How can I be less pathetic

Tax ethics"The Panama discussion is pathetic"

Christiane Florin: The Panama Papers have been preoccupying the media and politics for a good week. You researched what makes very rich people tick. How much greed did you encounter there?

Thomas Druyen: In relation to my own idea when I started this research 15 years ago and in proportion to the discussion we are currently experiencing with the Panama Papers and the many waves of outrage that we have already experienced: relatively little. On the one hand, this is because we are investigating the wealthy, that is, those who are in extremely high profit ranges and wealth ranges - over 30 million US dollars. There were very few investment bankers, for example, very few speculators. So it has to do with the fact that we have taken less notice of the clientele who are primarily concerned with greed and these psychological elements as an object of research. So there were more entrepreneurs, including those from the new industries, many dynasties, etc. Greed also represents a willingness to display at least a certain form of illegitimacy. I think greed is not enough psychologically as a description. I have to say, this Panama discussion is pathetic.

Florin: What kind of discussion would you have wished for?

Druyen: One is constantly on the lookout for culprits. And now you have anonymized guilty parties again. In all of Panama history, nothing is surprising to anyone who has studied it - and I don't mean just scientifically now.

Florin: How many letterbox company owners did you come across during your research?

Druyen: There were certainly a few, but less than 10 percent. We did interviews all over the world. And of course there were very different forms. Well, unfortunately - or thank God - I didn't meet a criminal who told me why he was doing it. But I have received other perceptions from very, very much older people - for example in South America. They said we have to find a way in this unstable political situation that we have, that we protect the family and also the company, and that is why we are downright dependent on securing funds. Of course, I don't want to speak freely to others who do it for other reasons.

Florin: You are outraged by the outrage. Do you see ethically, no problem in using such constructions?

Druyen: Perverse - there is no question that these constructions have to be drained. Politicians have known that for 30 or 40 years. I get upset over the outrage over hypocrisy. At the moment when it is a moral mistake, of course, it is not to be excused at all and must be eliminated. But I ask whether there are not also people among the indignant who make a lasting contribution to the fact that there is no transparency.

Florin: Who bears the main moral responsibility - the one who opens the gap or the one who uses it?

Druyen: Certainly the individual delinquent is guilty with criminal energy. Point. Those who come up with an ethical, however suitable, concept have to assess the framework in which this is still legal, so to speak. We absolutely have to clarify the question of legality and illegality, which is always discussed. So we have to ask ourselves a question about the pervasiveness of morality. Morality is unfortunately something incredibly important, but a toothless tiger.

Florin: "Give the emperor what is the emperor's," says the Bible. Is it particularly difficult for people who already have a lot?

Druyen: Well, your question implies that those who have a lot are also particularly at risk of surrendering to the Panama phenomenon, so to speak. I would disagree with this on the basis of my research.

Florin: But someone who has little money is not even tempted to set up a mailbox company in Panama.

Druyen: Yes, of course - no question about it. But in every milieu one tries to perceive certain advantages. This preservation of advantage is a deeply human element. And that happens every day in all milieus and will continue to do so. But if we now talk about organized crime, then that is a completely different offense and must be punished. Wherever there are gray areas, a different form of legal assessment is required in a globalized world, which of course also benefits from using gaps. We have the tools for a VW Bully, but we fly at supersonic speed.

Florin: You have dealt with the super-rich, with very rich people. Have they let themselves be influenced by debates about tax morals?

Druyen: Such debates are certainly influential in Germany. In Germany there is also a high degree of reluctance, including fear, of such a discussion. You don't want this relationship between the milieus to get out of hand. One has a well-founded fear of that. I think we are really sensitive to this - for a variety of reasons. In Asia, in China for example, in Russia, in India these are completely different stories that have to do with a different mentality. In America there is a very different state skepticism than here. We still rely on the state in the best sense of the word and, despite everything, still have a high level of trust, which is not the case in America for example. We can respond to your question here, I cannot generalize. It is different from culture to culture.

Florin: And the outrage has to do with the fact that we are all tax ethics apostles? Apart from you.

Druyen: I would just like to say that my outrage is not the outrage towards the process, which is scandalous, but no more scandalous than many, many things in the last few decades that are already known but have not been so widely spread. The indignation seems to me to be an element in order to put the necessary discussion and education of the public on the back burner.
If people get upset, it's good because then a certain activity - hopefully - and also a pressure is released. But outrage - and as a future psychologist I can say that, which I have been doing on the side for two years now: we are in an extreme state of excitement - our entire society, on a much higher, high stress condition. And that affects issues in a completely different way, and so does the outrage. And the outrage is first and foremost a confrontation with one's own frustration. And sometimes outrage replaces intelligent measures. Outrage is not half the battle. I just want to point this out.

Thomas Druyen teaches at the Institute for Future Psychology and Future Management at the Sigmund Freud Private University in Vienna.

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