12 Voices: The Arts and Policy By Ian Martin

A recent leak of some 13.4 million documents revealed that some of the world’s wealthiest people and biggest corporations are hiding billions of untaxed dollars in ghost companies offshore.  These “Paradise Papers”, as they are called, greatly perplex me as someone who is both Black and a product of poverty. I have always been fascinated by both the presence and absence of money in my life and in the lives of those around me. How that money is intimately attached to access, or the lack thereof, to healthcare or education, or anything in society today. I don’t know the dollar amount or how big the net is, though some American politicians estimate the U.S elite are hiding some $161 billion dollars offshore. These papers have a global reach and have already implicated household names. From the Queen of England to Nike, from Secretary of Commerce Willbur Ross to Nike, Pepsi, and Apple; the world’s wealthiest elite have got some explaining to do and some bills to pay.

Ian Martin




a small group of people having control of a country, organization, or institution.




government by the wealthy

I would say I largely grew up on government assistance programs, from WIC to Medicaid, from Food Stamps to Section 8. I am the eldest of four, born to a single mother, so the size of our household in comparison to the size of our income meant that we were below the poverty line. As a child, I greatly benefited from many programs and initiatives, most of which were paid for with American tax dollars. Whenever any of us hurt ourselves, which you might expect to happen in a house with four kids, it was Medicaid that guaranteed we would receive treatment. When I broke my leg, I had to travel to the hospital in an ambulance and I had to undergo surgery. Sometimes I wonder where I would be without these kinds of programs, or if there is a kid somewhere out there in the world who has also broken his leg but is not guaranteed treatment. When we ask for healthcare for all, we are burdened with the question, “Well, how are we going to pay for that?” That is question with which I am very familiar, in this context and others. That is a question the world’s wealthy elite (“the 1%”) never have to ask themselves. They will be guaranteed treatment.

They will also be guaranteed education, likely in private schools and universities. They won’t have to ask themselves how they will pay for it, meanwhile the rest of us are in public schools. Public education in the United States is largely a State and local responsibility. For Elementary and Secondary education funding, some states foot as much as 80% of the bill, others as low as 27% (Illinois in 2009). Local governments are left to pay for the rest, which largely come from local property taxes. In a city like Chicago, which engineered modern segregation and redlining, the impact of which is still felt today, you can quickly start to see the inequities in this system. The places with the most infrastructure, the most businesses, and the nicest homes are the places that spend more on their students. It could be the difference between a school district spending $3,000 per student/per year or $12,000 per student/per year. After Secondary school, you are left to the dogs. The continual growing cost of tuition at both public and private colleges and universities means degrees remain inaccessible to so many. When we ask for education for all, we are burdened with the question, “Well, how are we going to pay for that?” That is a question I had to answer when I said I wanted to go college. I knew I needed to go to college to try to make it somewhere in the world, and so $130,000 worth of student loans got me a degree.

The wealth gap is growing, the “Paradise Papers” reveal the gap is even bigger than we imagined. For years we have been scrambling over the same crumbs, when the rest of cake is hidden offshore. It surprises me we aren’t in the streets yet, protesting like the French during their revolution. In the meantime, I ask that you at least start to have a revolution of thought. Consider that this system is not working for the people, and start to imagine a new system that is both equitable and sustainable. Maybe that’s how we make America great, we “let them eat cake.”




an economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state.













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