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Let’s give Bono and U2 a break over their taxes, or not

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Bono received a medal in Paris. Source: independent.co.uk
Bono received a medal in Paris. Source: independent.co.uk

Ireland has produced many famous exiles. Songs have been written about them, and some have written the songs themselves. Take U2’s Bono, for example. This week he’s Ireland’s most famous tax exile.

It’s bad enough he has to invest U2’s money overseas, far from the greedy eyes of Irish Revenue commissioners, but on top of that the “cranky left” in Ireland have been looking at him funny. Why can’t they just be happy for his success, he wonders?

Look at all the good he did in faraway places. Why are you tying him to “a small rock in the North Atlantic” when in fact he’s been a world citizen, with all the tax breaks that implies, for decades?

When some people look at Bono they see a savior of rock and roll. I see Mitt Romney without the mom jeans. I can’t help it, and he hasn’t done anything to change my mind in decades.

Tax havens exist for people who do not live in them. Because they can’t pay the costs of offshoring themselves and their earnings, only the little people are forced to pay the taxes of the nation in which they reside.

Theoretically you could, I suppose, enrich yourself by defaulting on your tax bills, but your government won’t let you because you didn’t write “With Or Without You.”

Giving eye-popping tax breaks to billionaires and billion dollar corporations is one of the reasons that the Irish economy has done so well, says Bono, who would like a little slack cut for his own profitable efforts in canvassing (and occasionally stake holding) in said companies.

“And that’s the reason we have companies like Google or Facebook – and indeed I helped bring those companies to Ireland,” Bono explained. “So it’s more than churlish for Irish people to say, ‘Oh well, we don’t want an Irish company involved in that stuff – but we do want everyone else.’”

Do you hear that! By wanting Bono to pay his taxes like every other Irish citizen you’re being churlish. You’re also being ungrateful.

Ask yourself — do you really think Google and Facebook would have come to Ireland with its tempting tax write offs without the guiding hand of Bono to speed their passage?

But calling for governments to give more to international aid whilst you pay as little tax as possible to the country in which you live does look a little gratuitous.

“Why can’t U2 be tough in business?” Bono asked. “This thing about the warm fuzzy feeling? I’d like people to get over that. Because that’s not who I am. I am tough.”

That’s what you call an applause line at a Republican national convention. And it’s also an admission of something his most ardent fans have known in their hearts but have refused to admit to themselves.

This is how big businesses work. You do everything you can to minimize your tax liability. Every big multinational company does it.

The reason why U2 are being condemned for it now is because their most ardent fans still refuse to see that their favorite rock and roll band long ago became a corporation.

Let’s be clear. It’s not to say that Ireland shouldn’t be proud of Bono’s achievements. Bono reportedly pays personal tax in Ireland, but U2 as a company offshore their earnings.

Fans will weigh that alongside cherished memories of the Unforgettable Fire tour or other stand out concerts from their storied youth. But that was a half a lifetime ago. Bono has long realized that he has moved on, and he clearly wishes the rest of us would too.

I bring all this up because Bono gave another interview about U2’s tax status in a British newspaper last weekend.  It’s a timely opportunity to remind people of the spectacular levels of tax relief that are actually open to the super rich internationally now.

If you’re as rich as Bono and U2, handy labels like conservative and liberal are becoming increasingly irrelevant. Instead you belong to the Harry Potter alternate universe of the fabulously wealthy. You become your own nationality.

And as the super rich avail of increasingly tempting international tax breaks, their own governments work to ensure they pay even less. It’s a win win for U2 if not exactly Ireland, but sure think of all the good they did over the years, eh? You can’t put a price tag on that.

Well, in fact, you can. But let’s look the other way for old times sake.

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