Monday 20 May 2013

Don't do evil

Google’s motto was rather thrown back at them last week by the Chair of the Commons committee looking at tax avoidance by some of the major companies.  I’m not sure that it was entirely fair though.
It’s not that I support tax evasion; I don’t.  Clever schemes to avoid paying tax in one jurisdiction by transferring the transactions to another are at the least immoral, and from some reports, may even be illegal.  But are immorality and illegality the same as evil?  Evil suggests something much more deliberately malign to me.
Killing people – now that would be evil.  Building and possessing weapons of mass destruction, or supporting and acquiescing in such – now that would be evil in my book.  (And, purely coincidentally, would put most members of the said Commons committee higher up my list of evil-doers than Google.)  But using the letter of the law to avoid paying tax doesn’t seem to be in the same league to me.
It made a good headline, though; which was probably all that it was ever intended to do.  Publicly castigating the bosses of such companies is great fun, and attracts attention to the castigators.  But I can’t help feeling that our legislators would be better occupied simplifying and strengthening the laws under which such companies operate rather than engaging in witch hunts.  To say nothing of ensuring that the authorities prosecute through the courts when breaches of the law are discovered.
Expecting capitalist companies to do other than maximise the profits of capitalists by every means that they can is unrealistic.  It’s what they’re there for.  Enriching themselves at our expense is what capitalists do; the evil is in the system rather than in the individuals.
PS Another thing to emerge from last week’s news on tax avoidance was that Amazon paid less in taxation than it received in government grants.  Am I the only one to be wondering how on earth we can be in a position where a company making billions in profits is getting grants at all?  In this case, it’s the Scottish Government paying them an incentive to build a new distribution centre in Dunfermline; but presumably similar incentives were paid for the centre in Swansea.  We’re paying grants to companies to establish themselves here and then transfer all their profits and taxes elsewhere, in effect.
It makes for an interesting comparison with the call by Iain Duncan Smith a few weeks ago for pensioners who don’t ‘need’ the benefits they’re being paid to give them back.  What about capitalist companies which don’t ‘need’ the grants they’re receiving?


Anonymous said...

Beware- deflecting the blame onto the companies is the game here, so that the politicians don't have to take the difficult choices of actually annoying capitalism by doing something about it. So it becomes about being against Amazon or Starbucks rather than against neoliberalism and Government policy.

Anonymous said...

Maximizing profits is not what most capitalist companies are there for, it is to massage the egos of many of their top employees and owners, if they were maximizing they would not need a top of the range car, 1st class flights, prestigious buildings in expensive locations, £2000.00 bottles of wine etc, Warren Buffet does not do it, and the fault for this is the company shareholders allow it to happen
The morons on the committee who cross examined Google have probably all been involved in tax avoidance, it's called 'duty free'did they insist on paying the extra, indeed demand that they pay the extra? What do you think?
The chair is also believing her own PR these days and the committee is now about her rottweiler tendencies now bordering on hysteria, it was her and her committee as MPs who formed the deficient laws in the first place which allowed the companies and individuals to avoid by using accountants and lawyers who have the brains to show the way where the MPs could not
As for immoral, how many people go to say Primark and insist on paying double for a garment because it's too cheap, unfortunately we now know why it's that price but.......

Spirit of BME said...

Amon. 20 May 23:32 and 21 May 13:49

Hear! Hear! Hear!

Anonymous said...

There's more on this today with Ed Miliband apparently "in a row" with Google-

Google's position is quite simple- "Eric Schmidt said Google followed "the tax laws of the countries we operate in"."

Miliband should pledge to changing the tax laws. It's getting ridiculous now with huge sums being lost to national budgets. Will Miliband put anything in this in the Labour manifesto, and then deliver on it? I very much doubt it. It's all talk, and doing anything about it would require significantly strong political leadership. Miliband won't provide that.