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I've wondered a lot about this with the Snowden and Wikileaks stuff, and I wonder about it with this topic too: the most salient part of this story, and about Panama Papers etc. before it, is how small a dent it seems to make in the discourse, and in the world as a result. At best, these stories get a good chunk of the airwaves for a couple of weeks, and then it's on to the next thing.

In history books, you get a sense sometimes that there were eras in which stuff like this sent people into the streets in rages. In which governments were voted out or overthrown, in which meaningful legislative responses were made. Or, you know, riots.

But I look around after reading those books and wonder what makes us so different. It's weird to live in this era. I read a Guardian article like this and look at the staggering sums, this entire "shadow financial system" devoted solely to one notion: I'm going to take as much as I can, in whatever way that I can, regardless of legality, and I'm going to give nothing back because I sincerely don't believe I owe anything back -- oh, and I'm going to keep it all a secret.

And I look around and not only don't see any riots; I sometimes get the feeling that people are actually envious, sometimes even respectful of the ingenuity it takes to manufacture these schemes. It's tough.

The only silver lining I can think of is what all the secrecy says: we're not just doing this in the open because we're still afraid we'll end up like the Romanovs if too many of you get angry. I think that while they're still afraid, there's still some hope.

EDIT: Reading some replies. It's weird to have to say this to such a smart crowd, but I'm not advocating riots as such; I'm advocating a substantive response. Of course riots are "bad" in some sense, but my observation is really about the odd contrast between the huge size of the "stimulus" (theft of wealth, much of it yours, on a staggering scale) and the tiny size of the "response" (newspaper articles and web forum discussions), especially when contrasted with other historical periods. So while I wouldn't "want a riot", seeing one would make me go "well, that makes sense".

> “how small a dent it seems to make in the discourse, and in the world as a result”

I used to think this. But now I think: maybe the ‘dent’ I’ve been looking for is essentially just excitement and hype, which isn’t change. The narrative that change happens through the mass public getting angry, forcing politicians to respond, is overblown at best. I think the boring truth is that nearly all progress in this area (and there is progress) happens through countless bureaucrats diligently working for years on court cases and regulation changes to make it harder for people to get away with this stuff. For such bureaucrats, a leak like this is going to be relevant and valuable for years, long after the media has moved on. The people implicated in the leak didn’t want the leak to happen, and there’s a reason. Sure, most are probably too powerful to get prosecuted and put in jail, but it does curb their options for future shenanigans, and they will probably lose some money. Sanctions do work. I think it’s probably always been this way too – the exciting, romantic parts of history (marches, revolutions) are the exception, we just pay more attention to them.

I like this in outline -- the notion that what you could call the "acute" effects (e.g. its impact on the news cycle) of a story like this may be more visible and less important than its "chronic" effects inside institutions, where people take more serious notice. (That's if I'm reading you right.)

I guess what I'm less sure about is the inevitability that you're painting it with. Seems a bit "whiggish" [1], in my reading, if for no other reason than seeing brighter days on this front in the past than in the present and immediate future.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whig_history

Yes, that’s a fair reading. I would add that it’s vitally important for the journalists to get the ‘acute’ part right, being mindful of media cycles etc, to properly establish the the leak in the public record and in the minds of relevant parties such as investigators and other journalists. But yes, the real work gets done in the years following. It’s lots of work by lots of people on lots of boring things. It won’t be cinematic. There won’t be a catharsis.

Wikipedia has an article on outcomes from the 2016 Panama Papers [1]. Lots of boring things.

I see what you mean about whiggish (good word). But well, I do think it is more or less inevitable that there will be outcomes that certain people don’t want, otherwise they wouldn’t have been trying to hide their finances from regulators. And I would speculate those outcomes will probably be pretty positive, if added up together, such that the journalists and whistleblowers involved in the leak should feel immensely proud. But my main point is that the extent of general public outrage over the original data leak is irrelevant to how positive the eventual outcomes will turn out to be.

In which ways do you think it was brighter on this front in the past?

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reactions_to_the_Panama_Pape...

> The narrative that change happens through the mass public getting angry, forcing politicians to respond, is overblown at best.

It used to work. As recent as a couple decades ago at least. The Arab spring that swept Middle East and parts of North Africa in 2010s comes to mind.

Protesting and going to the streets, depending on where you are in this world, feels more like a dying art today rather than the stuff of revolution we've associated them with in the past. Feels wrong just typing that.

Maybe we've just become insensitive to it all and do not have the will to fight governments.

Maybe our collective thoughts and ideas are more homogenous than ever before.

As someone born in the eighties I'd mention that it has actually gotten less unthinkable that mass riots happen in the western world as I've grown up. If everyone's reaction to January 6th surprised you it's because when most of the middle-aged working folks (including the folks in the media) were growing up this was unthinkable. The Arab Spring happened "over there" and ditto for North Africa - it's only recently that we've had substantive protests domestically.

The WTO always brings a decent sized chunk of protest when it comes - but the biggest protest in my memory is Occupy Wall Street which ended up being incredibly peaceful and polite and thus absolutely ignored by the media. The largest one before that was probably the '92 LA Riots which I was born just late enough to not notice.

Most of the more media grabbing protests of my life time have actually been sports related - the Red Sox winning and the Stanley Cup Riot. I don't know how true your statement really is.

It's very simple - we are well fed.

This is my thought as well. We've reached a plateau where the average individual's circumstances are so comfortable that violent political action just doesn't make sense psychologically. The pie is so large that, even though we are getting a smaller and smaller slice compared to the elites, it doesn't trigger the type of primal response it did in the past.

Should we hope this continues? Probably. If the situation deteriorates to the point that revolution becomes palatable the result would be mass human suffering.

As the Romans said, "panem et circenses"; nowadays in the first world, even the relatively poor classes have access to a plenty of cheap entertainment and food; it's perhaps not good but it's enough to take off enough of the edge that people are merely angry but not so desperate (for the masses - individual exceptions of course happen, but they don't matter) to actually go ahead and risk their lives trying to change everything.

Actually it is even simpler than that - we increasingly hate our neighbor and therefore feel compelled to turn to the state for help, and view crusty rich old politicians (who work for the wealthy elites) as their saviors.

It is not dying art. Protests are now part of establishment, and are protected by police!

The revolution will be sponsored.

Up to 10 million people took to the streets on 15-Feb 2003 to protest against the Iraq war[0], including 3 million in Rome alone (the largest anti-war protest in history). It changed nothing.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/15_February_2003_anti-war_prot...

Honestly it's always been an implicit "threat of violence". I.e. it's an olive branch being extended to the powers that be, telling them that "we're willing to remain civil, for the time being, but we're giving you a stark warning that we're also willing to organize into large groups (demonstrated by the protesters mobilizing at all), and become violent if things don't change.

The thing that's changed is that the people in power are no longer taking the implicit threat seriously. The dog is snarling at them, yet somehow, it's unthinkable that they're about to be bitten.

> Maybe we've just become insensitive to it all and do not have the will to fight governments.

I don't think we have - the outrage machine seems to be growing. Wasn't there widespread violent protests for most of the year leading up to the election last year?

The problem is for the most part people's outrage and hatred has been redirected toward their fellow citizen and away from the ruling class, which is clearly not a coincidence.

Protesting in the streets, the way it's commonly understood today, is basically just a show. Why would the powers that be actually care about it?

A nation-wide strike, now that would get attention.

> Protesting in the streets, the way it's commonly understood today, is basically just a show. Why would the powers that be actually care about it?

Because that kind of show is how the ideas it promotes are normalized, which is the foundation on which other action is built.

Is it, though, in this day and age? It seems that, in the developed world at least, ideas are promoted and normalized via mass media and/or the Internet, and protests are rather the outcome of than than the cause.

> Is it, though, in this day and age?


> It seems that, in the developed world at least, ideas are promoted and normalized via mass media and/or the Internet

Sure, and mass protests are how marginalized groups leverage the selection biases of the mass media for their message.

> As recent as a couple decades ago at least. The Arab spring that swept Middle East and parts of North Africa in 2010s comes to mind.

Which country has been better off after Arab spring?

In a way, it reminds me of the aviation industry, where regulations are put in place because something happened in the past.

At the same time, as regulation gets more complex, it creates new ways to be exploited. The same way more source code means more possibilities for bugs. The bureaucrats play a catch-up game and they are always at a disadvantage.

"At best, these stories get a good chunk of the airwaves for a couple of weeks, and then it's on to the next thing."

This is the true power of the media. It isn't whatever lies or truths they may tell, though those are impactful in their own way... it is the way they decide what we think about at all. The true power of the media is to inflate some tiny incident that happened to one person to a national-scale, multi-week crisis... and to be able to take national-scale, multi-decade crises and bury them to the point that it's right down there with "conspiracy theories" to think about them.

If you pay attention, you can see this sometimes in action. They'll push a story expecting a certain reaction, but if they don't get the reaction they expect, poof, it's gone. There's always a huge pool of stories to draw from, far larger than they need to send any message they want without having to necessarily lie at any point. They just have to control the spotlight of attention to get the results they want.

Sometimes HN denizens talk about breaking out of the filter bubble. This might be a better way of thinking about it... instead think of it as breaking away from the attention spotlight being pushed on you by the media. Almost the entire world is taking place outside that spotlight.

The media needs something engaging happening to have something to continue to report on. (Even if that thing is just public figures reacting to a thing.) If they lob a bombshell and see it explode, but there are no further consequences to that explosion — no “sequelae”, as the medical profession would put it — then they can’t very well continue to report on the explosion.

What makes further consequences happen? Powerful people taking an interest. The media is the fourth estate, but only insofar as their actions trigger reactions in the first-through-third estates. For a news story to “continue to happen”, it needs a patron in a position of power to actually care about what was reported, and act in response, in a media-visible way. News coverage is, and always has been, a feedback loop between journalists and the public figures they cover.

Which implies that if something is a “taken as a given” practice among pretty much everyone with power, then reporting on it won’t get any powerful patron riled up, and so won’t get anything done to feed back into the news cycle.

Democracy continues to function, separately from all this; voters read the news, get angry, and pressure their congressman, who then pushes for change in the house, causing ripples in the bureaucracy. But none of that is able to be framed in an incendiary “continuing coverage” format, because there is no heroic narrative to democracy, only the snowball effect of small actions — so the regular news media doesn’t attach to it at all, so it seems to just drop off the face of the Earth.

But it’s still happening; it’s just happening in a way you can only perceive with “I watch C-SPAN” glasses on.

I used to have so much faith (naively perhaps) in the major news networks. Maybe they used to be bastions of truth but I feel that is not the case. They are just a mouth piece of the elites at this point.

They have us divided and fighting each other so we're too busy to see the real cause of our discontent.

So much truth has been censored and replaced with lies in the last 2 years. But no one is calling them on it? There isn't even an apology or a retraction.

It's not news.

It's propaganda.

Real news is expensive, that is why so much of the news has turned into opinion pieces - it costs almost nothing to publish people’s opinions but it grabs eyeballs for advertisers just as well as real news.

When it’s not opinion pieces they are usually promoting someone’s book or hyping up some Lifetime special.

Even before reporting really started circling the drain I always noted how wrong the news got technology stories, and I wondered if all the other topics were just as off.

> Even before reporting really started circling the drain I always noted how wrong the news got technology stories, and I wondered if all the other topics were just as off.


Yep, and the opinion pieces are just advertisements in disguise. So who are the advertisers paying for the content. They don't care about truth. It's just about profit or control.

Lowering quality and trading on your brand works in the short term, but long term, more and more people just quit those news channels, or quit reading the news altogether.

Yeah, it has gotten bad in that regard. Sunday morning shows is probably the least amount of 'book for sale' moments, but they are still there.

The underlying issue is that a lot of people can’t distinguish between news, opinion, and paid advertising. Not that the people are dumb, its just not a skill you are born with, and it is not something widely taught in schools. Instead of not watching the news they are getting wrapped up in whatever opinion their favorite Fox/MSNBC/etc personality is pushing. It is great for places like Buzzfeed but seems to be a loss for society overall.

I've said to my friends that I think America is in a strange place in history, where bread and circuses have become industrialized enough to truly anesthetize people's political will.

People have Netflix, the Internet, and video games all cheap and at the touch of a button; opioids, antidepressants, and illicit drugs are socially acceptable and easily obtained, sometimes even at a government subsidy; and almost nobody is physically starving or lacking rudimentary shelter (even the poor in America are fed, clothed, and housed to an extent almost unimaginable compared to the shattering destitution experienced in most of human history).

This was not the case in the past, when so many more people were subject to backbreaking manual farm and industrial labor, the real chance of starvation, malnutrition, or outright poisoning from unregulated industrialized food, cramped conditions in drafty, moldy buildings, grim disease, and worst of all, nothing to distract you from it all. One's free time was spent thinking about how unfair it all was, not watching TV. When people are stuck at the bottom of Maslow's pyramid, they have nothing better to do then get mad and start rioting.

But as long as the bread and circuses continue to be effective, the will to riot in the streets is gone. Who cares if a billionaire sneaks in a second yacht on the side? I can just open a bag of Doritos I bought for pennies and switch to the Kardashians. The strange thing is, would we not consider this positive progress?

A lot of people also have, arguably, less control over their circumstances than ever before.

Many Americans are effectively wage-slaves - unable to quit their jobs, because they rely on the income and have nearly no savings.

Rent has to be paid. Food has to be bought. Car insurance, taxes, dentist appointments - you can't stop making money, because you can't stop paying money.

Moving costs an up-front investment that you don't have. Land is expensive, and even if you had the skills to build your own lodging, it has to be up to code.

Pivoting to self-employment might seem easy in the age of Uber, but the reality is that it is incredibly difficult to earn yourself a living without playing by somebody else's rules. In the past, you could decide to earn a living as a fisherman simply by fishing and selling your catch. Handy with a hammer? Supplement your income on an ad-hoc basis by helping out your neighbors.

The stress of dealing with everyday life can be so overwhelming that the only thing a person has juice left for at the end of the day is turning on the television, scrolling twitter, and eating those Doritos. And that television (and even twitter) isn't telling you any ways out of the invisible, ubiquitous cycle you're stuck in.

I’ve been reading some oral histories from early/mid-20th century, midcoast Maine in the last month.

One theme is scarcity (and the ingenuity borne of it). People didn’t have a lot, so they needed to be clever with what they had. They worked incredibly hard, and invented/sought out tools to make their lives physically easier. They toiled for most of their lives, but they saw their known tool get easier as time went on (upgrading from jute to nylon netting, hydraulic winches instead of manual cranks, sonar instead of trial and error).

The people who worked (what seemed to me to be) the worst jobs had a common refrain: “the best thing about X is nobody tells me to do <hard thing> at <unreasonable time> in <unreasonable conditions>. I’m my own boss, make my own decisions, and it keeps me happy.” They owned all the highs, lows, and war stories of business ownership.

Also, a fun anecdote. They asked one guy “what would you tell somebody young who’s new into fishing?” He thought hard, then said “I would tell them to study hard and become a doctor or a lawyer or something, if they’re interested in money”. Made me chuckle!

Anyways, this is to say that it’s always been hard to seek out self employment or total self sufficiency. Generally, you could always trade off comfort for autonomy [1]. Nowadays, we as a society have made inhabiting that material discomfort nearly illegal, as you imply. We raised the floor of material suffering, but the emotional and psychological floor is only elastically attached to that material floor, with an elasticity coefficient that seems to vary widely from person to person. It seems to have been a monotonic transformation so far, but time will tell.

[1]: https://www.granolashotgun.com/granolashotguncom/hp5pmb0n95u...

> Many Americans are effectively wage-slaves - unable to quit their jobs, because they rely on the income and have nearly no savings.

Specifically in the USA it's even worse, since jobs are linked to healthcare.

I did mean the USA, my apologies for the confusion. We here in the US often forget about the rest of the Americas.

And it's not only in the USA. For the last 15 years I have seen my country Mexico fall deep into violence, killings, narco state, blatant corruption and abuse from the people in the government.

And nothing happens...

Time and time again someone I the "high society " gets killed, there are a couple of marches and everything stays the same. It's as if the actual majority of the population was fine living in this shithole.

It's so depressing.

Brilliant comment, my sentiments exactly.

Just to add on: I also believe that this is why we see virtue signaling so strongly today. The impact of one’s actions is quite secondary, for all the reasons you mention. So the illusion of change is just another circus for the mind to pass another hour.

I still think we live in the greatest point in time in human history, but this is a super interesting and equally concerning possibility.

There is a much easier theory. Democracy converges to an acceptable situation really quickly, then sits there.

If people are happy with the status quo, and it turns out that they were wrong about the nature of that status quo ... that still isn't necessarily a reason to do anything.

"Representative democracies" train people to be apathetic.

Since birth they are made to believe that the miraculous democratic republic they live in gives them agency, and that the reason they actually don't have agency is because their fellow citizens are stupid and can't vote for the right things.

The result is a feeling of justified helplessness. There's no feeling of outrage at the greedy tyrannical ruling class, because after all either you or your neighors "chose" them.

And if taxation laws are unjust, it's your neighbors' fault. They voted for red while blue would obviously have your best interests in mind. Nevermind the fact that both red and blue are part of the same wealth and social class, who benefit from the same laws.

Democracy is very successful in preventing political violence. Violence is incredibly destructive to people’s real daily welfare.

It's also incredibly successful in destroying social mobility, causing people to be stuck in ever-increasing levels of poverty - which is pretty destructive to peoples welfare too.

Not to mention it prevents political violence at the expense of causing extreme violence in foreign nations. As long as its not us, right?

I would say with this that unfortunately democracy = capitalism in the world we live in. And its really capitalism that causes those things, rather than democracy itself. I dont want to give the impression I hate democracy as an idea, just how we've implemented it.

The idea that there are "ever-increasing levels of poverty" in western democracies is transparently false. Would you like to try to provide some evidence for that?

> "ever-increasing levels of poverty"

people who say this are actually not saying the literal meaning of that sentence. I believe they mean that they observe ever increasing levels of wealth amongst some people, but not themselves or their friends/peers. Therefore, they equate the fact that they are not at the same relative level of wealth as some wealthy people, and thus, conclude that it must be that poverty is increasing.

And people who say this in response think that just because overall quality of life is increasing on average the people on the lower end of the spectrum cant be in relative poverty

> It's also incredibly successful in destroying social mobility.

I find it difficult to agree with this sentiment. Social mobility might have decreased in the last four decades. But in the longer perspective there has never been a more egalitarian and meritocratic social structure than in our time. And that structure exists mainly in the democratic states of the world.

OP was talking about representative democracy specifically, not democracy in general. There are other ways to go about it. In fact, there are ways to go about representative democracy that are drastically different from the status quo, e.g. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delegate_model_of_representati....

And there are democracies out there today that aren't capitalist, in the true meaning of that word:



> "Representative democracies" train people to be apathetic.

Is there any evidence that there is any system of government that does so less?

Not yet but i'm hopeful about ideas like liquid democracy https://liquidfeedback.com/en/

So what's better?

Personally I think Democracy could be nice. I think there are systems of governance that can allow everyone to have agency on their life without necessarily having to be rich enough to passport-shop.

Calling our democratic Republics simply "Democracy" is another cool helplessness-inducing newspeak trick. That language implicitly positions the system on the extreme-end of citizen-agency, so logically everything else must be more authoritarian.

In fact, assuming you live in one of these so-called "Democracies", think about how much your country's laws and policies impact you, and then think how much effort and input you provide to deciding those laws and policies. The ratio is most likely ridiculous.

We always say "direct democracy doesn't work because people don't care about every issue", but there's an universe of possibilities between Democratic Republic ("chose between red and blue every five years") and simplistic direct democracy ("country-wide majority vote on every government decision").

I'm open for alternatives and improvements on what we currently have. I still don't feel very clear after reading what you just wrote. I don't think the US has a pure representative democracy (citizens vote directly on many issues) and I also don't think representative democracy inherently leads to a binary red/blue decision, as I think number of political parties is often determined by the particular rules of the election process.

Do you have any suggestions on how to improve the system?

Not the original poster, but whenever the topics comes up I tell one of the following semi-jokes ( semi, because I am more and more convinced we should try at least one ):

1. Automatic jail time for anyone, who held public office after they leave on the assumption that must have done something. Side benefit: prisons would improve drastically.

2. Absolutely random election for every office in the land. This should spice things up. Side benefit: we would quickly find out what exactly they higher ups want to do about overpopulation of the planet.

3. Term limits for congress. It will never happen, but it is nice to dream.

Haha, I'm not sure about #1, however I like #2 and #3. I think sortition (#2) could provide new perspectives and help us know whether we like our current system or not.

I think overall I would prefer more short-term legislative experiments—the impression I get is that people (especially at the US federal level) try to write law or create programs ostensibly for the long-term, and I'm curious what a short-term experiment with reflection and re-evaluation would look like. E.g., trying sortition for one two elections, or a law that establishes term limits but has an expiration date.

Liquid democracy in 60 seconds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xln9CTzPbck

Liquid democracy is designed with the idea that people don't want to worry about every issue, but should be allowed to change their 'proxy' for whatever issue at any time they please not only election cycles. My representative should be registered to me and if I want another one I just pick one. https://liquidfeedback.com/en/

I see some potential upsides to this—flexibility, localized decision making, etc.—and am curious, what downsides do you see coming from it?


Why Switzerland?

I hear what you're saying, but I don't think anyone is surprised anymore that the rich and powerful are manipulating the financial system. There's also a sort of unreal, weird aspect to these leaks. I get the feeling reading the article that there's either a lot they're leaving out (possibly just because it's too soon for them to have combed through all of the information) or that these leaks are orchistrated in some way to make certain political opponents look bad while other prominent politicians remain un-named and unscathed. I just get a distinct feeling that while yes, this stuff is likely quite true, it's purposely not complete (not blaming The Guardian here, I'm thinking the leakers are maybe leaking selectively).

They mention King Abdullah II of Jordan, but how likely do you think it is that there could or would be any consequences for him? It seems highly unlikely.

Also, they mention that Putin is not named directly in these papers, but we can be pretty certain that he's been involved in all sorts of financial skullduggery. Yes, they say that some of his close associates are mentioned, but even if it can be tied directly to Putin with 100% certainty it would have little to no effect in removing him from power as his power over Russia at this point is too strong for such allegations to have any effect.

And Who benefits from making Zelinskiy look bad?

EDIT: Maybe we're not more shocked because we suspect that if we knew the whole story it would actually be much worse than this?

I think about this exact thing a lot. Of course, I have no evidence for it, but it's always on my mind in a story like this. It's always a certain slice of the global elite being embarrassed in the stories, isn't it?

Also suspicious that not a single person from the US is mentioned in these leaks.

> Yes, they say that some of his close associates are mentioned, but even if it can be tied directly to Putin with 100% certainty it would have little to no effect in removing him from power as his power over Russia at this point is too strong for such allegations to have any effect.

Very simple, USA orders global sanctions on the guy, and we will all see what next stupid thing it will provoke him into.

All these Magnitsky acts are silly, and useless when they keep going against accessories to the criminal regime, while not going against that criminal regime itself, and especially the chief motherfucker in charge.

The few times USA has ever attempted to sanction heads of states personally were few African states, Norko, and Philippines

>Putin is not named directly in these papers

yes that's absolutely damning. typical Putin /s

can you share more of your conclusions based on absence of evidence?

They’ve sedated us. Compared to the past you mention we live long lives, work comfortable jobs, have all we can eat media at our finger tips and therefore aren’t all that affected by the dodgy dealings of the elite. We’re comfortable enough with too little to gain through uprising. For any change against the elite to take hold you need a large group to rise up against them - and even the poorest amongst us in the west have smartphones and the other trappings of a comfortable enough life. Why risk losing that or facing any discomfort at all when we can just get on with things and ignore the corruption?

One way of thinking is that it's not that bad. The elites have to provide a minimum quality of life for everyone. People will naturally want more and more so that bar will rise over time. So long as elites provide this their reward is corruptly embezzling money and avoiding taxes.

Obviously I'd prefer it if they obeyed the laws and faced justice, but that seems not to be the world we live in. I'm not going to risk my comfortable life rebelling against them to make it more likely either. Instead, maybe the right move is to just keep pushing the quality bar higher.

what's on the other side of taking down a relatively (to the past) well run democracy? Do people actually think there's a utopia in anarchy? It will just be the rise of a different set of elites.

Depends on what the people do with it. In Pakistan, the ruling prime minister was deposed due the investigations initiated by the panama papers, and the new prime minister who came in after him, stuck to his anti-corruption narrative by getting rid of people in his cabinet who were proven corrupt.

And it looks like his chiefs are named..

It is definitely weird. It might be the fact that the average person today is so far removed from the events and their life just keeps going. Why expend energy on rioting when everyday life is fine? We all have a ton of other stuff to do.

On a sidenote, this is why I always preferred Brave New World over 1984. Easier to keep the population in control by keeping them satisfied.

Every day life is fine enough, and the majority has something to lose if they do act out. That threat to take what people have away is what works.

> In history books, you get a sense sometimes that there were eras in which stuff like this sent people into the streets in rages.

Read better history books. A bunch of people yelling into the air is not how change is effected.

Really the culprit here is the French revolution, back when things were physically rooted so if you could storm the palace and burn your debt the debt would really be gone. All the French organs of power were located in this city filled with seething people. But that is not the world we live in today. If you storm the whitehouse, you just trespassed on a famous building, you haven't captured the center of power. If you tear down a statue, you just lose popular support, you are not overthrowing anything by attacking the physical statue.

Power is not in buildings and it's not obtained by yelling.

Moreover the resentment of incredibly privileged people complaining that they are not as privileged as someone else is not how you gain popular support.

Yes, envy is still a powerful motivator, but the achillees heel of envy is that it's hard to unify a group of people who are driven by resentment. They constantly turn on each other. It's a very tricky thing, and if you are a would-be Napoleon, then shouting at birds isn't how you convert envy into a stepping stone for power.

People aren't going to riot if their lives are pretty good, regardless if others are cheating the system. Bread and circuses.

Yeh, this is it. Soma for the masses in the form of Netflix, cheap fast food, booze, legal drugs…

> booze

YMMV, but I'm 2L deep on local beer and it's not making me trust The Man yet.

Are you out in the streets, or looking for the truth in the bottom of a bottle?

If it isn't the former, the plan is working technically.

The man doesn't care if you trust him as long as you aren't getting in his way.

People kind of are rioting, though. The election of Donald Trump (and the rise of populist parties across Europe); the January 6th capitol riot; the Black Lives Matter movement - whatever you think of these things, they're all connected at some level to a deep-seated feeling of social injustice. Perhaps we're only at the start.

No, they're just going to try and cheat the system because 'everybody does it'. It sends the wrong message that corruption is okay.

I like the photo of Ilham Aliyev and his wife though. He looks like a villain from James Bond movie.

It's unsustainable, so people are waiting for the system to collapse. A few will riot, some will try to accelerate the collapse and benefit from it, of course, but most will wait and see.

I had a very similar thought. Kinda funny if it weren't so bleak.

I agree with you on the first sentence, but I don’t think it’s necessarily bread and circuses. Just peace and prosperity. Pax Capitalisma if you will

Bread and circuses was politicians getting into debt or Emperors dilapidating the treasury to buy the support of the masses, I don’t think that’s really the case here.

It’s more that if people are prosperous and safe they stop caring enough

>Bread and circuses was politicians getting into debt or Emperors dilapidating the treasury to buy the support of the masses, I don’t think that’s really the case here.

I would like you to think about this paragraph.

Now think about UBI. Now think about Modern Monetary Theory.

I see an attempt at distinction without a difference.

We have plenty of food and tv to watch and our phones to look at. Complacency is so high. Someone that is hungry and bored finds taking to the streets for a riot compelling because they have nothing to lose.

I find this complacency we have bizarre because the average working poor person seems pretty miserable looking at their phone and eating fast food. The Panama Papers could offer clues for why they work so hard and never seem to have a single penny at the end of each month after the bills are paid. But the Big Mac and the Juul Pod and their Facebook feed makes them too tired right now to care…there’s a new show on Netflix a friend told them about and maybe that will make them happy for a few hours.

One thing I'm curious about is if billionaire money is actually worth the same as our money, it seems like a sink. Once enough money is in the same place, moving it causes impacts that could devalue it. I mean you can buy cool boats(ships) and never lift a finger again in your life, but it's not actually usable on the scale we think right?

It definitely is. Jho Lo is a great example of this. He burned through billions, with a capital B, in only a few years time. Boats, houses, financing film projects (The Wolf of Wall Street, you can’t make this up), gambling millions of dollars at a time on single hands of blackjack. A member of his entourage abandoned the life because he couldn’t emotionally handle watching Lo spend more on bottle service at the clubs in a single night than his entire extended family would ever earn in their lives. I think most rich people are just relatively staid in their spending, despite the multi million dollar homes and all that.

That's why you move it in weird ways. Like fine art and crypto.

That's what charitable foundations/trusts are about.

"it ain't great, but it could be a lot worse..."

A riot is just going to make my life certainly worse for the slight chance of making someone else's life worse for reasons that really don't effect me.

I recently learned that my go-to park in Berlin, Gleisdreieck Park, was supposed to become an Autobahn in the second half of the last century. Protests have stopped it finally in the 90s [1]. Nowadays, Berlin is enlarging the Autobahn eventually leading to the removal of night clubs and nature. Why is the protest so small this time?

[1] German only: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Park_am_Gleisdreieck

About 40 years ago (aged 10) I watched a hedgehog wander around a grassy area near the Brandenburg Gate. If you recall, that monument was part of the delineation between East and West. The hedgehog was walking on a minefield. Of course it was too small to set off anything but even now I remember it.

I was a British Army brat and we were stationed in Rheindahlen near MG at the time. The Berlin Corridor was pretty grim. It was a long straight concrete road with barbed wire fences on both sides. At the Berlin end we parked up in a large concrete plaza and presented passports through a metal hatch. Then we were allowed into the city. Berlin in 1980. I really wish I was older and could give a better impression of the place at the time but there are probably plenty of writers who can do the same and far better. It seemed to me at the time to be the same as any other (West) German city but a bit bigger! I think we were allowed a short trip to the East side via CP Charlie.

The Berlin I visited back then had bigger fish to fry than a contentious autobahn!

> how small a dent it seems to make in the discourse

"The discourse" is increasingly unglued from any kind of ground truths. The pandemic has just made that far more obvious. It's just people refighting the same wars.

> Or, you know, riots.

The US had a huge number of riots over the last year, and violent (but as yet unarmed) protestors stormed the federal and some state capitols. (There was also armed but not violent protest, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-52496514) Several cities briefly had "autonomous zones" and at least one police station burned down.

Yes, and none of these riots were about anything related to the economy.

In fact, it's precisely during this time that the Feds were hitting the printing press the hardest, directly increasing wealth inequality and thus, the US Black population being on average way poorer[1] and poverty indirectly being the number one cause of death, lowering US Black citizens' life expectancy more than US White citizens.

And yet 0 riots or public outcry about that, while countless more Black people will die because of these policies than the few who die of police brutality.

[1]: https://www.brookings.edu/blog/up-front/2020/12/08/the-black...

> In 2019 the median white household held $188,200 in wealth—7.8 times that of the typical Black household ($24,100)

I have the same feeling, like we were slowly indoctrinated into believing that upvoting is the only thing we can do and participation is worthless.

I recently watched this video[0] that shows how public perception over cars has been influenced over many many years into what we now have (and we now perceive as normal). I feel like it's somewhat related.

[0]: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oOttvpjJvAo

The really great victory of the rich is that they convinced half of the planet to defend them.

There have definitely been riots in the streets. In some parts of the world, there was with the Panama papers. But there weren't really many important Americans implicated in those papers. Here, we decided to riot over police murdering black people and the election of Trump, but it was honestly probably more about being sick of living with the pandemic than anything else. I think you have to be willing to riot first, then something has to happen for you to react to, and then we point at that event and say it caused the riots. But I think history is more of a series of catalysts than a true sequence of cause-and-effect.

Snowden changed the discourse, but it wasn't a catalyst for change, unfortunately. I guess we're just not ready to change. When we are, maybe we'll look back at these events as early precursors that showed stress in the system before it snapped. Or we'll view them like we do the Luddites: trying to reverse the inevitable course of history.

In my experience seeing a black neighborhood errupt in protests after seeing another black man killed - while I personally think that black man in particular was not innocent - that neighborhood was ready to riot. The police in that area were brutal, abusive, and racist. The people in that area were subject to segregation that saw them receive worse education and job opportunities than the white neighborhoods. The government was unresponsive to their needs and, on the contrary, viewed them as a nuisance bringing down property values, and hurting their stats on standardized test scores. Then a black man was killed and they said they'd had enough of this, and then everyone says "the went to the streets because that man was killed" - which is both true and irrelevant. A small breeze will knock down a house of cards, but the fact that the house is made of cards is more important than the fact that the breeze caused it to collapse.

Because each individual has never had less power than now. If we lived in a tribe of 15 people, we hold on average 1/15 of the power. In a medieval village of 200 people, we could easily organize the 150 people who are against that bad guy, invade the place where he lives, and kick him out of the village by force or teach him a lesson.

What are billions of us going to do now? As a group any action takes significantly more effort. Protesting to have any impact needs significant organization and involve millions. And even then, what's it gonna change but show up on the media? Anything else requires significant investment of one's time into organizing something. Precious time out of the little free time we have outside of work. The system is well made to protect the powerful. Power itself needs to be more decentralized, and get back closer to the people. But that doesn't work because we have countries with millions of people competing against each other. So there's no easy solution that I can see.

Perhaps some form of online voting and more agile democracy and communication between politics and people along with further decentralization.

Still, it's disheartening.

Personally I can't get myself worked up over this, mainly because I don't think it would make a difference if these people didn't do what they did.

Would our lives be any different if the king of Jordan had paid his taxes? Would the UK be better off if Blair hadn't found a way of saving a couple hundred grand off his latest real estate purchase? Etc

Also I have no shame in admitting I'd do exactly the same if I had that kind of money.

One of them. No. But I don’t think anyone is saying that one single instance would change everything.

If all of those who make a couple million a year who also avoid their taxes were to pay them, yes.

Change happens when the necessary force is applied. Sometimes this takes the form of violence, other times of pressure of some other lever of whatever system is in place, in any case it requires people investing in it. Now, the notion of people “fighting for what’s right” is romantic at best. People invest (read: act, put in time / opportunity-cost, resources, take risks, etc.) with the same rationales of any investment: is it worth to them specifically in terms of costs/risks/success-likelihood/payoff? When it comes to these things, the answer is just "no" for too many so that the critical mass required is not reached. We are at a point when most people in first world countries are just either comfortable enough or think have too much too lose (or both) that it takes stuff seriously threatening their way of life at scale to trigger any reaction with a relevant chance of real impact. As long as the bad stuff is either very-bad-just-for-some or not-bad-enough, basically we’ll see people (and lobbies, and companies, etc.) get away with anything.

> In history books, you get a sense sometimes that there were eras in which stuff like this sent people into the streets in rages.

Not always, but generally that only happens when enough people can’t feed their kids. We’re still too comfortable to risk it all. There’s also the issue of mass surveillance which can kill an uprising in the cradle.

> In history books, you get a sense sometimes that there were eras in which stuff like this sent people into the streets in rages. In which governments were voted out or overthrown, in which meaningful legislative responses were made. Or, you know, riots.

I think your somberness comes from an idealized, perhaps even fanciful look at the Human Condition. Personally speaking riots and even street demos against this are not what is needed here, but rather a significant amount of Human Capital into opting out of this system and creating a viable alternative.

Your pessimism is a symptom of a much bigger problem, not the source of the illness. Once you realize that you cannot reform this system you will be able to re-direct your energy toward that end and maybe find solace in the fact that we still live in the best time to be alive, if only because the amount of possibilities.

The thing is, there are no ingenuious schemes. Offshore companies are just a tool everybody knows about. For a wealthy 1% having an offshore company is just a norm. Or several of them, for that matter. And our everyday discourse is defined by those 1%. Jeff Besos owns The Washington Post, for damn sake.

Right, we all know offshore havens exist, we all know rich people and companies use them. So papers showing that these rich people are using these tax havens is not exactly surprising. That's not to condone this activity, it's just that I'm surprised anyone thinks the response would be otherwise. We know about this stuff already in general, this is just specifics and as the guardian points out it's not as if all this in even necessarily illegal. We just need to push harder to shut down these loopholes.

Maybe the average person is just too well off to care?

When you're barely getting by, or worse, have had family members die of starvation, it's more offensive, and you have less to lose, and so more likely that you'll take out the pitch fork and hit the streets.

I think the difference is that most of us are not starving, not sleeping cold or outdoors, are receiving an education for our children, are able to find some form of work, etc. Its hard to get people rolled up enough under those circumstances.

My current theory is that every time the masses take to the streets in outrage at the corruption of the system, the so-called "leadership" of the new social movement tries to divert it into their own political hobbyism.

Bank secrecy is as old and nefarious as switzerland, the public already assumes that this thing is happening and that power comes with corruption (or else why would people want power). For political parties to demand equal access to these tax-avoidance instruments is obviously politically a non-starter. The current capitalism/power complex puts everyday people on a treadmill where they wish to become the ones who can one day avoid taxes, rather than demand this to stop now. Therefore the loopholes keep shifting arount the globe. Taxation is what separates the plebs from the elites

Tax (in the UK and US, probably much of the rest of developed world) has never been more progressive. I have never understood why this isn't more widely known on HN.

Not saying we should maintain the status quo but if we want "substantive change" it would be helpful to start with reality.


To paraphrase Seneca—the world has always been this way. This is not ‘new information’, and I’d say a meaningful portion of humans know this. The question is—so what? There is power, and manipulation of it. You are not in control of it. You are in control of what you do, though.

And as some in this ‘smart crowd’ will tell you, large and amoral tech corporations are a key reason we have much of the artificial wealth and technocratic elitism we enjoy and speak from.

In history books time is compressed and history is distilled. I can tell you that revolutions are the result of small dents like these that build up over years

I suggest you reconsider your position about nothing happening. Many people think nothing happened in response to the Panama Papers and those people are all wrong.


Very few times does a riot legitimately change anything, even in response to great corruption. It’s precisely why such times are historically noted. Things like civil rights, the end of slavery in America, gay marriage, and women’s right to vote in America were all from decades and decades of bureaucratic labor.

Looks like there will be IRA reforms if/when reconciliation is passed = which is a direct result of ProPublica's reporting.

I do think this reporting does make an actual real life difference. Though cracking down on IRA exploitation is obvious low hanging fruit and a very simple one sentence type change in law.

> And I look around and not only don't see any riots;

Portland. Minnesota. Missouri. Berkeley. There are riots, currently about social justice, but the fight for a living wage is brewing because homelessness and poverty is on the rise. People need to have less to lose, and we're gettin' there.

In "Amusing Ourselves to Death" Neil Postman hypotesizes that people are increasingly anesthetized by their addiction to amusement, as pushed in increasing amounts, and duller form, by the media. Now there are only armchair riots, our pitchforks are the virtual keyboards on our mobiles.

Without saying this is only good or this is only bad, I honestly think we have reached a level of general wealth, e.g. enough to eat for everyone and enough to endlessly distract everyone (TV, social media, games, etc.), that most people won't really get worked up by such things anymore.

1. That amount of wealth is highly abstract and hard to get worked up about. 2. It's not blasting you in the face every day on twitter/facebook. 3. The useful idiot class (most peeps that respond on sites like this) always just talk about OmG WhY DoNt OthEr PeoPle Do StUfF???!?!?!

There are no morals in the world anymore, we are driven by money. To buy that rolex, that BMW, that beach house. These things have been made accesible to more people than ever - so people don't want this to change for the worse. Status quo is good.

Generally, people are willing to completely disrupt their lives by revolting, when they are starving and/or homeless. We let a lot slide because overall, many of our lives are good enough to not want to risk it all through action.

There was a substantiative response, in the form of Occupy Wall Street.

Directly following that event, we all got distracted with the race politics that suddenly came to the forefront.

I think it's making a dent in the younger generations. Not only due to the leaks, but the economic results of a system that continually rewards corruption.

Well some of us are pro small government and pro big business. You are on HN, a large percentage of us are business owners and executives

I don't want to start a political flamewar but apart from the selfish people you describe, there are also a lot of people who genuinely believe that reducing the size and role of government will result in a better society for all. There are also a lot of people who believe in financial privacy. In fact, those are fairly common beliefs in the US. It's not that surprising that those people aren't rioting.

It sounds real condescending to say "it's weird to have to say this to such a smart crowd."

Well, just fancy having to even explain yourself with an "EDIT: Reading some replies....."

> In history books, you get a sense sometimes that there were eras in which stuff like this sent people into the streets in rages. In which governments were voted out or overthrown, in which meaningful legislative responses were made. Or, you know, riots.

> But I look around after reading those books and wonder what makes us so different.

Quality of life improvements. Basically, ye olde historical riots yielded immediate and noticeable improvements for the people: rollbacks of food prices (there were a couple of riots over beer price hikes!), shorter workdays, work-free days, workplace safety measures, the likes.

In modern days, outside of affordability of healthcare, systems are so ossified that even a violent revolution won't make much actual change. Just look at BLM - decades of peaceful and finally violent protests and yet, nothing much has materially changed as a result. So why should someone take part in a riot and risk arrest when there is no hope of stuff changing for the better?

Another big factor is decades of anti-union brainwashing. Hard to organize a mass protest when anything even remotely tied to collective organization got branded as communist/anti-patriotic and thus as "bad, avoid it" and that was indoctrinated from school age onwards.

Look no further than Australia. Life is good. That is all.

> At best, these stories get a good chunk of the airwaves for a couple of weeks, and then it's on to the next thing.

Wrong. Someone here from a third-world and small country. Some people got prosecuted because of these leaks. I'm pretty sure some people out-there are packing their bags and heading toward an exit. Legal process is very slow but it does exist and now that everything is public, there is a high risk of being prosecuted.

But there are always "but"s.

1. This was done legally and lawyers have made sure that every step is legal.

2. These people own the political/legal system (ie: Putin).

3. These people are dead, on the run, broke, already in jail, used third-parties and hid their identity, etc...

The wealthy hiding their wealth doesn’t matter until we have a wealth tax. The current system is based on income, sales and a little bit of property taxes (which is hard to hide.)

> In history books, you get a sense sometimes that there were eras in which stuff like this sent people into the streets in rages. In which governments were voted out or overthrown, in which meaningful legislative responses were made. Or, you know, riots.

We’ve had people in the streets in rage, riots, and legislative responses to lots of things recently, though not the things that tend to animate the upper-middle class tech-libertarian crowd, which is out of touch with the day-to-day concerns of...pretty much everyone else.

Whether those responses will be meaningful is disputed in the moment and will only be clear with historical distance.

> I sometimes get the feeling that people are actually envious, sometimes even respectful of the ingenuity it takes to manufacture these schemes.

I think this is an accurate assessment (at least for the US). One of the only logical reasons as to why we as a society allow this is that there are enough individuals that aspire to be these insanely wealthy folks that we make sure that these scenarios remain possible.

Ironically, robbing your country and hiding your cash has become the American dream. For example, if I were to say:

“Aspiring to be like Elon Musk is genuinely the most pathetic way to spend a human life imaginable.

His fortune is built on apartheid and all of the torture and death it entails. Yes, Elon Musk and his family should rightly be judged morally as being active participants in the system that tortured and murdered countless black Africans. The fact that his family (and the money that they extracted from South Africans) left South Africa as soon as segregation started to wane is indicative of this.

He isn’t some sort of hero or genius, or even supervillain. He’s just managed to become what nerds masturbate to when they picture their (nonexistent) futures.

Finally, the wealth that he holds is only his because of his staff figuring out how to avoid paying for your roads, hospitals, schools, parks, research etc. He is only rich because you are not. To want to be like Elon Musk is like wanting to be a tumor attached to a nearly-dead host.”

Here’s what will happen, because this is the internet:

People with <0.00000001% of his net worth will jump in with one of a small handful of responses:

(These are all paraphrased but you never know, some might be verbatim)

1. I bet he actually does pay fair taxes…

2. Actually, I think his family didn’t profit from apartheid because…

3. Because you’ve used emotionally charged language in this post, I’m going to treat everything written here as patently false. While my decision to ignore what you’ve said is entirely based on my emotions, it is your fault for not being nice enough to me/Elon.

4. Fuck you. You owe him respect because [insert business here] has or will save the world someday, or not. It’s up to him. And while I’m not advocating for being afraid of him, in the back of my mind I get anxious about him being displeased every time I see him criticized and the best way to assuage that anxiety is to dunk on a stranger.

5. I don’t think we should use Elon as an example here because he’s such an easy target. The fact that he has so many “haters” is, to me, proof positive that he’s a saint. In fact, since criticizing him makes you a hater and everything haters say is False (as in the Boolean value), no criticism of him is True.

6. Any combination of the above + “I am/know somebody who is a Tesla shareholder, therefore it’s good”

While it might seem that I’ve meandered away from the topic at hand, I haven’t. The weird impulse to defend the uber-wealthy is precisely why we allow billionaires to run amok.

People can be nuanced in their responses. I do not respect Elon's overeagerness in trying to indirectly consider himself as demigod.

However i appreciate his zeal in creating an impact in a sector that would had otherwise not happened so fast. Not saying that he is solely responsible and deserves all the credit, however he understood how the system works and focused on doing some change.

Even people higher up in the food chain do not necessarily have all the power to effect change within a short span.

>And I look around and not only don't see any riots; I sometimes get the feeling that people are actually envious, sometimes even respectful of the ingenuity it takes to manufacture these schemes. It's tough.

What riots did you participate in? If none, are you among the ones you assume to be envious?

That clearly isn’t what they said.

Life for us masses has never been better.

Lots of crooks in power, sure, but if you know history that's how it's always been. How human societies typically work like that, and maybe they have to.

The numbers look big, but in terms of dollars per citizen, how much money are we really talking about?

> The numbers look big, but in terms of dollars per citizen, how much money are we really talking about?

I'm not sure what you intended with this, but it's a really good empirical question. Since we have no reason to believe any one of these "leaks" is exhaustive, we don't ever know the true denominator, so we can't estimate dollars-per-citizen with any confidence.

But we do know the realities of being poor. So if the true dollars-per-citizen-per-year figure turns out to be as little as, say a thousand dollars, I think a lot of people would be justified in eyeing their pitchforks. Hell, an extra fifty dollars a month in the developed world would make a massive difference for millions who struggle.

Personally, I believe that the true number is very plausibly in this range.

> I'm not sure what you intended with this, but it's a really good empirical question.

It's an honest question, and I am genuinely curious of the numbers in these revelations. How much bigger the real number is we can only guess.

> Hell, an extra fifty dollars a month in the developed world would make a massive difference for millions who struggle.

Sure, but that assumes such a system is possible, and that it is desirable. I'm doubtful on both.

I think it’s because most people actually don’t want to pay taxes. They understand that the rich are able to go offshore and are somewhat jealous of them. But people want access to this, they don’t want to participate in some kind of class warfare against a group they want to be a part of.

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