Apple hid a quarter of a trillion dollars. What’s wrong with that?
This summer Apple’s ad team made a departure from its usual courtship of coastal hipsters, and ran a campaign featuring country star Brantley Gilbert. “I love the feeling out here,” Gilbert said, his hands brushing wheat in a field outside Leiper’s Fork, Tennessee. “The freedom. The simplicity. The open road.
“This is my home. No matter where I go, my heart stays here. My friends, my family, this country. My people.”
“To me,” wrote an AdAge editorial, “the subtext reads as This is Trump Country.”
Here was Apple making a play for Middle America. Main Street. The white working classes that, reportedly, voted Donald Trump into the White House a year ago tomorrow.
Today, thanks to the Paradise Papers leaks, documented by Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung, Britain’s The Guardian and other outlets, it emerged Apple has been employing some pretty nifty tax avoidance, in its attempts to withhold as much of its bewildering fortune as possible.
In 2013 Apple CEO Tim Cook hit back at a Congressional hearing on his company’s tax practice. “We do not depend on tax gimmicks,” he said. “We do not stash money on some Caribbean island.”
He was telling the truth. That year Apple swerved a crackdown on its Irish tax operations by dumping its offshore wealth, now worth around $252bn, to Jersey, a tiny island in the English Channel home to a hundred thousand people — and one of the world’s premier tax havens. (Read the full account here.)
And yet, on the homepage of The Tennessean, which is compiled just a 30 minute drive from Leiper’s Fork: no mention of the Paradise Papers, nor the barely-fathomable sums of money corporations and individuals have been hiding using shady networks of accountants and havens from Belize to the British Virgin Islands.
Instead, news on the Texas shooting (understandably), a piece on Nashville’s forthcoming Major Leage Soccer stadium and other local incidents. But this affects Tennesseans, and Americans, more than almost any other issue.
In almost every line of journalism we’re told one, golden rule: follow the money. Yet American fiscal politics has moved so far to the right that, when skimming the opinion pages and social media, it becomes clear that most Americans either do not care about these leaks, or consider it ‘fair play’ a company would want to reduce its tax burden. After all, taxes are bad — right?
Perhaps financial leaks aren’t sexy enough to capture the imagination. Perhaps we falsely put ourselves in the shoes of Tim Cook and his multibillionaire cohort: if I had a load of money, the thinking goes, I’d save
To this I’d say: $252bn. Two hundred and fifty-two billion dollars. A quarter of a trillion. This is not grandma and grandpa’s life savings. This is money that could change the fortunes of states like Kentucky for years.
It is telling that neither Donald Trump, whose commerce secretary Wilbur Ross’ links to sanctioned Russians were exposed via the leaks, nor Hillary Clinton nor any other leading member of the Democratic Party, has issued a statement condemning these highly damaging practices that rip money direct from the public purse.
Only Bernie Sanders, who yesterday warned that the world is becoming an “international oligarchy,” has taken a stand on the issue, saying, “The major issue of our time is the rapid movement toward international oligarchy in which a handful of billionaires own and control a significant part of the global economy.”
“The Paradise Papers shows how these billionaires and multinational corporations get richer by hiding their wealth and profits and avoid paying their fair share of taxes,” Sanders added.
Party politics is clouding this issue. It should not matter whether you are pro-life, pro-Second Ammendment or an evangelical Christian: tax avoidance is a problem that affects us all. And it should be something that unites the Left and Right to companies that, it is clear, have few interests but their own in mind.
Then the people Brantley Gilbert calls his own — and the people he might not — could enjoy that open road a little more. After all, it was paid for with taxes.