Posts tagged ‘The Telegraph’

The Panama Pilferage

Panama Papers 1

It used to be that Switzerland was the place to hide money.  Now, apparently, Panama is the place.

A week ago Sunday, a massive cache of some 11 million financial documents from the Panamaniam law firm, Mossack Fonseca, was leaked to the media.  These files contained information about an “extensive worldwide network of offshore ‘shell’ companies – including ones with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin – that allow the wealthy to hide their assets from taxes and, in some cases, to launder billions in cash.”[1]  Several world leaders are implicated in this leak including the prime ministers of Iceland, Argentina, Ukraine, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq, and the former prime ministers of Georgia, Jordan, and Qatar.  According to Lexi Finnigan of The Telegraph, the files “also contain new details of offshore dealings by the late father of British Prime Minister David Cameron.”[2]

Some of what has happened in these offshore accounts may be legal.  As Ms. Finnigan explains in her article:

There is nothing unlawful about the use of offshore companies. However, the disclosures raise questions about the ways in which the system can be used – and abused. More than half of the 300,000 firms said to have used Mossack Fonseca are registered in British-administered tax havens, which Mr. Cameron has vowed to crack down on.  And in one instance, an American millionaire was apparently offered fake ownership records to hide money from the authorities.

What has happened here is certainly troubling, even if it is not, at least for me, particularly surprising.  Giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s may be a biblical mandate, but it is not a pleasant experience – even, as it turns out, when you happen to be Caesar.  Nobody wants to pay taxes.

It should be reiterated that, in some instances, what appears to have happened with some of these accounts is little more than tax sheltering, which is legal and, according to many accountants, advisable.  Others, however, have crossed a line into tax evasion, which is a crime.  Still others have out and out used offshore accounts to try to launder dirty money.

Most world leaders are certainly not poor.  So why would such a number of them be so allergic to paying the very taxes that ensure their gainful employment and continued power that they would engage in shady offshore deals?  Perhaps it’s because Solomon was right: “Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income” (Ecclesiastes 5:10).  Even a lot of money is never enough money when a person loves money.

Lust for more, of course, is not only a problem for world leaders, it is a problem for many people.  Studies have shown that, proportionally, those who have higher financial means give less, as a percentage of their income, than those who have lower financial means.  As Ken Stern reports for The Atlantic:

In 2011, the wealthiest Americans – those with earnings in the top 20 percent – contributed on average 1.3 percent of their income to charity. By comparison, Americans at the base of the income pyramid—those in the bottom 20 percent –donated 3.2 percent of their income. The relative generosity of lower-income Americans is accentuated by the fact that, unlike middle-class and wealthy donors, most of them cannot take advantage of the charitable tax deduction, because they do not itemize deductions on their income-tax returns.[3]

Just because a person has more doesn’t mean he will give more.  Indeed, oftentimes, the more a person has, the more a person seems to think he needs, so the less he gives.

Perhaps we should keep in mind what Solomon says about money and the love thereof right after he explains that people who love money always want more money.  He writes, “This too is meaningless.”

The love of money may be tempting, but it is not meaningful.  It is not fulfilling.  It is not worthwhile.  This is a lesson, I fear, that these world leaders may have learned too late.  May their folly be our warning.

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[1] Greg Toppo, “Massive data leak in Panama reveals money rings of global leaders,” USA Today (4.5.2016).

[2] Lexi Finnigan, “What are the Panama Papers, who is involved and what is a tax haven?The Telegraph (4.7.2016).

[3] Ken Stern, “Why the Rich Don’t Give to Charity,” The Atlantic (April 2013).

April 11, 2016 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Marriage, Thriving, and Character

Wedding SeatsThis past week, Trish Regan, writing for USA Today, sounded the alarm over what has become an infamous decline in U.S. marriage rates:

According to the Pew Research Center, the American marriage rate hit a rock bottom of 50.3% in 2013, down from 50.5% the previous year. Compare that to 1960, when 72.2% of Americans married. Meanwhile, a new finding by the forecasting firm Demographic Intelligence, suggests marriage rates will continue falling into next year as Millennials choose to opt out of traditional relationships.

Marriage is going out of style and that’s a problem. An economic one.[1]

Regan is concerned about declining marriage rates. Why? Because declining marriage rates lead to increasing economic volatility:

Historically, a rising household formation rate has contributed to America’s financial success. People meet, they marry, they buy a home, they have children and they buy more things. One new household adds an estimated $145,000 to the U.S. economy thanks to the ripple effect of construction spending, home improvements and repairs …

According to an American Enterprise Institute study by economists Robert Lerman and Brad Wilcox, young married men, ages 28-30 make, on average, $15,900 more than their single peers, while married men ages 33-46 make $18,800 more than unmarried men.

Marriage, it turns out, is not only good for love, it’s also good for your pocketbook. Therefore, Regan argues, we need more of it.

But at the same time marriage may be good for your financial situation, Sarah Knapton, science editor for The Telegraph, points out that marriage may not be so good for a woman’s health – at least not as good as we once thought:

Marriage has long been cited as a health booster, with couples living in wedded bliss more likely to live longer and have fewer emotional problems.

Yet a new study suggests that women hardly benefit from tying the knot.

Landmark research by University College London, the London School of Economics and The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that single women do not suffer the same negative health effects as unmarried men.

In fact, middle aged women who had never married had virtually the same chance of developing metabolic syndrome – a combination of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity – as married women.

And although they showed slightly higher levels of a biomarker which signifies an increased risk of breathing problems, it was far lower than the risk of illness for unmarried men. The same was true of a biomarker for heart problems which was raised 14 per cent in men but was barely noticeable in women.[2]

To marry or not to marry? It turns out that for a woman, it doesn’t really matter all that much.

Many of the arguments I have read in support of marriage at a time when marriage rates are on a precipitous decline are rooted in how this staid institution leads to human thriving. Marriage, it is argued, leads to greater economic stability. Marriage, at least for men, and in some studies even for women, does have certain health benefits. These arguments for marriage are well and good. But if the benefits of marriage are attenuated to only those things which lead to human thriving, when a person feels as though they are no longer thriving in a marriage, they may be tempted to check out and give up. Or, if marriage doesn’t have certain demonstrable and quantifiable benefits, as is the case with the health benefits study from the University College London, it can be all too easy just to opt out of getting married in the first place.

As Christians, we must never forget that as important as human thriving may be, human character is even more critical. And marriage most definitely shapes a person’s character. Over my nine years of marriage, I have learned invaluable lessons about selflessness, commitment, love, advocacy, confidentiality, service, compassion, kindness, and a whole host of other important character traits.

In a marriage, human thriving may help us do well for ourselves.   Human character, however, even when such character is forged through difficult and daunting marital circumstances, compels us to do good for our world. And good is something our broken world needs.

Which is just another reason to get – and to stay – married.

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[1] Trish Regan, “Regan: Marriage is going out of style, and that could hurt,” USA Today (6.1.2015).

[2] Sarah Knapton, “Marriage is more beneficial for men than women, study shows,” The Telegraph (6.11.2015).

June 15, 2015 at 5:15 am 2 comments

The Price of Shame

DCF 1.0I’m not sure the framers of the sexual revolution of the 1960’s ever envisioned this.  What they dreamed of was the freedom to sexually express themselves without having to answer to what they thought were the stifling restraints of a traditional – and, in their view, outdated – sexual ethic.  What they wound up sowing, however, were the seamy seeds of sexual objectification and oppression among subsequent generations.

Cole Moreton, in his article for The Telegraph titled “Children and the Culture of Pornography,”[1] offers a disturbing peek inside a generation who has managed to shake itself free of the moral manacles which once guided the intimate encounters of yesteryear.  I must warn you:  the frank tone of his article is not for the faint of heart.  He opens with the story of a thirteen-year-old girl named Chevonea.  A boy had pressured her into performing a sex act on him, which he recorded with his cell phone’s camera and subsequently showed to all his buddies.  Chevonea threatened to a jump from a window if he did not delete the recording.  But before she could have second thoughts about her desperate threat, she slipped and fell sixty feet to her death.  Chevonea’s story is nauseating.  But her tale is, devastatingly, one among many spawned by a culture gone sexually mad.

The majority of Moreton’s article discusses the ease of access to pornography and how it distorts our children’s view of themselves and others.  Indeed, many of our young people have gone from consuming these illicit materials to creating them with nothing more than the video recorders on their phones, as in Chevonea’s case.  And many of the children who home grow these pornographic videos aren’t even teenagers yet.

So what are the consequences of growing up in such a so-called “sexually liberated” culture?  Moreton explains the effects are especially severe on girls:   “Sexual pressure can cause girls to contemplate suicide, self-harm, develop eating disorders, or try to lose themselves in drugs or alcohol.”  For a movement that began as one of liberation, this hardly sounds like freedom to me.

The Scriptures remind us that sexual freedom can only be truly found within the context of sexual commitment.  God’s created order for intimacy rings as true today as it ever has:  “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).  God sets a clear pattern:  sexual intimacy which results in the joining of two fleshes into one is to take place only after a man is willing to “hold fast to” (i.e., commit to, or marry) his wife.  Such commitment, in turn, results in true freedom:  “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed” (Genesis 2:25).

As I read those final words from Genesis 2, I can’t help but think of Chevonea and the overwhelming shame she must have felt after a pushy boy devastated her dignity and betrayed whatever little trust she may have had in him by flaunting a sickly conceived video.  This young man may have used his sexually liberated sensibilities to pressure a young girl to engage in acts completely outside the bounds of common decency, but such sexual freedom turned out to be nothing more than a Trojan horse in which were hidden the stifling shackles of shame.

Ultimately, when it comes to our sexual behavior, we must answer a fundamental question:  To what do we want to be beholden?  Because we will be beholden to something.  We will either be beholden to the slavery of shame that masquerades as sexual liberation or we will be beholden to the constraints of divine law which free us to live without shame because we are within the comforting assurances of God’s will.

I know which one sounds better to me.  Which one sounds better to you?


[1] Cole Moreton, “Children and the culture of pornography: ‘Boys will ask you every day until you say yes,’The Telegraph (1.27.2013).

March 4, 2013 at 5:15 am 2 comments


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