Thursday, 21 June 2007

Defining a Role for the Perplexed Rich

I have been following with interest the debate sparked off in the pages of the Irish Independent newspaper by Kevin Myers' exposé of the apparent hypocrisy of Bono lecturing to governments about their overseas aid commitments, while his band chooses tax exile in the Netherlands. (Abject hacks catch the Bono gibbers by Kevin Myers. See also Myers right about Bono's hypocrisy, or for a different opinion Let Geldof and Bono preach.)

For my own part I don't think there is anything necessarily hypocritical in Bono and U2's stance. It all depends on where the money finally ends up. As Kevin Myers rightly points out 'it's a commercial decision'.

Taxation all too often resembles a black hole. The taxpayer has no real say in where the money ends up, unless you count votes given at elections. But this is hardly an effective mechanism. Philanthropy (defining the role of the perplexed rich) on the other hand can be seen as a form of voluntary taxation with the advantage to the benefactor that he or she can steer the wealth in a direction of his or her choosing.

After all, once you've made provision for the basic necessities (food, clothing and shelter), indulged all your whims, secured the health and prosperity of your children (and your children's children and your children's children's children) what else are you going to do with all your money? Bono and U2 represent a small but privileged strata who are can make a difference on a significant scale. They also represent a privileged section of society who can legally evade paying tax. And that's just great if they are willing to use their power and influence to do good.

Why don't Bono and U2 make a public declaration that henceforth they will make an annual donation to the overseas development fund run by the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs, representing a sum equivalent to what they would have paid in taxes to the Irish treasury had they not chosen tax exile? They could even make the donation conditional on matching funding from the Irish government, or better still, the next time Bono attends a G8 summit he could make such a proposal to the governments of the world.

By funny coincidence just the other day I picked up a U2 CD (The Unforgettable Fire) from my local Xtra Vision's bargain bin. To kick-start what I hope will be a new philanthropic venture for Bono and U2 I have personally written to them (taking care to include a copy of my receipt less they might think I'm some sort of crank) requesting that that portion of the royalty which they will now receive from this sale, instead of having to hand over to the Irish Revenue Commissioners, will be donated to an overseas aid agency or their choice, or some other such worthy cause.

I am publishing this letter in the hope that U2 fans will follow my lead and exert pressure for change at the top.

17th June, 2007

A version of this post was published as a 'Letter to the Editor' in Irish Independent of 19th June, 2007.

Copyright © Oscar Ó Dúgáin, 2007

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