Apparently The New York Times has decided to run with the Tellarite1 inspired strategy of increasing traffic to articles about general corporate behavior by focusing on Apple. Thus we have How Apple Sidesteps Billions in Taxes; a startling exposé on how Apple—and Apple alone—uses armies of ninja accountants and shadowy off-shore lairs to evade the taxes it rightfully owes to state and municipal governments.
Oh wait, the voices in my head are telling me that this article is actually just a report on the practices that pretty much every large corporation uses to “evade” taxation. Of course there’s no sizzle in a headline like “The U.S. Corporate Tax Code is Bollocks” So The Times needed to go in [another direction][geekculture].
But it’s really not The Times’ malfeasance that has me annoyed. What annoys me the most is one particular response to those who would point out that what Apple is doing is a) common and b) perfectly legal. It’s one of the same responses that was trotted out when (sane) people pointed out that pretty much all consumer electronics products are produced in China; mostly under conditions that make Apple’s Foxconn factories seem like a dream. The response goes something like this:
But is Apple not special‽ Should we not hold them to a higher standard than all others‽ Do they not have a greater responsibility to sacrifice on behalf of my middle-class entitled guilt‽
While there was some room for debate on those questions in regards to The Passion of Mike Daisey, there is little room to debate here. No, Apple is not under some moral obligation to avoid legal means of reducing their taxation rates. In fact, as a publicly held corporation Apple has a legal responsibility to maximize shareholder return. A duty that includes tactics such as reducing taxation expenses.
Before I continue let’s get something completely clear. I am no pro corporate, anti-taxation advocate. I am a huge fan of taxes. I think they are the entry-fee for living in a civilized society and, if anything, I’d prefer to see Apple — and the rest of corporate America taxed at rates that would probably cause Apple CFO Peter Oppenheimer to piss blood.
Nonetheless I cannot find fault with Apple for doing all that it can within the existing legal framework to pay as little as possible in taxes; any more than I would find fault with a factory worker for taking advantage of every possible tax exemption and deduction on their personal income tax. It is not the individual’s responsibility — whether they be corporation or pipe-fitter — to make up for the deficiencies in local, state and Federal tax codes.
This is where I find fault with the common responses to articles like this one. In their sad attempt to gin up page–views by inciting the Apple haters and loyalists they ignore the actual problem. In this case, I’m sure we’ll see at least one call for a boycott of Apple products and a pointless Change.org petition calling for Apple to mend its evil ways. What I’m certain we won’t see is a rational discussion of corporate tax policy.
I’ll conclude with this: If you read The New York Times article and found yourself outraged at Apple, take a step back and realize that being angry at Apple does nothing here. Instead focus that anger toward electing representatives — at all levels of government — who are not beholden to corporate interests. That’s where the real change will come from.
*Note: I don’t intend for this to become a general debate about tax policy — corporate or otherwise. Comments that insist on doing so will be treated…harshly.*
This is a reference to ZDNet’s David Gewirtz, who is famous for this tactic. Pageviews will not be granted. [geekculture]: http://www.geekculture.com/joyoftech/joyarchives/1684.html ↩