Get Rid of Tyranny


I was stood outside Starbucks last week as part of nationwide actions by UK Uncut to protest their avoidance of three years worth of UK corporation tax. According to a recent Reuters special report:

“The Seattle-based group, with a market capitalization of $40 billion, is the second-largest restaurant or cafe chain globally after McDonald’s. Accounts filed by its UK subsidiary show that since it opened in the UK in 1998 the company has racked up over 3 billion pounds ($4.8 billion) in coffee sales, and opened 735 outlets but paid only 8.6 million pounds in income taxes, largely due because the taxman disallowed some deductions.

Over the past three years, Starbucks has reported no profit, and paid no income tax, on sales of 1.2 billion pounds in the UK. McDonald’s, by comparison, had a tax bill of over 80 million pounds on 3.6 billion pounds of UK sales. Kentucky Fried Chicken, part of Yum Brands Inc., the no. 3 global restaurant or cafe chain by market capitalization, incurred taxes of 36 million pounds on 1.1 billion pounds in UK sales, according to the accounts of their UK units.”

It makes both moral and economic sense for a corporation to pay a rate of tax at the very least least equal to the average its citizens pay and probably somewhat more. As protestor Zara Martin put it (responding to Starbucks’ attempt to save face by recently paying £20m – a fraction of the corporation tax it would expect to pay without exploiting various legal loopholes) :  “I think the £20m over two years is a bit rubbish. It’s like, wow thanks Starbucks, but actually why don’t you just pay your full tax like everyone else has to?”. None other than Adam Smith presumably would have agreed, writing in Wealth of Nations (book 5, chapter 2) that:

“The subjects of every state ought to contribute towards the support of the government, as nearly as possible, in proportion to their respective abilities.

and furthermore that:

“It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion.”

But I think we can and should go a lot further than this. I understand people’s anger of late being directed towards “greedy banks” and “greedy corporations”. But they are sort of missing the point by stating their grievances in those terms. Nobody, in my view, has voiced this more eloquently that Noam Chomsky at the end of his lecture on “Free Market Fantasies”. My motivation for writing this brief post was principally to include the quotation below, to try and reintroduce into public debates some ideas which were once understood clearly, but have since been eroded by decades of pro-corporate propaganda. So without further ado, here is the quotation from Prof. Chomsky in full – please think carefully about what he is saying.

“Talk about corporate greed and everything is really crucially beside the point, in my view, and really should be recognised as a very big regression from what working people, and a lot of others, understood very well a century ago.

Talk about corporate greed is nonsense. Corporations are greedy by their nature. They’re nothing else – they are instruments for interfering with markets to maximise profit, and wealth and market control. You can’t make them more or less greedy; I mean maybe you can sort of force them, but it’s like taking a totalitarian state and saying “Be less brutal!” Well yeah, maybe you can get a totalitarian state to be less brutal, but that’s not the point – the point is not to get a tyranny to be less brutal, but to get rid of it.

Now 150 years ago, that was understood. If you read the labour press – there was a very lively labour press, right around here [Massachusetts] ; Lowell and Lawrence and places like that, around the mid nineteenth century, run by artisans and what they called factory girls; young women from the farms who were working there – they weren’t asking the autocracy to be less brutal, they were saying get rid of it.

And in fact that makes perfect sense; these are human institutions, there’s nothing graven in stone about them. They [corporations] were created early in this century with their present powers, they come from the same intellectual roots as the other modern forms of totalitarianism – namely Stalinism and Fascism – and they have no more legitimacy than they do.

I mean yeah, let’s try and make the autocracy less brutal if that’s the short term possibility – but we should have the sophistication of, say, factory girls in Lowell 150 years ago and recognise that this is just degrading and intolerable and that, as they put it “those who work in the mills should own them ” And on to everything else, and that’s democracy – if you don’t have that, you don’t have democracy.”


~ by freedomthistime on December 15, 2012.

2 Responses to “Get Rid of Tyranny”

  1. Interesting quote from Chomsky re: corporate greed.

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