How true is the statement “Money is power”?
From the affluenza teen who got away with murder, to Malaysia’s former prime minister, Najib Razak, getting away with one of the largest commercial frauds, it would seem that the rich and powerful are bound to a social contract that is more lenient than the regular man. The rich can also benefit from taxes that create more inequality in society.
In an increasingly progressive world where accountability is king, we would contend that the rich and powerful can no longer get away with anything and everything and are held to the same standards as everyone else.
However, while it is true that today’s social climate makes it impossible for the rich and powerful to get away with anything, we cannot deny that they can still get away with most due to established reputations, the privilege of wealth, and philanthropy that shapes their legacy.
Does a Progressive Social Climate Make it Difficult for the Rich to Escape?
Today’s progressive social climate places a greater emphasis on accountability and equality. Bribes and fraudulent activities are fleshed out and condemned to ensure that the rich and powerful are no longer accorded the same influence and unfair advantages over the less wealthy.
Former billionaire John Kapoor, the founder of Fentanyl manufacturer, Insys, was sentenced to 5.5 years of jail time after he was found guilty of bribing doctors to prescribe his Fentanyl to patients who did not even need the drug. Due to the severity of such a case, Kapoor was deservingly sentenced to jail and was dropped off Forbes’ Billionaires list after having his wealth and assets seized by authorities.
The example serves to show that even the wealthiest and most powerful of individuals are held to the same social contract and rules as everyone. Hence, even though they may be considered the top 1%, they are still humans prone to err and cannot get away with anything and everything.
Contention That Rich Get Away With Crimes
While a more progressive social climate does make it more difficult for the rich to get away with crimes, we should still keep in mind that wealth and power can help many to get away with most crimes committed and mistakes made.
The rich and powerful typically have established reputations that allow them to evade consequences due to associations with wealth, success, and or consumer and political interest. They also have an undeniable privilege in which their financial status is a free ‘get-out-of-jail’ card that only applies to a select group. Lastly, their use of philanthropy to shape their image garners the support of society, and we, as a society, unknowingly allow them to get away with their wrongdoings.
Established Reputations (Goldman Sachs and IMDB Scandal)
Established reputations make it easy for the rich and powerful to gain trust and support from groups in society who associate them with success and financial wisdom. Take the Goldman Sachs and IMDB scandal for example -
- Goldman Sachs was able to leverage its reputation to raise $6.5 billion for IMDB and earned a profit of $600 million along the way
- IMDB founder, Jho Low, and Malaysia’s former prime minister, Najib Razak, siphoned $1.4 billion into shell companies
- Jho Low and Najib’s actions devastated the Malaysian economy but were both seemingly unscathed after the ordeal
- Jho Low managed to flee the country and has yet to be caught
- Najib still has the support of adoring fans as seen in a “The Economist” article stating how Malaysia’s disgraced former prime minister has now risen to popularity again
- Teo was found guilty of embezzling $35 million from SIA
- He was sentenced to 42 years in jail
While both of the above examples are related to commercial fraud, the stark difference in consequence between the rich and powerful Najib and Goldman Sachs versus mere accountant Teo Cheng Kiat elucidates how the rich and powerful can get away with more.
Rich Using Philanthropy to Shape Their Legacy
The use of philanthropy to shape their legacy effectively alters society's perspective of them and helps them gain support. For many of the wealthy, philanthropy acts as a smokescreen for their wrongdoings.
The Sackler Family -
Founders of Purdue Pharmaceuticals made billions from the Opioid epidemic.
- The Sacklers made significant donations to the Arts, with many museums named after them as a result/
- These Art donations laundered the Sacklers’ family name long enough so they could continue producing Opioid for regular people
- These donations went to places where many people who reported lives lived, influential academics lived, and to where governmental regulators lived.
- This support towards the art wings was done in hopes that as the public visits these Sackler museums, they would subconsciously acquire that the Sacklers were good people and philanthropists.
“We have made choices as a society to be more friendly to the Robert Smiths of our world than to the 400 children he helped” - Anand Giriharades, author of “Winner takes all - the paradox of Elite Philanthropy”
Robert F. Smith -
A private equity manager who paid off 400 college student loan debts
- Smith was praised by many for his kind and philanthropic act
- However, it was revealed that Smith defended carried-interest tax which benefited only private equity managers like himself, as well as hedge fund owners
- Carried-interest tax worsens income inequality and does a lot of harm to the bottom 80% of the economy
As Anand said, as a society, we have enabled and allowed the rich and powerful to get away with a majority of their wrongdoings by buying into the smokescreen of philanthropy and providing blind support for the very people who bring harm to society.
Double Standards and the Wealth Gap
As a society, we have yet to acknowledge just how significant the power gap is between the top 1% and the rest of us. Wealth and power protect the rich and privileged in our society on all levels and spheres.
‘The Affluenza Teen” -
- Ethan Couch killed 4 people while drunk driving in Texas.
- Even though the usual sentence for manslaughter is a jail sentence of up to 15 years, Couch only received 10 years of probation due to a mental disorder called “affluenza”
- Affluenza is defined by the Urban Dictionary as “a legal defense to avoid the consequences of one’s actions and the belief that wealth allows them to get away with anything”
The above example expounds on the double standards society has adopted to pacify the rich and powerful due to the wealth and influence they hold.
“Nothing is going to change for the billionaires in this country” - Joe Biden, President of the United States
Biden’s statement highlights how society’s lack of acknowledgment of this power dynamic brought about by wealth coupled with the lack of action to change the structures in society, only enables the rich and powerful to continue leveraging on their privilege to get away with everything.
In conclusion, the rich can get away with a majority of things because fundamentally, they are given more advantages and privileges in society.