U2 and tax… hypocritical? Maybe not. Solipsistic and missing the point. Sure are! February 28, 2009Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture.
It’s the weekend, and at the weekend it’s always good to talk about music. But before we do let’s talk about U2… because for a masterclass in missing the point and evasion, conscious or otherwise, can I direct people to the interview§ in the Irish Times yesterday with Bono and The Edge (incidentally, writing the last name irks me no end…). It’s a typical sort of piece resting on the good old days…
“When we were young and broke and didn’t even have our bus fare, Adam used to ride the buses for free,” says Bono. “When the conductor would ask him for his fare, he’d just say in his west Brit accent [adopts accent]: ‘Can I sign you a cheque?’.” They laugh like a drain…
Hilarious stuff, I think you’ll agree.
And what of this?
The young, broke U2 who managed to get a few gigs in dingy Dublin venues regularly had their shows broken up by a skinhead gang of the time called The Black Catholics. “There was this gang called The Black Catholics in (late 1970s) Dublin,” says Bono. “They would try to break up our gigs. But I dealt with it. I knew which bus stop one of them got off at on his way home. I waited for him. It ended after that, that’s all I’ll say.”
Ooops… Not sure I like what that seems to imply. And neither, in truth, do they…
The study goes quite for a moment.
Then there’s this:
“It’s all to do with how you can play outdoors without using a proscenium stage with a big bank of speakers on the left and right. Every outdoor show you’ve ever seen has that. So at the moment we’re just trying to get the design architecture right – and the financial architecture. If we can get away with what we want to do, it will mean more people in the venue, better sightlines and everyone will be closer to the action. We want to have a significant percentage of cheap tickets. In this climate you have to give better value.”
Sheesh, that’s big of them… after all these years…
And a statement which rings true, at least to me…
“When I hear a U2 song I wince,” says Bono. “I wince because of what I think is an unfinished lyric or a vocal moment I don’t like.
Ah no, Bono. No need to explain further.
Anyhow, enough fluff. What about tax. Let’s talk about it. Yeah!
As the Irish Times, suddenly in less cheery mode, notes:
In 2006, U2 moved part of their business from Ireland to The Netherlands where the tax rate on royalty earnings is far lower than in this country. This followed an Irish Government decision to limit tax-free earnings for artists. Prior to this, all artistic earnings had been tax-free. Now artists would have to pay tax on earnings over €250,000.
Criticism rained down on the band, and on Bono in particular, from politicians, journalists and lobby groups.
“We haven’t commented on it,” says Bono.
Okay… so nothing to see here then… er… not quite…
“And we don’t comment on it for a very good reason,” adds The Edge,
“and that’s because it’s our own private thing. We do business all over the world, we pay taxes all over the world and we are totally tax compliant.”
Totally compliant – eh? Sort of missing the point Edge old son. Of course you’re tax compliant, otherwise you’d be in breach of some code or another somewhere or another and open to prosecution. I’m thinking more of the correctness of shifting from this state – which one would hope they might have some passing affection – to another in order to minimise exposure to taxation.
And our own private thing? Hmmm… I beg to differ. I actually think tax is a crucial element of the relationship between citizen and state/society. I think it’s particularly important to those who make great claims in other areas.
“We pay millions and millions of dollars in tax,” says Bono.
No, no. I get that. I really do. And with all due respect they have to. Again, it’s a little issue of compliance. The point is where they pay said millions.
“The thing that stung us was the accusation of hypocrisy for my work as an activist.
What ingrates could possibly begrudge them shifting their income from one jurisdiction to another for assessment at the best possible rates?
In a 2007 report entitled Death and Taxes: The True Toll of Tax Dodging , the development agency Christian Aid examined the impact of tax avoidance on the developing world and mentioned Bono as one of the people responsible. When a group such as Christian Aid (with whom Bono would have some common cause) criticise the move, that must hurt?
Common cause? Hurt? You might think… but… previously he gives a peculiar and extended apologia for his own actions by suggesting that:
“I can understand how people outside the country wouldn’t understand how Ireland got to its prosperity, but everybody in Ireland knows that there are some very clever people in the Government and in the Revenue who created a financial architecture that prospered the entire nation – it was a way of attracting people to this country who wouldn’t normally do business here. And the financial services brought billions of dollars every year directly to the Exchequer.
Er… yes. But that’s not really addressing the issue. They live in Ireland, as soon as the tax environment became less… favourable… they shunted ‘millions and millions’ (perhaps) abroad to an easier tax environment, thereby decreasing the amount of money to this state.
“What’s actually hypocritical is the idea that then you couldn’t use a financial services centre in Holland.
Erm… nope. The idea is that as a citizen of this state who had benefited directly from previous tax regimes he and they might see their way, in view of the very large sums earned, to supporting this state rather than the Dutch state.
The real question people need to ask about Ireland’s tax policy is: ‘Was the nation a net gain benefactor?’ and of course it was – hugely so.
Was… Past tense. Was.
And as for gains…obviously not, in the sense that they shifted their financial doings abroad. That surely constitutes a net loss.
So there was no hypocrisy for me – we’re just part of a system that has benefited the nation greatly and that’s a system that will be closed down in time. Ireland will have to find other ways of being competitive and attractive.”
Lovely lovely stuff. It’s not him, it’s them (or us in a sense)… Bono ain’t gonna pay any more than he can get away with to the Republic of Ireland until it suits him.
Except as always it is him… for the apologia takes a most curious turn…
“It hurts when the criticism comes in internationally,” says Bono. “But I can’t speak up without betraying my relationship with the band – so you take the shit.”
People who don’t know our music – it’s very easy for them to take a position on us – they run with the stereotypes and caricature of us.
The preferring to pay as little tax to this state as is humanly possible one… hardly a caricature…or a stereotype. And not sure what not ‘knowing the music’ bit is about…
People who know the music know that the music reveals the people, not the edifice around it. That’s why we’ve decided to draw a ring around our audience and ourselves. Outside that there’s no point trying to explain ourselves. Without the musical part it’s all irrelevant.”
What a convenient way to step neatly aside from any serious investigation of such matters.
A masterclass, as I said.