Wednesday 26 October 2016

Beneath the hoodies, they are all the same

The head of Apple is not like other capitalists, and AAA-PBP are not like other politicians? Don't believe a word of it

Published 04/09/2016 | 02:30

Apple: 'When I hear Tim Cook talk in his soft, creepy tones about this affront to his 'values', I have to laugh' Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Apple: 'When I hear Tim Cook talk in his soft, creepy tones about this affront to his 'values', I have to laugh' Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

I don't buy Tim Cook for one second. I don't buy him anymore than I buy any of these 'making the world a better place' merchants in Silicon Valley. We are led to believe that the Silicon Valley guys are different to previous generations of captains of industry, because they wear hoodies and they are geeks, possibly slightly on the spectrum. But in fact anyone consumed with the notion that progress is all, and progress untramelled is the sole driver of humanity's future, is more dangerous than any Rockefeller.

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There is an amorality, an ideological rigidity to some of these guys that would scare you. Technological development is its own justification apparently. If it can be done, it should be done - we can think about the implications for mankind later. Technology will set us free. It has echoes of "work will set us free".

So when I hear Tim Cook talk in the soft, slightly creepy tones of a New Age guru or a cult leader, about what an affront it is to his "values" to suggest Apple avoids tax and how it "outrages" him, I can't help but laugh.

Apple was always great at mythmaking. We used to be taught in college about the development of the original Mac, and how they spun off a team of guys into a separate building that had a Jolly Roger flying over it, and these guys were free from the usual corporate structures - their job was to be pirates, creative destruction. They were not to be held back by the existing business. They were to create the future even if it meant destroying the present, and the existing business. It was revolutionary stuff at the time. It empowered workers to be free, to be creative.

Looking back now, this was the first inkling we got of disruption, the disruption that would go on to wreak havoc and leave our kids on zero-hours contracts cycling around with boxes of pizzas on their backs.

I don't have much time either for AAA-PBP or whatever the Axis of Protest is calling itself these days. Like the Silicon Valley industrialists, we are supposed to believe these guys are different to other politicians because they wear hoodies. They would have us believe that, unlike other politicians, they have values. They have a monopoly on caring.

But just as Tim Cook's "values" are the same as any industrialist - to sell as many things as possible at the highest possible price while making them as cheaply as possible and paying as little tax as possible - the Axis of Protest has the same values as any politician: to have a constituency and to win support.

Just as Tim Cook is probably at his most untrustworthy when his back is to the wall, the Axis of Protest is at its most opportunist right now, because it too is cornered. The Axis of Protest had a moment, but the wind is rather going out of its sails now. Water charges have been parked for the time being and housing is being dealt with in some shape or form.

So this Apple story was a gift to them, another possible lightning rod for protest and discontent. Richard Boyd Barrett even opined that this Apple business would probably encourage people to come to an anti-water charges protest later this month. Who knew there was still such a quaint thing as anti-water charge protests? How last year! But the Axis of Protest is as good as Silicon Valley at pivoting, so the Apple story can be fed into the pot of general disgruntlement and protest. A group of politicians desperately seeking the new water charges desperately hope that Apple could be it.

The Apple story has made for some strange bedfellows too. Who would have thought the AAA would be lining up with their new hero, Borgen herself, in the European Commission? In July, the AAA were up in arms about the notion that Opposition Bills should be sent to the ECB for opinion. They called it "fundamentally undemocratic" that this "unelected, unaccountable body" should have a "Big Brother" style "monitoring of the democratic process in Ireland".

One month later they are lining up with the European Commission to agree with a very vague structure that Apple may owe Ireland, or possibly some other countries, €13bn, or some other unspecified amount when you include interest. But then I guess we all change our opinion on undemocratic Big Brothers depending on whether it suits us or not.

The strange thing about these socialists is their lack of international solidarity. In this case, the socialists all believe that we should insist on taking this money, that is patently not ours, and that we should apparently use it to build houses for anyone who wants a house.

Make no mistake, this is not our money. If we decide to take that money we might as well do what the guys who developed the Mac did. We should hoist the Jolly Roger up over the country, because to take this money would be nothing short of an act of international piracy. It would be piracy against the people in the US who developed Apple products, against the countries where people bought those products. It would turn us into not just a tax haven, but a tax haven that grabs other people's taxes. It would be an extraordinary move and one that would surely turn us into a rogue nation internationally.

While one can be equally cynical about the socialists of the AAA-PBP and capitalists like Cook, it is interesting to note the two approaches to life that this bizarre situation has highlighted.

On the one hand, the left believe that we should take whatever money is going and use it to pour into welfare. In their minds, the answer to our problems is primarily welfare, and the State doling out largesse. So take the money and build houses for all.

The capitalist view on it is that we should forgo this money in the interest of creating jobs in the future, and creating an environment where companies know that there won't be a changing of their tax arrangements a decade or two later and a post-dated tax demand.

None of this is to say that Apple are the good guys or the victims here. I pay a rate of tax on my marginal earnings that is 11,000 times the rate Apple was allegedly paying on earnings in this country. It is no injustice that Apple should be forced to pay tax on this money, and it will pay it, some day, when it takes its vast profits out of the virtually stateless place where they currently rest.

But we should not be made the victims of this by having to destroy our international reputation. We may not like how international capitalism works, but, as a small, open economy, we need those jobs. And there's more of a future in getting people jobs than giving them free houses with one-off windfall pirate booty.

Sunday Independent

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