Tuesday, 20 September 2011

An actual post about someone who did it wrong

Ok, this is what I'm talking about:

Dr Eoin Clarke is, I am led to understand, a doctor of Irish feminist history. I'm not going to denigrate that, because I'm not a doctor of anything.. and I think that feminist history is a worthy thing to study.. and I'm half Irish. All that is fine by me.

In the linked post, our doctor discusses how much tax various companies pay. It's not his area of expertise.. he freely admits:
I am not suggesting anything untoward not least because I am no tax expert.

(his emphasis, there)

He goes on:
Cadbury, Diageo and other companies paid incredibly little tax for various reasons that I do not wish to bore you with
Now, given his earlier statement I have to wonder if he's not going to bore me with the actual reasons for the things he is concerned about because, being 'no tax expert' he doesn't really understand them?

But here's the point.. Eoin wants to talk about how companies don't pay enough tax. That's a fair topic, because many don't. What he's done, however, is choose a selection of companies who didn't pay a lot of tax in the given years. Except Arcadia which paid tax at the full rate of 30%, which he does not draw attention to. He's used these companies as an illustration that something is wrong. With the exception of Lloyds, which didn't pay tax because it lost money in the year before (a feature of tax) he won't tell us why. Are there good reasons for the lack of tax, or are there bad reasons? If he wants me to conclude that something is amiss, he really needs to tell me.

More pertinently, what about all the other companies? What about the ones he didn't pick? Isn't this a bit like saying that too many people are choosing to be serial killers, and proving his point by talking about Fred West, Peter Sutcliffe and Jack T. Ripper?

I think that Eoin is trying to make the reasonable point that the UK corporate tax system allows some companies to avoid making a fair contribution to the maintenance of the very society in which they make their profits. He just does it badly. He doesn't mention the somewhat major point, which is made in the story he cites as his source, that his Barclays numbers are comparing apples and oranges.. global profits against UK tax. I have to assume that he doesn't think that if Barclays made money in the USA then it should be paying UK tax on it, so what does he use those numbers for, if not to mislead anyone who's not paying attention? When that Barclays story first broke there were a lot of people not paying attention and tweeting about the story.. spreading a bunch of uninformed dribble. How, precisely, does that achieve anything?

Put yourself in the shoes of someone with the power to influence UK tax policy. If someone comes up to you in the street and says 'Barclays made £6bn of profit and only paid £113m tax on it, what are you going to do about that'. Do you a) say 'gosh, that's awful, I'll have my people investigate this' or b) say 'you're an idiot, you obviously haven't invested more than three seconds in trying to understand this, so I'm not going to waste my time'.


Come on people, if you want anyone to listen then at least do the fucking reading.

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