The Student Newspaper at Middlebury College

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Sharp Left: Paradise Lost

Sharp Left

By TEVAN GOLDBERG

In​ ​the​ ​previous​ ​month,​ ​two​ ​major​ ​tax-related​ ​developments​ ​have​ ​occurred​ ​to​ ​signal​ ​and​ ​hasten​ ​our society’s​ ​already​ ​speedy​ ​descent​ ​into​ ​oligarchy.​
​November​ ​saw​ ​the​ ​release​ ​of​ ​the​ ​14.3​ ​million​ ​Paradise Papers​ ​leak,​ ​an​ ​unbelievably​ ​damning​ ​who’s-who​ ​of​ ​tax​ ​evading​ ​corporations,​ ​billionaires,​ ​celebrities, and​ ​(big​ ​surprise)​ ​universities.​ ​Since​ ​this​ ​news​ ​has​ ​already​ ​fully​ ​dissipated​ ​into​ ​the​ ​dark​ ​void​ ​of​ ​news cycles​ ​past,​ ​it​ ​is​ ​convenient​ ​that​ ​our​ ​determined​ ​Republican​ ​“representatives’” ​in​ ​Congress​ ​have successfully​ ​resurfaced​ ​the​ ​issue​ ​by​ ​ramming​ ​through​ ​last​ ​Sunday’s​ ​egregious​ ​tax​ ​bill.​
By​ ​my calculations,​ ​this​ ​should​ ​us​ ​give​ ​us​ ​at​ ​least​ ​another​ ​week-long​ ​window​ ​to​ ​publicly​ ​acknowledge​ ​the dramatic​ ​ascendancy​ ​of​ ​corporate​ ​power,​ ​before​ ​it’s​ ​inevitably​ ​cut​ ​off​ ​by,​ ​I​ ​don’t​ ​know,​ ​news​ ​that Trump​ ​is​ ​turning​ ​the​ ​EPA​ ​headquarters​ ​into​ ​a​ ​casino. (You heard it hear first.)
Jokes/clairvoyant​ predictions​ ​aside,​ ​what​ ​these​ ​two​ ​events​ ​really​ ​did​ ​was​ ​confirm​ ​in​ ​ugly​ ​detail​ ​the extent​ ​to​ ​which​ ​the​ ​world’s​ ​reigning​ ​companies​ ​and​ ​elite​ ​citizens​ ​have​ ​fallen​ ​from​ ​membership​ ​in​ ​any commonwealth,​ ​besides​ ​the​ ​tax-free​ ​one​ ​stitched​ ​together​ ​by​ ​their​ ​intrepid​ ​army​ ​of​ ​morally​ ​bankrupt lawyers,​ ​toadyish​ ​politicians​ ​and​ ​unending​ ​shell​ ​companies.​
​If​ ​we​ ​weren’t​ ​so​ ​numb​ ​to​ ​it,​ ​and​ ​so enthralled​ ​by​ ​the​ ​charms​ ​of​ ​these​ ​companies’​ ​products​ ​and​ ​the​ ​celebrities​ ​that​ ​advertise​ ​them,​ ​there would​ ​probably​ ​be​ ​riots.​ ​The​ ​Papers​ ​showed​ ​us​ ​who​ ​these​ ​actors​ ​are​ ​and​ ​the​ ​clever​ ​tricks​ ​they’re pulling​ ​to​ ​privately​ ​benefit,​ ​but​ ​the​ ​tax​ ​bill​ ​shows​ ​that​ ​the​ ​bolder​ ​among​ ​them​ ​have​ ​grown​ ​weary​ ​of maintaining​ ​a​ ​civic​ ​façade.
We​ ​are​ ​entering​ ​a​ ​new​ ​phase​ ​of​ ​political​ ​consolidation,​ ​wherein​ ​corporate​ ​interests​ ​are​ ​secure​ ​enough in​ ​their​ ​control​ ​of​ ​the​ ​American​ ​government​ ​that​ ​they​ ​don’t​ ​really​ ​have​ ​to​ ​concoct​ ​psejudo-economic arguments​ ​anymore. Just​ ​look​ ​at​ ​the​ ​smirk​ ​on​ ​Mitch​ ​McConnell’s​ ​face​ ​when​ ​he​ ​announces​ ​that​ ​the​ ​tax plan​ ​will​ ​benefit​ ​mainly​ ​“regular​ ​working​ ​folks” ​(or​ ​something​ ​along​ ​those​ ​lines)​ ​—​ ​they​ ​know​ ​that​ ​their popular​ ​opposition​ ​is​ ​currently​ ​toothless,​ ​and​ ​their​ ​base​ ​is​ ​so​ ​riled​ ​up​ ​by​ ​whatever/whoever​ ​Sean Hannity​ ​is​ ​telling​ ​them​ ​to​ ​despise​ ​that​ ​they​ ​hardly​ ​analyze​ ​the​ ​details.​
(I​ ​actually​ ​checked​ ​the​ ​Fox​ ​News website​ ​while​ ​writing​ ​this​ ​and​ ​the​ ​only​ ​front-page​ ​mention​ ​of​ ​the​ ​tax​ ​plan​ ​was​ ​an​ ​op-ed​ ​by​ ​McConnell in​ ​the​ ​bottom​ ​corner​ ​entitled​ ​“How​ ​Our​ ​Tax​ ​Plan​ ​Will​ ​Help​ ​You.”)
It​ ​is​ ​not​ ​simply​ ​the​ ​sheer​ ​injustice​ ​of​ ​it​ ​that​ ​is​ ​so​ ​concerning,​ ​even​ ​though​ ​the​ ​fact​ ​that​ ​people​ ​in poverty​ ​or​ ​undocumented​ ​immigrants​ ​are​ ​paying​ ​proportionally​ ​more​ ​in​ ​taxes​ ​than multibillion-dollar​ ​companies​ ​is​ ​patently​ ​horrendous.​ ​Nor​ ​is​ ​it,​ ​according​ ​to​ ​a​ ​2016​ ​Oxfam​ ​report,​ ​the $111​ ​billion​ ​dollars​ ​the​ ​U.S.​ ​government​ ​loses​ ​in​ ​tax​ ​revenue​ ​every​ ​year​ ​to​ ​tax​ ​evasion,​ ​more​ ​than enough​ ​to​ ​cover​ ​all​ ​public​ ​college​ ​tuition,​ ​or​ ​any​ ​number​ ​of​ ​welfare​ ​programs;​ ​and​ ​this​ ​is​ ​marginal​ ​in the​ ​face​ ​of​ ​the​ ​nearly​ ​$1​ ​trillion​ ​of​ ​lost​ ​revenue​ ​estimated​ ​to​ ​ultimately​ ​occur​ ​from​ ​the​ ​tax​ ​giveaway.
No,​ ​the​ ​greatest​ ​implication​ ​is​ ​the​ ​realization​ ​that​ ​the​ ​supposedly​ ​democratic​ ​and​ ​representative governments​ ​of​ ​the​ ​world​ ​are​ ​unwilling,​ ​and​ ​now​ ​possibly​ ​incapable,​ ​of​ ​controlling​ ​global​ ​business.​ ​It is,​ ​in​ ​effect,​ ​a​ ​slowly​ ​unfolding​ ​coup,​ ​a​ ​role​ ​reversal​ ​wherein​ ​the​ ​formerly​ ​indisputable​ ​master​ ​has become​ ​willing​ ​servant.
The​ ​crucial​ ​problem​ ​with​ ​this​ ​is​ ​that​ ​corporations​ ​are​ ​fundamentally​ ​undemocratic​ ​institutions.​ ​They are​ ​basically​ ​rigidly​ ​hierarchical​ ​constitutional​ ​monarchies,​ ​and​ ​as​ ​their​ ​power​ ​and​ ​influence​ ​swell beyond​ ​antiquated​ ​national​ ​borders,​ ​their​ ​actions​ ​and​ ​decisions​ ​become​ ​increasingly​ ​unaccountable​ ​to any​ ​sort​ ​of​ ​public​ ​interest.​
​For​ ​as​ ​insanely​ ​vicious​ ​as​ ​states​ ​have​ ​been​ ​in​ ​the​ ​history​ ​of​ ​the​ ​world,​ ​they are​ ​distinguished​ ​from​ ​corporations​ ​by​ ​their​ ​theoretical​ ​duty​ ​to​ ​protect​ ​and​ ​enhance​ ​the​ ​wellbeing​ ​of their​ ​citizens.​ ​Whether​ ​this​ ​actually​ ​happens​ ​is​ ​obviously​ ​subject​ ​to​ ​heated​ ​debate,​ ​but​ ​it​ ​is​ ​not structurally​ ​precluded.
However,​ ​the​ ​indivisible,​ ​primary​ ​reason​ ​for​ ​corporations​ ​to​ ​exist​ ​is​ ​to​ ​make​ ​a​ ​profit.​ ​This​ ​may​ ​be quite​ ​useful​ ​to​ ​those​ ​who​ ​are​ ​privy​ ​to​ ​the​ ​dividends​ ​of​ ​that​ ​profit,​ ​but​ ​unless​ ​it​ ​is​ ​subjected​ ​to​ ​an external,​ ​normative​ ​redistributive​ ​force,​ ​will​ ​never​ ​wholly​ ​benefit​ ​the​ ​society​ ​whose​ ​taxes​ ​and​ ​toil​ ​help to​ ​create​ ​the​ ​conditions​ ​for​ ​these​ ​corporations​ ​to​ ​exist.​
​Furthermore,​ ​unlike​ ​government​ ​social services,​ ​there​ ​is​ ​often​ ​no​ ​actual​ ​need​ ​for​ ​much​ ​of​ ​what​ ​these​ ​massive​ ​companies​ ​are​ ​built​ ​to​ ​provide; Coca-Cola​ ​provisions​ ​the​ ​entire​ ​world​ ​with​ ​soft​ ​drinks​ ​that​ ​are​ ​terribly​ ​unhealthy​ ​and​ ​environmentally destructive​ ​to​ ​produce or distribute,​ ​yet​ ​it​ ​is​ ​a​ ​supremely​ ​powerful​ ​political​ ​player​ ​and​ ​makes​ ​billions​ ​in revenue​ ​each​ ​year.
In​ ​other​ ​words,​ ​governments​ ​are​ ​ceding​ ​control​ ​to​ ​organizations​ ​that​ ​are​ ​largely​ ​inaccessible​ ​to​ ​public oversight,​ ​and​ ​are​ ​better​ ​suited​ ​to​ ​making​ ​and​ ​distributing​ ​piles​ ​of​ ​useless​ ​objects​ ​than​ ​administering the​ ​services​ ​necessary​ ​for​ ​fulfillment​ ​of​ ​basic​ ​needs.​ ​If​ ​the​ ​phrase​ ​‘ceding​ ​control’​ ​seems melodramatic,​ ​then​ ​why​ ​has​ ​there​ ​been​ ​a​ ​steady​ ​revolving​ ​door​ ​for​ ​regulators​ ​between​ ​Monsanto​ ​and the​ ​Department​ ​of​ ​Agriculture,​ ​Goldman​ ​Sachs​ ​and​ ​the​ ​Treasury,​ ​and​ ​now​ ​Exxon​ ​to​ ​the​ ​State Department?
The​ ​Paradise​ ​Papers​ ​and​ ​tax​ ​scam​ ​simply​ ​make​ ​the​ ​obvious,​ ​well,​ ​even​ ​more​ ​obvious: Our​ ​governments​ ​are​ ​blatantly​ ​corrupt,​ ​tax​ ​systems​ ​are​ ​a​ ​joke,​ ​and​ ​the​ ​poor​ ​are​ ​getting​ ​screwed​ ​so​ ​that more​ ​yachts​ ​can​ ​be​ ​sold.
Any​ ​political​ ​platform​ ​that​ ​does​ ​not​ ​see​ ​this​ ​incomprehensible​ ​injustice​ ​as​ ​the​ ​principal​ ​problem​ ​in our​ ​society​ ​is​ ​either​ ​missing​ ​the​ ​point,​ ​or​ ​more​ ​likely,​ ​has​ ​been​ ​co-opted​ ​into​ ​ensuring​ ​this​ ​paradigm continues.​
Yet​ ​our​ ​lives,​ ​like​ ​our​ ​countries,​ ​have​ ​become​ ​so​ ​structured​ ​around​ ​corporate​ ​agendas​ ​that it​ ​is​ ​hard​ ​to​ ​see​ ​the​ ​current​ ​situation​ ​as​ ​the​ ​consumerist​ ​neo-aristocracy​ ​that​ ​it​ ​has​ ​become.​ ​How many​ ​more​ ​Pentagon,​ ​Panama,​ ​and​ ​Paradise​ ​Papers​ ​will​ ​it​ ​take​ ​before​ ​we​ ​get​ ​organized?

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