Thursday, 15 May 2014

Why do we suffer rich shitheads like Donald Trump so gladly in Ireland?

Donald Trump: A man half toupee, half sack of shit
Donald Trump walks into a tax haven. He's met by a harpist, a fiddler, a singer and a minister for finance. This sounds like the beginning to a horribly convoluted joke but this is what actually happened on Monday. Donald Trump, yes that Donald Trump, a man the rest of the world decided was about as reputable as organised religion sometime in the early 90s, was welcomed into Ireland with the sort of reception worthy of a Teutonic Knight returning to medieval Marienburg. He stepped off the plane and onto a red carpet, zealously shook hands with the aforementioned minister for finance Michael Noonan and a starstruck Mayor of Clare and reviewed the coterie of musicians playing for his amusement and pulled a face which suggested he deemed this ostentatious display appropriate for a man of his standing.

He's a renowned racist, was the leader of that ludicrous "birther" movement a couple of years back which tried to prove that Barack Obama wasn't actually born in the US, an ardent climate change skeptic and a passionate toupee enthusiast. So why were we giving this turnip such a grand welcoming? Because he bought a golf course in Doonbeg in Clare. And he promises to plough loads of money into it. And create "jobs". Which is a word people like Trump employ in lieu of the word "profit" because it's more PR friendly. 

And while Trump might trumpet the possible boons his investment will bring to Doonbeg and the surrounding area, it's worth bearing in mind the adverse effect a similar venture of his in Scotland had. When he purchased the Menie Estate near Aberdeen in 2006 he promised to turn it into the "the world's greatest golf course" though he faced a hostile backlash from environmentalists and locals in nearby Balmedie. 

He carried on with the plans anyway and in 2009, the Trump Organisation requested that Aberdeenshire Council approve his compulsory purchase orders on a number of local homes. The locals understandably protested vigourously and Trump eventually dropped the request and in 2011 brazenly declared his company had never even filed it. In 2012 he protested against the opening of an offshore windfarm to be built in the vicinity of the golf course because they were "ugly". He then, without a hint of irony, claimed that he was against the windfarm not for the good of his investment but "preserve Scotland's beautiful coastline and natural heritage". He later released advertisements equating the construction of the windfarms with terrorism.

Though he only purchased the Doonbeg golf course in February he is already showing his colours. Yesterday, the Irish Examiner published an article showing that the Trump Organisation had advertised a Jobbridge position and was seeking an intern for the resort's store department. Quelle suprise. That lucky intern will earn €10 on top of his/her dole.

But that's ok. Because he's bringing JOBS. These corporate behemoths could shit on our faces and lynch our children though as long as they blurt out, "hnnnnngh JOBS", we'd be satisfied.This sycophancy seems endemic and shows our supposedly democratic society up for what it really is; a sham. They run things. We cannot upset them. The multinational companies and rich guys like Trump are what they call "job creators". We are not allowed to upset them. They pay whatever taxes they like. They can avoid whatever taxes they like. They can contravene as many laws as they want. They can crush as many local business as they like. The end justifies the means and if the end is JOBS then we're all happy, right?

But does it have to be this way? Trump is just one minor example of this ingrained submissiveness. Our quiescence towards multinational companies has become almost entrenched in our national psyche now. It usually manifests itself in questions regarding tax. Ireland has a corporate tax rate of 12.5% that is so low it may as well be wearing apple bottom jeans and boots with the fur (sorry) but many companies don't even pay that. 

A study published earlier this year by Professor Jim Stewart of Trinity College's economics department claimed that US companies based in Ireland paid an effective tax rate of 2.2% in 2011. His work was promoted for a day, disparaged by politicians and financial institutions and quickly forgotten. Which is pretty standard for these kind of stories. The fear is if we prod the companies too much to do something as radical as paying taxes they might up-sticks and leave the country with all those jobs. Then there's the case of Apple which uses Ireland in a complex tax avoidance system which allows it to avoid paying tax all over the world. This tasty little deal helped them pay just $36m tax on $7.11bn profit over four years between 2004 and 2008.

It's understandable that people's main concern is jobs especially in an economy as fragile as today's. But multinational companies' continued violation of rules, regulations and laws seems to put paid to any suggestion that we live in a fair and equitable society. In 2012 a study by the Tax Justice System estimated that the global cost of tax avoidance was $21 trillion. Yes, that trillion is not an error.  We are an accessory to this amoral practice which deprives societies of taxes that could otherwise be used for healthcare, education and social welfare. I understand that it's very difficult to look at the bigger picture in such a way and these are only numbers on pieces of paper so it's quite difficult to relate to or even envisage them but in this age of austerity when vital social services have been slashed by governments across Europe and America it is important to understand what this lost revenue could provide.

Donald Trump, to the best of my knowledge, does not use Ireland as a haven for tax avoidance. Though that is not the point I am making. He is nevertheless a very questionable individual with a track record for bullying local communities and deceit. The reception he received on Monday and the fanfare surrounding his visit are symptomatic of a larger problem; the sycophancy and docile attitude towards any corporation or wealthy individual now matter their compliance with laws or regulation as long as they can offer some vague promises of "jobs" and "investment". If we can make multinational companies and rich capitalists pay their fair share of taxes, respect local communities and act in a responsible manner then we should. If we can't without threats of severe repercussions, then we know we don't really run things. 

No comments:

Post a Comment