Stop Stashing Cash In Tax Havens

Do something less boring instead!

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Lynn Johnson
25 July, 2020

Can you imagine how wonderful the world would be if millionaires and billionaires stopped stashing their cash in tax havens and did something useful with it instead? It is estimated that trillions of dollars disappear into tax havens annually, from tax evasion and capital flight. Yes, that’s ‘Trillions’ with a T.

Since the emergence of tax havens it would seem that if high earners can’t shower themselves in luxury items today, they park their money somewhere until they can shower themselves with more luxuries tomorrow. They don’t notice that buying themselves evermore luxury products, services and experiences is all a little bit vulgar and boring. But if they had been alive just a few hundred years ago, such personal indulgence would have shown that they weren’t part of the local or global elite!

Before personal luxury consumption became socially acceptable it was not perceived a status enhancing, but as vulgar and self-serving. Status was gained from magnificence, a concept steeped in history that Giovanni Pontano, an Italian humanist, called the “fruit” of wealth. It was considered a moral framework that obliged the elites to spend part of their wealth on something that was of value to the greater good.

Historically, the elite financed the building of cathedrals, libraries, universities or contributed to the cost of an army to protect the city or nation.

Defining Magnificence (the historic words used to describe Magnificence)

By contrast, self-made, newly rich merchants in the 15th and 16th century spent on themselves, showing no such obligation. At this point in history, they had the money, but not the status. Seen from the beginning as the aspirational consumption of the non-elites, luxury spending was considered a vice, not a virtue. Luxury was associated with immorality, envy and lust. Such lifestyles were seen as practised by the mediocre and those with vain ambition.

This led to a clash of values which went so far as to prevent the newly rich from wearing certain clothes that they could afford to buy, but that were ‘reserved’ for the ‘genuine elites’.

This overwhelmingly negative view of luxury slowly disappeared from the late 16th to 18th century as the class of wealthy merchants and business owners continued to grow and the language of magnificence was subverted to now describe luxury. The public perception of luxury followed suit and today we nearly universally aspire to and worship luxury consumption, magnificence has been all but forgotten.

Defining Luxury (the historic words used to describe Luxury)

Billions of dollars go into telling and selling us that we need lifestyles filled with luxury goods, experiences, and services if we want to be seen as successful in the social comparison stakes. Over time social status, self-identity and self-worth have been more strongly linked to consumption, to the point of affluenza, defined as:

“A painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt,
anxiety and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more.”

Which you have to admit, is not something to aspire to.

So, if we were to reinvent magnificence for a modern world, what form could it take and how would it convey status? We certainly don’t need more buildings!

Today, wildlife and the natural world are bereft of magnificence, with only 3% of non-government donations going to the environment and animals and an even tinier percentage to wild animals and pristine nature. By creating a new narrative about re-investing in conservation and the natural world as a way to demonstrate status and prestige, can we provide these elites an alternative to fulfil their self-image needs and a way to ‘win’ in the social comparison stakes?

By gaining status from contribution to nature and not consumption of the natural world this could liberate the funds to rehabilitate, reforest and rewild our planet. Let’s remember Extinction is the Vulgarity of Desire. By making conservation the new black, what a wonderful world it would be!

Stay tuned to this story… there is more to come.

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