our system, we’ll send you an email with a link to reset your password. Please note that the link will expire twenty-four hours after the email is sent. If you can’t find this email, please check your spam folder.


By proceeding, you are agreeing to our Terms and Conditions.

Sign in with

To receive email updates regarding this {entity_type}, please enter your email below.

If you are not already registered, this will create a PS account for you. You should receive an activation email shortly.