In April, the high volume leak of the Panama Papers revealed an often unseen world of money and power. The leak of 11.5 million files came from the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca, which helps facilitate movement of money across accounts and borders, frequently with the goal of evading taxation and legal judgments. The leak placed the financial dealings of global celebrities and politicians, including Simon Cowell and Pedro Almodovar, under scrutiny. Vladimir Putin, though unnamed in the leak was connected to upwards of $2 billion of assets. And the revelations provoked such controversy for the Prime Minister of Iceland that he was forced to resign.
While the celebrity names got a good deal of the headlines, firms like Mossack Fonseca are instrumental to the creation of offshore tax havens. Our guest today, Brooke Harrington, set out to understand this world and the people who make it possible. She studied to become a wealth manager, so as to learn about the world of the global elite and how this labor force has contributed to global inequality. This study took her to 18 countries. And it offers a rare insight into the processes by which a small set of people control a good deal of the world’s assets. Like the Panama Papers, this research documents a world that is, as Brooke puts it, technically legal, but socially illegitimate.