For some weeks now, the public leaks about the so-called Panama Papers have made headlines and have created worries and fears among business people worldwide. Yet, it is not the business people who have been hit the hardest; it is those who have business activities along with being politicians and public figures. I find that interesting and actually, quite strange. We somehow want politicians to be better, more trustworthy, truthful and honest than the rest of us. At the same time, we often say that politicians cannot be trusted, that they don’t keep promises, that they compromise and horse-trade, and that they do what is good for themselves, their party, and think about their place in power and society, rather than doing what is best for the people, indeed those who elected them.

So, why do we ask more of politicians this time around than of others? Why do we think that politicians, when they do business, should follow other standards than those followed by full time business people, or other people who don’t hold public office? Also, why are we less rough on the lawyers who work for the politicians and business people? Remember that most of what happens in the tax havens is said to be legal, but maybe not always highly ethical.

From business people, we expect that they do whatever is possible to make as much money as they can, twist and turn the laws, yes, be on the fringes of it too, with the help of lawyers and others who ‘know how to do it’. We don’t expect that they have particularly high ethical standards. It is not only in love and war that anything is allowed, but also in business. Herein is the real problem.

Now then, aren’t I too hard on the business people, no longer the politicians now, and the lawyers? Yes, I think I am, because a businessperson, well, I should say businessman, because most but not all, are men, not women, and they are just living and working by the ‘accepted or going standards of the trade’. If they don’t do what is indeed possible for the sake of their profit and business success, even ‘walking over dead bodies’, as it were, they are not considered good business people. If they become rich and wealthy, we all somehow respect them, although we may know there could be skeletons in the cupboards.

We expect successful business people to give to charity, at their own pleasure, of course as much, or as little, as they think they can, yes, even if a lot of it is to buy goodwill and sympathy, so they can go on with their ruthless or fair business, and earn more. Strangely, perhaps, most charities, even religious associations and highly ethical organizations, accept money that aren’t always ‘clean’, well, as if any money from capitalist business were that.

The economic and business system of our world is what is on trial this time. The Panama Papers are just a wake-up call and warning to us all, me as much as you, the custodians of faith and ethics as much as politicians and business people, bankers, companies and certainly the multi- and trans-nationals.

In the end, the Panama Papers are about the world’s business culture, about how the private sector is organized, with or without shareholders being states and governments, too. Until we have re-visited the culture of business, I don’t want to blame politicians when they do business more than the full-time business people.

Again, what is on trial, if I can use such a term, is the world capitalist system as it is today. Maybe the system isn’t as fair and good for all as we have thought, or have pretended and wanted to believe. Fair trade and fair business practices will only be achieved when we have developed local, national and international systems that are indeed up to the ethical standards that we now quite vaguely and indirectly wish existed.

The Panama Papers have perhaps been leaked because some, maybe many, feel that the capitalist system has gone astray and out of control, that it needs much tighter rules and regulations, especially at international level, but also at local and national levels, because the foundations and cultures are based on the laws and values at those lower levels.

Tax collection and the rules and regulations for how to operate business, and for sharing profits with the rest of society, indeed the less fortunate, is built on laws of the land, of each of the some two hundred countries in the world. We have allowed tax havens, postbox companies registered in Panama and numerous other separate jurisdictions, islands and ‘post offices’ worldwide, often based on the principle, ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’. Norwegian ship owners were early to register under flags of convenience. We have all allowed such companies to exist – even the otherwise well-regulated and socially-minded governments, politicians and businesspeople, and voters, too, of the Scandinavian countries, including my home country Norway.

Perhaps it was more symbolic than real, when the Prime Minister of Iceland had to resign because he, well his wife, had Panama Papers connections. I think it was unfair to make him a direct victim, maybe a scapegoat, of a system that we have all known about and quietly, but not unwittingly, accepted. ‘We the people’ become unfair if we go after a few of our leaders when they have actually acted within the existing (dirty) business cultures, yes, maybe on the fringes, but still basically within the frames and rules that exist.

Therefore, it is time that we take a deep breath and a broad evaluation of the way the capitalist system works, at all levels, indeed at the international levels. The Panama Papers are perhaps more a symptom of something that is very, very wrong. It is not enough, not even right, if we just victimize some politicians with some shares in some more or less shady postbox companies, and also, make examples of some big business people.

The responsibility of the politicians is to put these topics on the agenda, prompted by the leaks of Panama Papers, but they are just warning signals that should make us to discuss issues and formulate a better and more social business system. We can no longer live in a world where businesspeople pay as much, or rather, as little, tax as they please, at their whims. We can no longer accept that the cornerstones and the foundations of creation of wealth and welfare are not regulated properly, and not being open to the public. Our economic system must serve the common good of all people, and all people must be part of repairing it.

If our politicians, religious leaders, economists, social scientists, labour unions, employers’ confederations, and every other idealistic and pragmatic organization and individual, do not place these issues on the agenda, then they are negligent and immoral. The Panama Papers are just the top of the iceberg, yes, in Iceland as everywhere else, telling us that we need to seek revision and renewal of the capitalist system.

Should we search for a totally new system and world order? Yes, we should, but we won’t. There isn’t much interest in doing so in our time, now when socialism and communism are gone. The social democratic system and the ‘Scandinavia model’ are turning to the right, becoming less social and more capitalist than before. But it is in those alternative systems and thoughts, and in philosophy and religion, that we have to search for a better economic world system, which can give a decent life and happiness for all – the way God intended it to be.