Belfast Telegraph

Friday 1 August 2014

I don’t usually get stirred up, but tax scheme has me frothing

Never took to Starbucks. When friends force me to go, I just have water. It’s the Scotsman in me. Thrawn, d’you see? Suspicious of artifice.

I like my coffee fairly plain and recall, once only, asking for something I didn’t quite understand myself.

Imagine my discomfiture when it arrived with a dollop of cream the size of Wales floating on the top.

I wasn’t sure if I was meant to drink it, eat it or shave with it. Still, I know the young persons like this sort of thing, and a friend of my age enjoys sitting in the Bucks, as I understand no one calls it, communing with his iPad.

Starbucks is always busy and has generated sales of £3bn in the 14 years since it arrived in Great England. Hmm, big Bucks. As you would expect then, it pays almost no tax.

It does this by officially recording losses of tens of millions of pounds year after year. I see. It’s kind of a caffeine-based charity, then?

The western world, or certainly this peculiar part of it, is divided into two: those who make humungous amounts of cash and pay little or no tax; and those who earn relatively small amounts of money and hand over much of it in tax.

When you think about it — and I don’t recommend that you do — things haven’t changed much since feudal times. The peasantry still skulk about in hoods.

Starbucks isn’t the only one hoarding its groats.

Another American corporation, Amazon, paid no UK corporation tax last year, despite making £3bn from books, CDs and DVDs.

It routes its UK sales through Luxembourg. All perfectly legal. Most legal effort these days is targeted at reducing benefits paid to the poor.

Sometimes, you look at the financial affairs of a country like this, and the only rational response is to find a wall and bang your head off it rhythmically for half an hour.

That’s if you can find a bit of wall that isn’t already taken.

The sense of loonosity is compounded when you read that top yodeller Rihanna has been offered £5m quid to switch on Christmas lights in Londonshire.

You say: “Switching on lights? That’ll take ten minutes. Surely £2.8m is the going rate for that sort of thing?”

Yes, but you have to factor in her bus journey to the locus, and the fact that she’ll probably need a Christmassy frock.

I hear also about a hip hop rapper and record label mogul buying a $14.5m mansion in yonder Miami. Birdman’s new pad has 17 bathrooms. I’d have to take a second job just to afford the bog rolls.

The domicile has been criticised for its tackiness, which is quite an unusual allegation for a rap artiste to face.

I don’t want to sound controversial, but this is all wrong.

A right-wing nutter might say: “That’s just the politics of envy.”

But it isn’t. I’m really quite happy with just the 15 bathrooms.

It’s just that everything’s so out of kilter. Inequality — once deemed ignoble — is now so acceptably gross it numbs the brainlobes.

In the future, when things have become sane — say, in 42 million years — they’ll look back at this period and find it financially bizarre.

I mean, have you seen the price of a caramel macchiato at Starbucks?

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