|Apple CEO Tim Cook testifies at a Senate hearing last week about|
the company’s Irish subsidiary
Why does paying taxes make so many people angry?
Trust me, I don’t have much money. And whatever I do have left after feeding, clothing and housing my four children, I do like to spend as I see fit.
But it’s kind of stupid to lament paying taxes while also expecting things like police and fire protection, functioning roads and schools, and -- God forbid -- assistance for people who are down on their luck.
Which includes people who were great at their jobs yet were still laid off, as well as families who can’t afford to send their children to college.
So when I read last week that the cool dudes who run Apple had relocated portions of their operations to Ireland to save billions in taxes, I was thinking that Apple can make all the flashy iPads and iPods they want. But the devices are useless if America’s roads and bridges are in such poor shape that truck drivers can’t deliver them to homes or stores.
As The New York Times noted last week, by officially locating certain business operations “in places like Ireland, Apple was able to, in effect, make them stateless -- exempt from taxes, record-keeping laws and the need for the subsidiaries to even file tax returns anywhere in the world.”
Now, this isn’t anything new. Corporations have always been very good at finding tax havens around the globe. This used to be a not-very-respectable but ultimately acceptable practice within the confines of modern capitalism.
With globalization, this even became respectable. Sure, American workers got screwed, but they would benefit in the long run (so the theory went) because once the poor in other countries got jobs with corporations like Apple, they would become middle-class consumers and inevitably contribute to the American economy with their newfound purchasing power.
Of course, this theory rarely takes into account things like, say, the Bangladeshi garment factory collapse earlier this month which left nearly 1,200 people dead.
Even if the building did not collapse, it would probably be tough to convince those workers they were participating in some wonderful experiment in which the rising global economic tide would eventually lift all boats.
Basically, the garment worker who lost his job in America as well as the poor Bangladeshi get screwed. And we know who makes out in the end.
Apple knows this better than anyone. They have improved working conditions in their Chinese factories so much that they now provide free suicide nets so that their workers can toil for another day. And another day. And another day.
Anyway, obviously using Ireland to avoid billions in taxes is not as bad as these horrors. It’s certainly not illegal, as everyone from senators Carl Levin (Democrat) and John McCain (Republican) to Irish Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore pointed out.
No, it’s not illegal. Hooray for that. But it really is sleazy.
And is it even good business?
Yes, the stockholders are happy and flush with cash. But Apple has become such a beloved “brand” because they seemed to avoid such tacky business practices.
Americans, meanwhile, should be getting more and more angry at corporations that have no use for American workers, but desperately want them to keep buying their crap.
It’s getting so bad that the recent book The Betrayal of the American Dream by Donald Barlett and James Steele argued for good old fashioned protectionism -- heavily taxing goods made abroad -- and I was thinking they may be right.
And is any of this even good for Ireland? As Bloomberg columnist Megan Green noted, “Ireland should use the Apple drama as an opportunity to consider whether the benefits of an attractive tax regime are worth the costs,” especially since “most of their profits flow back to shareholders outside the country.”
Taxes, Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “are what we pay for civilized society.” And for roads, cops, schools and buildings that don’t collapse.
For all of their high-minded blather about technology and the world, Apple’s Irish tax scheme makes them look like just another two-bit operation.
It almost makes it difficult to type out this column on my MacBook Pro laptop.
(Contact “Sidewalks” at tdeignan.blogspot.com)