U2’s Bono has made a name for himself as an anti-poverty activist, traveling the world to get Western governments to reduce barriers to trade with poverty-stricken African nations and demanding large outlays of aid to these same nations. He has argued that the wealthiest nations have shared little of their largesse with those in need. Bono has actively worked with political players of all ideologies to get a bigger financial commitment to end world hunger.
It’s somewhat ironic, as Timothy Noah points out in Slate, that Bono and his bandmates have decided to relocate their publishing business to avoid paying taxes:
A familiar paradox about leftist celebrities in the entertainment industry is that their embrace of progressivism almost never includes a wholehearted embrace of progressive taxation, i.e., the principle that the richer you get, the larger the percentage of your income you ought to pay in taxes. The latest example is U2’s Bono, a committed and unusually sophisticated anti-poverty crusader who is taking surprisingly little heat for the decision by his band, U2, to relocate its music-publishing business from Ireland to the Netherlands in order to shelter its songwriting royalties from taxation. …
“Preventing the poorest of the poor from selling their products while we sing the virtues of the free market … that’s a justice issue,” Bono said at a prayer breakfast attended by President Bush, Jordan’s King Abdullah, and various members of Congress earlier this year. Preaching this sort of thing has made Bono a perennial candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize. He continued:
Holding children to ransom for the debts of their grandparents … that’s a justice issue. Withholding life-saving medicines out of deference to the Office of Patents … that’s a justice issue.
And relocating your business offshore in order to avoid paying taxes to the Republic of Ireland, where poverty is higher than in almost any other developed nation? Bono’s hypocrisy seems even more naked when you consider that Ireland is a tax haven for artists.
Well, it used to be a tax haven. Perhaps tired of having the highest poverty rate in the developed world, Ireland put a cap on tax-free income for artists at a reasonable level of $319,000. Within months, U2 had relocated to the Netherlands, which has a more favorable tax climate.
Conservatives at this point might say, “So what?” After all, we insist that lower taxes creates wealth by keeping the money in the hands of people who can create jobs and invest in new businesses. Creating new taxes, as Ireland did, will probably kill investments and lead to greater poverty, not less. All of this is true. However, Bono has made it his mission to get governments to spend the same tax dollars on aid that his band now wants to avoid paying — more than just a minor bit of hypocrisy.
We’re all for lower taxes, and we applaud people who find ways to legally structure their finances in order to minimize their tax burden. However, when these same people then transform into scolds of Western civilization for selfishness and demand that government confiscates more money in order to transfer wealth to corrupt and dictatorial states abroad, their credibility rightly suffers.