Oh dear. I just mentioned Kindle on twitter, and then someone reminded me that Amazon are a big bad multinational company which doesn’t pay anything like enough tax in the UK. And while I’m at it, I’d better stay out of Starbucks too (apparently on taxation grounds, not because of the taste of their coffee). And Blockbusters has gone under and it’s all iTunes fault.
I love books. I adore books. I will buy books until the presses fall silent. I love bookshops. I love their smell, their atmosphere, being able to touch, pick up, read a few lines, make a decision. If I go to a bookshop, I will buy a book. Often something a bit random, something I’ve not seen, a book that has leapt out at me. Let’s be honest, if I go to a bookshop, I will probably buy several books. It’s the kind of consumer I am. If I want a particular book, I want it quite quickly, and I want it at a reasonable price, I go to Amazon. If I don’t intend to share it (and I am a fan of sharing books, of passing them on, lending them etc) and I don’t need to reference it, I’ll buy it on Kindle. Yes, that means it might disappear again. It happened to me on Palm years ago, so Kindle is for stuff I don’t mind losing if they change their terms and conditions. Kindle is for cheap or free stuff, or for magazines. I know the risks.
I am one of the millions of reasons why Amazon is a success, and why Blockbuster went under. It’s my shopping habits which shape behaviour, to an extent. But I don’t chose to shop in Jersey, that is an Amazon decision. They base themselves there so that they can maximise profit, minimise costs, and serve their customers. They make enough money to employ people to work out the most tax advantageous position for them. I am in no position to to complain about this. Since being ordained, becoming “not an employee” even though I look like an employee, getting a house, and becoming subject to the taxation rules as applied to clergy, I employ a tax advisor. I am, if you like, a mini Amazon. I am asking someone who knows all the rules to make sure that I completely abide by them, and at the same time to make sure I am not paying too much tax. Believe me the rules are complicated. I used to do my own tax return. I don’t have the confidence now. I live in a world where every mile must be recorded, every cup of coffee accounted for, every parking ticket (of the kind I buy, not the imposed sort) must be kept, a note made of what products I have bought for cleaning (and the proportion used on cleaning public parts of my house). Yes, I employ someone to make sense of the records I keep.
You might say that frankly, the amount of tax I pay pales into insignificance next to Amazon. This is true. But corporations are driven by humans, by human values and by human actions. Amazon does what it does because I do what I do. And where’s God in this? Matthew 22:15-22 is the story of Jesus and the Pharisees who came asking him whether it was right to pay imperial taxes to Caesar. The only question here seems to be what exactly is being rendered to which Caesar. And what is being rendered to God. So why do I feel as though someone is asking me a different question? Why does it feel more as though this is about the huge plank of wood in my eye?