Johann Hari’s article in The Nation on How to Build a Progressive Tea Party is one of the more exciting and inspiring pieces of news I’ve read recently. Hari recounts how a group of Twitter-linked citizens outraged by David Cameron’s £7 billion cuts to social programs when a single company, cellphone giant Vodafone, was allowed to get away without paying £6 billion in British taxes, organized to shut down Vodafone stores across the country.
All the cuts in housing subsidies, driving all those people out of their homes [200,000 in London alone, apparently], are part of a package of cuts to the poor, adding up to £7 billion. Yet the magazine Private Eye reported that one company alone—Vodafone, one of Britain’s leading cellphone firms—owed an outstanding bill of £6 billion to the British taxpayers. According to Private Eye, Vodaphone had been refusing to pay for years, claiming that a crucial part of its business ran through a post office box in ultra-low-tax Luxembourg. The last Labour government, for all its many flaws, had insisted it pay up. But when the Conservatives came to power, David Hartnett, head of the British equivalent of the Internal Revenue Service, apologized to rich people for being “too black and white about the law.” Soon after, Vodafone’s bill was reported to be largely canceled, with just over £1 billion paid in the end.
Add to that billions of pounds in other tax loopholes allowing people and corporations to get off without contributing to the society that makes their business possible.
The movement, called UK Uncut, spread, forcing Cameron’s Conservative Party and their Liberal Democrat allies to take some action against tax evaders, and even getting sympathetic attention in the country’s right wing press — except for Rupert Murdoch’s News International.
That exception is very, very intriguing… Apparently, News International, which owns Fox News, hardly pays taxes in the U.K. or in the U.S. — which sounds like a Golden Opportunity to me… Back to that in a minute.
Here’s how Hari responds to the argument that people like Sir Philip Green — the UK’s ninth wealthiest citizen who runs some of the leading High Street chain stores, advises Cameron, and pays NO TAXES because he claims his income is earned by his wife who lives in the tax haven of Monaco — should not pay taxes because they “earn their money all on their own”:
Let’s take one branch of Topshop, and for twelve months we’ll deny any services funded by collective taxation to that store. When the rubbish piles up, we won’t send garbage men to collect it. When the rat outbreak begins, we won’t send pest control. When they catch a shoplifter, we won’t send the police. When there’s a fire, we won’t send the fire brigade. When suppliers want to get their goods to the store, there may be a problem: we won’t maintain the roads. When the employees get sick, we won’t treat them in the publicly funded hospitals. Then let Philip Green come back and tell us he does it all himself.
Could this Tea Party-like but real populist form of activism be transferred to the United States? Hari notes that 83 of the 100 largest US corporations hide fortunes in tax havens. Sixty-one percent of Americans polled — far more than would back any alternative options — support increasing taxes on the rich as a way to cut the deficit. (That’s not the message you get from the mass media, is it?)
The main tax evaders in the US, according to Hari, are pharmaceutical and financial companies, who don’t have storefronts that could be boycotted. But other brands — Apple, Bank of America, Best Buy, ExxonMobil, FedEx, Kraft, McDonald’s, Safeway, and Target — do.
And could we not shut down Fox News around this country? I’m not sure how, though I think we could be creative (starting by letting MSNBC’s stalwart Fox-pickers pick up on this story, if their bosses at GE let them). I’m not even sure how to measure whether Fox, or Murdoch individually, pay their U.S. taxes or not. Any ideas or information about that are welcome.
The point is that the conservative strategy of attacking unions and dismantling the public sector while letting billionnaires rake in ever greater profits (see Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida, et al.) is not the way to address the deficit. If politicians — like Obama, who said he would clamp down on tax evaders — won’t do their job because they rely on those tax evaders to fund their campaigns, then citizens should do it for them.