Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Showdown between Global Companies and Governments Goes On

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Showdown between Global Companies and Governments Goes On

Article excerpt

Byline: Rohan Silva

F SCOTT Fitzgerald once said that "the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function". By this measure, the late, great American novelist might well have considered the people in charge of Silicon Valley's tech companies to be blessed with truly first-rate intellects.

After all, Californian tech entrepreneurs are almost universally progressive, championing important issues such as gay rights and environmental protection. But on the other hand, as the recent debate over Google's tax payments (like Facebook and others before them) shows, these same business leaders aren't quite so progressive when it comes to paying taxes, and use complex offshore structures to try to keep their tax bills down.

How can we explain the coexistence of these two seemingly opposing ideas? For starters, let's be clear: most people don't enjoy paying tax, whether they're progressive or not. You only have to look at the list of politicians who call for higher taxes, only to be caught using clever tricks to reduce their own bills.

But when it comes to Silicon Valley companies, there's something else going on beyond the usual reluctance to hand over hard-earned cash. You see, many of these global businesses had to overcome government regulations and obstacles in order to succeed. Uber is an obvious example, with its battle to beat unfair taxi rules in cities such as Berlin and Brussels. The same is true of Airbnb, which fought against laws protecting the hotel industry from competition. It's easy to forget now, but Google was mired in skirmishes about copyright law for much of its early life. …

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