What we want, What we say and What we do: Not quite the same

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As Sahar’s Blog has been evolving, I have been talking to more and more people around about the various subjects it covers. After all, the whole point is to create a forum where various points of views are represented, not just mine! And it always surprises me how people want one thing, say another thing and do something totally different.

Take the example of the elimination of poverty. Everyone wants poverty to be eliminated. Everyone says they will help by donating money to various causes. But many of those who dared answer the last question didn’t put their money where their mouth was.

The conversation became even more interesting when I pointed out that poverty wouldn’t be eliminated by donating money, but rather when the way we do things changes and, more fundamentally, when the reasons behind our actions change. It was amusing and, at the same time, a little sad to see how some would fidget uncomfortably when I would ask them what they would be willing to sacrifice of their cushy north american lives to help the lives of millions of others.

Which is why I found the article below, by MacLean’s very own Mark Steyn,  so interesting – even if I don’t agree with all of it.

What Bono says and what he does

There’s a well-documented reason the do-gooder can’t put his money where his mouth is

After playing the Obama inauguration a couple of months back, the pop star Bono flew back home to a rare barrage of hostile headlines. As you know, the global do-gooder wants us to send more of our money to Africa. So why is he sending his money to the Netherlands? From the Irish Times:

“Bono ‘Hurt’ By Criticism Of U2 Move To Netherlands To Cut Tax.”

U2 hasn’t, in fact, moved to the Netherlands. You won’t find them busking outside downtown Rotterdam mosques of a Friday night. But they did move some of their business interests from the Emerald Isle to the Low Countries. From the Times of London: “Bono Hits Back Over Tax Dodging Claims.”

Actually, he didn’t really “hit back” except in the mildest way, protesting that there was nothing “hypocritical” about being an “activist” and taking advantage of favourable “financial services” arrangements in the Netherlands, and that in any case U2 “pay millions and millions of dollars in tax.” Hey, so what? Any old Halliburton robber-baron pal of Dick Cheney can make the same claim: paying “millions and millions” counts for nothing when you’re supposed to be paying millions and millions and millions and millions. From the Belfast Telegraph:

“U2 Frontman Bono’s Tax Avoidance ‘Depriving Poor.’ ”

According to Nessa Ni Chasaide of the Debt and Development Coalition Ireland, U2 has consciously deprived the Irish exchequer of revenue needed for overseas aid. “While Bono has championed the cause of fighting poverty and injustice in the impoverished world,” said Miss Ni Chasaide, “the fact is that his band has moved parts of its business to a tax shelter in the Netherlands. Tax avoidance and tax evasion costs the impoverished world at least 160 million U.S. dollars every year.”

Oh, come on. It doesn’t cost “the impoverished world” anything. It’s Bono’s money, not theirs. And who’s to say, even if he did give it to the government, that they’d stick it in the mail to some Afro-Marxist kleptocrat as opposed to squandering it closer to home? I’m with the U2 lads on this: I think the caterwauling rockers know better how to spend their dough than the state does. I’m entirely sympathetic to the wish of Timothy Geithner and the other A-list tax delinquents of President Obama’s administration not to toss one more penny than the absolute minimum into the great sucking maw of the government treasury.

Unfortunately, that’s not an argument a celebrity “activist” like Bono can easily make. So his “hitting back” consisted mostly of sitting back while the Bono impersonator Paul O’Toole stood outside the Department of Finance in Dublin singing his own version of U2’s I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For—i.e., a jurisdiction with zero per cent tax rates for billionaire rock stars. U2 Ltd. actually moved to the Netherlands a couple of years back, about 17 nanoseconds after the Irish finance minister removed the tax exemption on “artistic” income above 250,000 euros. This was round about the time of Bono’s Live 8 all-star African-awareness-raising rock gala, but the world was too busy Rocking Against Bush to pay any attention. It’s only in the last few weeks that charities and NGOs and “justice groups” have decided to make an example of the unfortunate warbler.

But here’s my question: instead of arguing whether U2 Ltd. should be based in Dublin or Amsterdam, why not move it to Africa? After all, it’s essentially a licensing operation, so it doesn’t have any physical product to warehouse or ship other than the occasional PDF or MP3. All you need’s a phone line and a computer. Or, at the very least, why doesn’t Bono outsource U2 Ltd.’s tax preparation to Africa? With the invention of the Internet, India’s accountants started mugging up on 1099s and Schedule C and the other salient features of the U.S. tax code and have managed to snaffle a percentage of the American tax-filing bonanza away from H&R Block. Why couldn’t Bono open up a small accountancy firm in Bangui or Bujumbura? If he’s so eager to help Africa, wouldn’t that be a great vote of confidence?

Read the rest of this thought-provoking article here.

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3 thoughts on “What we want, What we say and What we do: Not quite the same

  1. Sahar,

    Having followed your blog for a while, I am starting to see it coalesce into something very interesting. “Being the change” is a very interesting path to take.

    As for Bono not putting his money where his mouth is, well isn’t that the reason why so many people tune out? The Glitterati get the limelight, but don’t have to bear the burden, while the true heroes go unnoticed.

    Deep down people value value honor, integrity, valor and understand the importance of deeds. Unfortunately, they become cynical and lose faith in humanity because so many people have clothes themselves in the garments of these lofty principals and then turned around and used their position only to enrich themselves.

    The bigger question is how we put an end to this kind of phenomenon?

    1. Excellent question Mister D! I am of the opinion that the first step would be for a certain number of people, a critical mass, shall we say, not only realize that this phenomenon exists, but also strive to change their behaviour as well as the principles governing their various relationships (at work, in their day to day lives, with their families, with strangers etc); even if they are not perfect, the idea of thousands upon thousands of people trying to work together for the betterment of the world is bound to create a positive change! What do you think?

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