This column appeared in the Jersey Evening Post on 18 April 2016.
My father was an aid worker. His job often brought him to some of the most destitute places in the world. He saw suffering, hunger, poverty and the consequences of war. Somehow, he always managed to keep his spirits up. “There are good people everywhere and in the long run, things will improve,” he would say, after witnessing ethnic cleansing in Yugoslavia, Sudan and Afghanistan. He taught me to be optimistic, but also critical and hard working. He never trusted ideologies. For him, these grand ideas were really just fancy justifications for power or to decide who gets what.
My father-in-law was a potato farmer. He must have produced millions of Royals, tending Jersey’s soil from the age of fifteen and retiring at the age of fifty-nine. He didn’t retire voluntarily, but was squeezed out by the big producers. All of a sudden Jersey’s beautiful potatoes needed to satisfy the demands of big supermarkets, who wanted perfectly round specimens. In a globalized economy, Royals were now competing with mass produced potatoes from all over the world and in this global marketplace there was no longer any room for small growers. He still tends his garden and we often enjoy the Royals he pulls out of the soil.
Both men are role models to me, inspiring figures who have earned their place in this world and who now enjoy well-deserved retirements. They are both positive characters with a great sense of humour, taking life as it comes, compassionate and engaged. What they share is their love of life, their children and grandchildren and their engagement with the community. What goes on in the world affects them, as it does me.
We share our despair about some of the things happening in the world today: the refugee crisis, racism, war and most of all, growing inequality. The Panama Papers hammered home how little a small percentage of this world really cares about the wellbeing of our global community. Is it not a great moral deficit to accept that the world’s wealth is being diverted to secrecy jurisdictions, rather than circulated back into our communities? Whether this is technically legal or not, the message it sends is: “We don’t care. Catch us if you can.” The practice of tax evasion is the biggest accelerator for inequality worldwide and it threatens to undermine progress everywhere.
The world of the two men described above is rapidly disappearing, yet they continue to engage. But they expect some engagement in return. We are all part of our global community, so with rights come responsibilities. That’s why the blatant greed and the moral bankruptcy revealed by the Panama Papers upsets them so much. Or is that too politically correct of them?