Jim Duffy: How Tech Gods have taken over a low-tax Mount Olympus

While mere mortals struggle to make end meet, giant companies seem to pay very little tax, writes Jim Duffy
The gods of Olympus did what they wanted (Picture: Getty)The gods of Olympus did what they wanted (Picture: Getty)
The gods of Olympus did what they wanted (Picture: Getty)

The ancient Greeks and Romans were masters when it came to creating and venerating gods. Of course there had to be a God of the Sky. And he had to be male. Yes, big Zeus could be found brooding in his throne room in Mount Olympus. Zeus had an eye for beautiful women it is said – most male gods do.

Then as the sea was a major form of transport, there had to be a God of the Sea. Poseidon was also known to be moody. When in good form he would create lively tides and sunsets. But, when cheesed off, he could sink entire fleets of ships. When it came to the softer slide of life in the world of the gods, Aphrodite popped up. As the goddess of love, she was beautiful and able to use her unmistakeable charms to get what she wanted. In fact, it appears the whole narrative of Greek and Roman gods was based on people [and them] getting what they wanted and getting away with it. It’s a bit like their modern-day equivalents – the Tech Gods.

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Call me an old curmudgeon if your want, but Westminster and Holyrood budget-setting seems to be all about the poor people – the mortals – like you and me, while ignoring the gods.

It seems that you and me are constantly being exposed to the vagaries of taxation and human politics, while gods like Apple act with impunity, soaring high above the rest of us, somehow untouchable in the clouds.

It’s apt that so much takes place on the virtual cloud these days, as that is where these Tech Gods are situated, metaphorically speaking of course. Yes, while us proles get pigeonholed and buttonholed into tax brackets, these gods do what they want with their huge piles of cash.

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Let me give you an example that will make you angry with the gods, but also show you how powerless and human you really when dealing with them.

The great Tech God Apple, for example, has an offshore cash pile of $254 billion.

To put that into perspective, that’s more money then the foreign currency reserves of the USA or the UK. This cash pile is a ridiculously large amount of money owned by this Tech God. It represents the huge quantum of money that the world’s most valuable company has trousered and siphoned out of the global financial system for the benefit of its shareholders.

Surely, only a god could do this and get away with it? And maybe that is why John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor, is not saying where he would get the money to pay for his budget. Maybe this mere mortal is going to mock the gods and see what he can get by changing the rules. But, there’s more and as mere mortals [and taxpayers] we should be taking note.

The Tech God called Apple, who is worshipped universally around the world, paid a measly £13 million in UK taxes in 2015 despite enjoying global profits of £35bn.

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This is indeed a godly performance, but it’s one that we back on Earth should feel a little aggrieved about.If we decided to have a go at the gods, this £13m figure could be significantly increased and appear a lot fairer and palatable.

It’s easy to have a go at Gary Barlow and some actors in Mrs Brown’s Boys, who were named in the Paradise Papers, but not so easy to go up against the Tech Gods.

Of that £35bn in profits, it is estimated that about 10 per cent was generated within the UK.

So, if we mere mortals, or the politicians who tax us, should fancy having a go, we should be entitled to a hefty slice of the £3.5bn of these profits. With corporation tax at 20%, the Tech God Apple would have to pay £700m for that tax year alone. This is a massive 50 times what it actually paid. You now see why the ancient Greeks would classify them as gods.

Apple is not alone in its godliness. It is estimated that $500bn is withheld from the public purse annually by multinational companies.

The gods indeed must be wringing their hands with glee and scoffing at us miserable humans below. And while the Greek gods reigned as selfish, self-serving monarchs, so too it seems do their modern equivalents.

As new iPhones come to the market priced at £1,000 and people get hooked onto Facebook, Instagram and Amazon via Google and a whole myriad of algorithms, then we are all financing the Tech Gods, who care not a jot for us. If they did, they would pay their taxes.

And this leads nicely to a wider discussion of what exactly is going on in Government Ministers’ heads and who is advising them.

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Who is lobbying governments, paying for big expensive PR firms, wining and dining Treasury ministers and finance ministers, both at Westminster and Holyrood? I bet it would make for interesting reading.

One thing is for sure, while we mortals run around dealing with laws and taxes and policies thrust upon us, there is another level of communication that we are simply not privy to.

It goes on at a level we cannot comprehend as mere mortals. In fact, if the gods knew we were even suspicious as to its existence, they would make sure it was shredded from our minds. Yes, a new threat, a new war, a new outbreak of violence in the Middle East will take our minds off what is really going on at the Tech Gods’ casino.

So, as finish this piece on my Apple iPad Pro, I thank the Tech God Apple for its offering, but pray that it will give us a little bit more.

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