Saturday, 13 September 2014


I'm kind of writing this post to be linked to as footnote to a DiS review of the new U2 album, and perhaps also as a deliberate piece of outrageous contrarianism to get me noticed after my previous blog post BASICALLY WENT VIRAL, but yeah - let's talk about Bono.

Because of my innate, some may say moronic optimism about human nature, I've never really subscribed to the Bono-is-a-monster-all-his-charity-work-is-an-egotistical-sham school of thought - I understand that there are legitimate concerns about the efficacy of stuff like Product Red, and I understand that a lot of people feel that attempting to extract money from ethically dubious rich people by being nice to them is a bit icky, but ultimately I naively can't bring myself to believe that Bono's net contribution towards wiping out third world debt etcetera has been on balance negative rather than positive.

But what of U2/Bono's tax avoidance, the stick used to beat him the most? (Latterly, anyway - it's worth noting they've only been doing in since 2006, nine years after their last good album) Ultimately, I do not think tax avoidance is a good thing, and I find it faintly baffling that somebody who must rake in as much money as he does can even be arsed to worry about it. However, I find his rationale interesting, and I wonder if people who kneejerk scream 'hypocrite!' have really thought through and engaged with it.

In a nutshell, it's this: 'U2 is in total harmony with our government's philosophy.'

Now as I live in England, most people I know who get angry about Bono's tax evasion are British. I'm sure Irish people get annoyed about Bono's tax evasion. But do I feel that for starters, British people do semi-forget - or at least fail to duly engage with - the fact that the tax is being evaded in a country that is different to our country, both literally and philosophically.

Since the fifties, the Irish government has pursued a deliberate low corporation tax policy, something that got a turn in the spotlight recently when the Public Accounts Committee grilled representatives from Google over their tax arrangements, and when it came to light earlier this year that Apple's Irish operation pays a stunningly low amount of tax - both effectively have their European operations officially based in Ireland, and in both situations it's kind of dodgy because the physical scale of their UK operations is such that their non-payment of significant UK corporation tax looks a bit hmm. A wantonly un-nuanced and simplistic argument might be that the Irish government has effectively taken millions of pounds away from the British taxpayer by enthusiastically facilitating arrangements like this.

I think this could easily spiral off into an incomprehensible and confused ramble about the morality of tax and government.

But I think agree with Bono that his actions would generally appear to be morally in line with those of his government.

It is an unanswerable hypothetical as to whether he would act any differently if he weren't Irish. But I bet he wouldn't.

I think it is also fairly clear that whatever personal rationale he has come to, then he is clearly a man aware of the amplifying effects of this celebrity, of the succour it lends to evaders the world over that he finds this morally acceptable. I doubt U2 renouncing their tax scheme would send much of a message to corrupt third world politicians. But it probably would send a message through the West that would probably have a ripple effect beyond four blokes in Ireland (three of whom nobody really seems to be that arsed about). Mostly for that reason, I feel he should probably take one for the team*. But when push comes to shove, I think his excuse is at least an interesting one, that deserves a bit more due consideration than 'OMG YOU'VE STOPPED FIVE IRISH HOSPITALS BEING BUILT.'

I don't think Bono is 'right'. But I do think there's a weird lack of outrage about low-tax regimes that perhaps pondering Bono's morality might lead you back to. Who is the real enemy? The lead singer of a successful 80s new wave band? OR THE GRAND DUCHY OF LUXEMBOURG? EH?

*though ironically the team is perhaps the problem - U2's profits are on an equal split and I think the scheme they use is a 'one for all' type affair - would the three that nobody blames be entirely happy to lose millions for the sake of improving their frontman's image?