The upper one percent – society’s richest people – are in deep shit. Over a year ago an anonymous source contacted Süddeutsche Zeitung, Germany’s largest broadsheet newspaper, with a juicy gift.

It consisted of encrypted internal documents from Mossack Fonseca, a Panamanian law firm that specializes in selling anonymous offshore companies to interested buyers. These companies allow individuals and organisations to hide wealth from those with a legal right to it including tax collectors and spouses in divorce proceedings.

When the documents were decrypted they pointed the finger at politicians like British Prime Minister David Cameron and Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as rich company owners and CEOs, terrorist organisations, and even athletes like Lionel Messi, the Argentinian soccer player.

The world is understandably outraged. Everything we suspected about the upper one percent: that it’s a group consisting mostly of sanctimonious older males who will do anything to keep their wealth so they can continue to screw us turned out to be absolutely true.

Having said all that maybe it’s time we take a look at our own laws to see what the offenders in our back yard will be facing if a few Canadian names turn up in the Panama Papers.

There are three kinds of charges a Canadian found in the Panama papers would likely face: tax evasion, tax avoidance, and maybe fraud.

Tax evasion is deliberately hiding income so you don’t have to pay taxes.

It can have many forms as defined by the Federal Income Tax Act and the Quebec Tax Administration Act. This includes failing to file or make a tax return, making false or deceptive statements in tax returns, destroying records to avoid paying taxes, or conspiring to do these things. The penalties are different depending on whether the violation involved federal or provincial taxes.

A person convicted of federal income tax evasion will be facing a maximum prison sentence of five years. The fines they will face depend on the type income tax evasion they are convicted of.

If the person is convicted of failing to file a tax return, for example, the maximum fine is twenty-five thousand dollars plus any little penalties for specific violations related to the evasion. If you’re convicted of providing false information or destroying documents to avoid paying taxes, the maximum fine is double the amount you sought to evade.

Quebec law comes down a little harder on income tax evaders. The maximum penalty for income tax evasion is a million dollars, but sadly the prison sentence is as ridiculously short as in federal law: five years less a day.

Income tax avoidance is a little different.

Income tax avoidance is abusively taking advantage of a legal loophole to avoid paying taxes or to pay less of them, and it’s only listed as a separate offense in the Federal Income Tax Act. This can take the form of making arrangements that would result in a tax benefit or exemption for example.

If a person is caught doing this, the penalty is going to depend a lot on the judge because the federal Income Tax Act says that the consequences will be determined “as is reasonable in the circumstances.” Sadly, the wording of the rules regarding tax avoidance suggests that the worst case scenario is being denied the benefit or having to pay the taxes.

Fortunately, the Canadian Criminal Code’s rules regarding fraud are MUCH tougher.

Fraud is defined as being committed by someone who “by deceit, falsehood or other fraudulent means, whether or not it is a false pretence within the meaning of this Act, defrauds the public or any person, whether ascertained or not, of any property, money or valuable security or any service.” The maximum penalty for fraud is a prison sentence of fourteen years.

And it gets better.

The Criminal Code allows our courts to take into account certain aggravating circumstances such as whether the fraud had a negative impact on the Canadian economy or affected a large number of victims.

A Canadian who partook of Mossack Fonseca’s services to get out of paying a healthy chunk of their taxes would certainly be guilty of both because every penny they keep out of the tax collector’s hands is a penny they keep out of the public purse. The public purse is where the money for stuff like health care, passport offices, and salaries for judges and public defenders comes from.

Wealthy Canadians like Conservative Leader Wannabe Kevin O’Leary have been trying to minimize the impact of the Panama Papers. In an interview with the CBC on April 6, 2016, he boldly said:

“These [tax] structures are legal… So what? That’s the bottom line.”

The “so-what” is that the money rich guys are hiding so they can pay for their golf clubs and matching country club-appropriate outfits is money they are keeping from hardworking Canadians who need to know that they have to pay taxes like everyone else and that those taxes will be proportionate to their actual wealth (like everyone else). In order to make sure of that we need to punish those who can afford to pay the taxman but don’t…

…And maybe investigate Kevin O’Leary too.

The Occupy Wall Street protests are now entering their fourth week. The movement which began in New York City on September 17th has garnered the support of most of the big unions, numerous celebrities, intellectuals, the hactivist group Anonymous, and even some key politicians.

Occupy Wall Street has been growing rapidly and picking up steam as protests pop-up in more and more cities across North America and even Europe (the Occupy Montreal protest begins on Sat Oct 15th). Major media outlets have even started covering this movement seriously (except for Fox News obviously) but this wasn’t the case when it first started.

There are a variety of issues that people are protesting but primarily they are calling for an end to crippling corporate greed and for the government to sever ties between itself and the US banking sector. Since the financial collapse in 2008 many Americans have lost their homes, lost their jobs and the country as a whole has been struggling through a recession.

The banks and corporations (some deemed “Too Big to Fail”) successfully secured bailouts and loans to ensure that they would remain profitable. The weakened economy was felt most by ordinary citizens who, many already struggling with crippling debt, were trying to feed their families, keep a roof over their heads, get access to health care and/or seek an education.

Many people have to make difficult choices as the aforementioned liberties are no longer guaranteed pillars of the American way of life and some people even have to make choices between basic necessities. From this has also sprung the call to arms “We are the 99 Percent“!

Here are some images and videos from the movement so far:

This is a message from Anonymous which details part of the problem and the issues people are facing.

As the American political landscape continues to show no signs of stopping its descent into what can only be described as an increasingly reactionary and carnivalesque sideshow, one begins to wonder if the more measured and sober voices in Washington have finally decided to call it a day. Even on our own side of the border the divisions continue to grow deeper and more virulent with almost no position free from partisan embelishment. However, to those who would suggest that the truth always lies somewhere in the middle and that there is no black and white but rather only differing shades of grey, I will only respond that such a position seems to carry with it the same sort of non-thinking that characterizes the very worst of fundamentalists.

What such thinking does is instead of shining a much needed harsh and critical light on what should, from the outset, be some very questionable ideas, it instead accommodate them and allows untruth and perhaps more dangerously half truth to become common fact. Chief among these as of late has been the position that corporate tax cuts are somehow tied to job creation, and that to demand that the already over-taxed of admission is the equivalent of handing out the pink slips yourself. This myth, often taking the form of a rather nasty threat is not only provably ahistorical, but dangerous.

Ost corporations in the United States, nearly all of them paid more in foreign taxese paying thirteen billion dollars in taxes paid only two hundred million of it in the United States. The list doesn’t stop there however. Exxon, Wal-Mart and numerous other corporations with profits in the tens of billions of dollars paid their taxes at a much lower rate, or in some cases not at all.

The argument for lowering the corporate tax rate grows weaker still when you remember that many of these corporations have made record profits in the last year, even as unemployment continues to rise. In the first quarter of 2011 the profits of the American International Group (AIG) and several other beneficiaries of government bailouts reported rising profits. Likewise, Wal-mart reported a profit increase of 5.7%. It appears that it couldn’t be a better time for some of America’s largest and most prosperous corporations. On our side of the border recent studies have shown that Canadian corporations over the last decade have increased their profits by fifty percent, while paying close to twenty percent less in taxes. So where are all the jobs?

The truth is, that despite what conservatives on both sides of the border would tell you, there is no historical correlation between lower corporate taxes and job creation. In fact, historically, American employment growth was at its highest when the corporate tax rate was between a whopping 69-80% (more than double the current rate). It was at its second highest when corporate taxes were at 39.8 percent, nearly five percent more than they are currently. This is not to suggest that there is any correlation between higher corporate taxes and job creation, but rather that for much of the history of the United States taxation has been at best a non-factor when it comes to job creation. In fact, cutting corporate taxes is statistically the least effective means of job creation, with income supports for the unemployed proving to be nearly seven times as effective. There is zero evidence in support of corporate tax cuts, and yet it remains a major talking point for many conservative arm chair economists.

What has been demonstrated quite clearly is that corporations will continue pocketing the extra cash afforded to them by lower tax rates, and if it does come time for them to hire it will more likely than not be over seas. Of course the conservative response to this is that over seas corporations don’t face the same tax burden they do here. However, even if we ignore the fact that this “tax burden” is all but non-existent and that a great deal of most corporations’ taxes are in fact paid overseas, the data is still largely at odds with this hypothesis. Take for instance the Republic of Ireland, which boasts the third lowest corporate tax rate in the EU, while maintaining the sixth highest unemployment rate.

This is because corporations don’t go overseas for taxation, they go overseas because they don’t have to worry about    pesky little things like benefits, minimum wage and workers’ rights. It’s for this reason that if it comes down to a Canadian factory versus a Mexican factory, the Mexican factory will win nine times out of ten. These corporations aren’t in business to be nice, they’re in business to make money; so long as shipping labour over seas will offer more money for the bottom line, you would have to be out of your mind to think that they’ll keep any more business than they have to on our side of the Atlantic. These aren’t charities, and no ones going to be getting a job out of the goodness of their heart whether it’s a recession or not. It is in the best interest of business to minimize unnecessary expenditures wherever possible, especially when it comes to “human resources.” The evidence is already out there, lower corporate taxes lead only to higher profits, not more employment. Simply (perhaps even crudely) put, they just don’t care. It’s more money for them, and they’re not hiring anyone they don’t have to.

The case against corporate tax cuts grows stronger still when you consider that tax cuts are by definition a decrease in federal revenue. It’s money that can, and in my opinion should, remain in federal coffers or be allocated to more effective and proven methods of job creation. As has been demonstrated, there is no guarantee that money spent on corporate tax cuts will go to employment or innovation; in fact, the available evidence seems to provide a fairly compelling argument that it doesn’t. In this way corporate tax cuts don’t only not create jobs, they kill them by taking federal funds from more proven methods of job creation. EI benefits, support for public programs and investment in infrastructure are already established methods of job creation, and as such, diverging funds from these programs in favor of unproven and ineffective measures such as corporate tax cuts is an expression of nothing short of a dangerous ignorance of economic trends.

To make the argument against corporate tax cuts is often to incur labels of being anti-business or fiscally irresponsible by those who continue to hold tight to this tired and ahistorical myth. It is an argument that in the mouth of many a corporate owned politician takes on the form of a rather nasty threat. Cut our taxes or we will fire people. It’s precisely the sort of ugly hostage taking which has characterized much of the recent rhetoric of the right. What we need to do as Canadians is to stay informed of the facts, not the talking points so we can call this sort of bullying and thuggishness for what it is. Multi-billion dollar corporations have placed a gun to the head of Canadians (and Americans) and are demanding that we continue to sacrifice our social services, and continue to foot the bill for corporate tax cuts even as executives make bonuses in the tens of millions of dollars. Tax cuts, like every other expenditure, don’t pay for themselves and if it isn’t corporations that are paying them you’d better believe it’s you.

The solution to employment and corporate growth lies in increased public consumption. It was and has been increased public wealth that has marked the end of past recessions, and this can only be accomplished by tax cuts to the middle class. Increased consumption is what spurs business, and this can be done only once money is placed in the hands of Canadian families where it belongs. What I would propose as a solution is a closing of tax loopholes for all large corporations, as well as a five percent tax increase which would still keep it well below that of our southern neighbors. With one of the very lowest corporate taxes in the G8 it is quite difficult for anyone to make any serious case that Canadian corporations are somehow overtaxed. What  we can then do is pass the money along in the form of a tax cut to working Canadian families who will then have more money to put back into the economy. If corporations want their tax cuts they can have them in the form of a tax credit tied directly to the jobs they create, this way the real job creators will be rewarded for what they do, not what they might do in potentia.

It is necessary that we put our money towards methods that have proven to be effective, more money in the pockets of investors will provoke more spending by consumers and it is that which will get us out of this recession, not concessions to corporate hostage taking. Canadian families are the ones who invest in our economy, and an increase public wealth  should close recessionary gaps create  a healthier, more vibrant economy with production to match. With increased production at every level should cause a natural supply shift, and with the right incentives the real job producers will prove themselves. It’s basic  economics, business has and will always be spurred by a public with increased wealth. If we are to rise out of this recession, it will be in the same way we always have, from the ground up. Middle class Canadians are, and always have been the real investors and it is by enriching these real investors that our nation will prosper, not by increasing corporate bottom lines. A boost to Canadian families is a boost to all of us. Hopefully at the next election more Canadians will realize this, then we can leave this ugly, groundless myth in fiction where it belongs.

Love it or hate it, you’ve got to have it. This is really a business column, but if any of the awesome small businesses or other worthy causes I’ll be directing you to are going to benefit from the attention at all you’ve got to have some scratch. This is easier said than done, because the cost of everything is going up, and making more than our age in salary is a distant, beautiful dream. Most of the advice out there is for people making substantially more money than I am, or anyone I know, so think of this as a basic primer in how not to irreparably fuck up your financial life before the age of thirty.

I’m fortunate to have left the uncertain world of serving for the super-lucrative career of online writing (ha!) but let’s just say that, as of yet, I’m not overburdened with worldly wealth. This means one thing. I’ve got to have a budget.

Don’t look at me like that. You need one too, if you don’t have one already. I put it off for as long as I could, but there comes a point where we all have to be financial grownups, and going without for weeks at a time while waiting for a paycheque just isn’t cutting it any more.

There’s a lot of advice out there about how to “develop a budget system.” Some of them seem okay, some are needlessly complex. Based on some fairly extensive research (I’m a nerd for brightly coloured, friendly personal finance books) here is the best way to not spend (much) more money than you have.

There are three basic laws that if you keep in mind, even if you ignore everything else in this article, will leave you okay:

Law 1: Save something every week. Anything. Even if it’s $5.
Law 2: Credit Cards will eat your brains. They also strangle kittens, stomp on cookies and hate rainbows.
Law 3: Don’t spend so much money. Seriously. Spend less money.

Pretty simple, right? Of course not. Sometimes there isn’t money to save every week. (But there’s usually something even if it’s tiny or spare change) Credit cards have valid uses, like ordering things online or when things get really hairy. Carrying a balance is awful though when I think about the money I’ve spent on interest over the years I could cry. And spending less money just seems so dismal, or impractical, or irrational.

So here are some more details. I have done these steps myself and for the first time in my adult life could survive missing a few paycheques without having to shame myself by calling my parents for a bailout. It’s a really good feeling.

Step 1
Write down your monthly income. Make note of how often you are paid and how much. For example: Sally gets paid $1200 a month, $600 each on the 1st and 15th. Mike, on the other hand gets paid $1600 a month, $400 each Thursday. Get it? Good. Income includes wages, student loan disbursements any money that comes in every month.

Step 2
Write down your expenses. You want two columns. One is fixed expenses, which include your share of the rent, phone bill, internet bill, transportation things that you can’t really change month to month. Put all of your other expenses into another column these are the variables, and can include groceries, alcohol, clothes, meals out, smoking, cosmetics etc. You get the idea. Stuff you can control.

Step 3
Subtract the total of Step 2 from the total of Step 1.

Is the number above zero? Amazing! Make things even better by giving yourself a generous weekly or monthly allowance that will cover all of your variable expenses (Mine is $500/month, for example), take it out in cash from each paycheque and the rest goes to your fixed expenses, savings and debt repayment. You’re good to go. Just make sure it’s enough that you won’t cheat or feel deprived. That way lays failure.

If the number is below zero you need to fix something. Can you lower your fixed expenses? How will you lower your variable expenses? Do it now, because someday in the not-too-distant future you’re going to have to pay the piper.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HVvQzhqknQI
Play this song – It’s inspiring.

I found that once I started squirreling money away, I wanted to squirrel more and more of it. It’s kind of a fun challenge to see how little money I can spend each month on food, or how long I can go between haircuts. It means that when I find a cool company like Papirmasse, I can subscribe to it, you know? It may make me a more boring person but it makes me a happier, less stressed-out one too. It doesn’t look like money is going to stop making the world go round anytime soon, and I want to make sure that I have some.

Something here not make sense? Think I’m full of BS? Drop me a line at Megan@forgetthebox.net, or tell me in the comments