The bust up with the EU Commission's ruling on Apple affords us a rare opportunity to take a good hard look at where we are and where we’re going, which is why it’s so unwelcomed by our political leaders. They’re rattled we’ll discern the wizard's feet under the green curtain.
Because what we see this week is what is really there: how much the Irish economy is now predicated on – and at the mercy of – globalized corporations without any fixed abode.
Wise government policy would be to keep these mega companies subordinate to the nation, because their only concern is their own profit. That’s not what we have in Ireland, however, as ministers to the right of the spectrum call for even more unfettered access to the global markets, and au revoir Europe and the nation state.
To this chorus add David McWilliams, the wise and witty Irish economist, who sees in the latest dust up with Apple and the EU an opportunity for Ireland to define itself as the halfway point between America and Europe.
Not only that, he wants to confirm to the global multinationals that Ireland will work to evade its obligations to the EU – a sort of economic Brexit, predicated solely on tax evasion.
The potential financial returns have him salivating. We will achieve a “totally different economic orbit to the rest of Europe,” he writes in the Irish Independent this week. Instead of taking all the money in tax, why not take some in shares (in the multinationals) and invest it, he writes?
McWilliams continues: “By taking shares in multinationals, Ireland could create a sovereign wealth fund linked to the performance of the best-governed companies in the world, which would provide for future generations. In 2012, US multinationals made $100 billion profit in Ireland, on which they are supposed to pay 12.5pc tax, or $12.5 billion. In fact, they paid $4 billion.
Why not encourage multinationals to pay the difference between what they pay and what they ought to pay in shares? Shares are permanent wealth, whereas taxes are transitory income…”
The obvious problem here is that McWilliams is focusing solely on the economic opportunities and not good governance, the stability that it provides, or the many benefits that accrue from it like health care, pensions, and social welfare.
Leaving Ireland and the Irish to the mercy of the global markets excites some economists but should concern all other citizens. The definition of fascism is top down corporate government, after all.
The dazzling wealth of these multinationals should not be an amulet against paying their dues like any other citizen or company. Corporations, said Mitt Romney, are people my friend, so let them pay their share too.
In America workers have watched their jobs disappear, outsourced to other countries, and the Irish have seen happen it too. In this international shell game the multinational’s abiding concern is the bottom line, not the health and wealth of host nations. They clearly have no intention of paying tax or of giving us shares.
Recall that Ireland received 17 billion in EU structural and cohesion funds between 1973 and 2008. This created the infrastructure, without which no multinational would have even considered Ireland as a base without. Abandoning all our commitments now that we have a new paymaster is beyond treacherous, it’s politically unwise.
Alienating the EU and future US governments by going all in on Apple, Google, Facebook, Twitter et al seems like an unwise strategy for long term national solvency. We neither have to be their corporate serfs or the EU’s flunkeys. Framing the debate in those terms is unhelpful and self-deluding.
We must resist calls to hitch our national wagon to the ever evolving contingencies of cyberspace. McWilliams is a shrewd observer, but his latest gambit is half baked.