A bit taxing

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?


7 responses to “A bit taxing

  1. Great piece Claire – a challenge for us all … Kindle’s particularly great when travelling – especially on hand luggage only 🙂

  2. Thanks. This is great. My view is that rather than complaining about the corporations or individuals that don’t in ‘our’ or society’s view pay enough tax or use loopholes (or whatever you want to call them) to reduce their tax liability (and as a result maximise profit) we should be lobbying the government to do something about it. To close the loopholes, change the law or whatever needs to be done. Only they can do that with a change in the law. As long as the law says companies can do xyz to reduce their tax burden, they will.

  3. Sorry if I stirred a hornets’ nest. My Kindle thing is mostly about not being able to own the content I buy, but that is an excusable Librarian Rant. I understand what you mean about the tax thing. I try to spend my money deliberately, when I can. So I will walk to Sainsbury’s in town not next door Asda, because I don’t want to support Walmart & Workfare. But I am also hypocritical, and I also know how incredibly hard it is to keep track of who owns who on the high street. For me it’s part of a wider feeling of stewardship of resources that I have no space here to expand upon but feel we don’t address enough – same kind of thinking as Christian Aid’s tax justice bus.

  4. I also struggle with this – it’s sooo difficult to know where any of our stuff comes from, and in supermarkets even produce labelled as locally grown is often shipped way away to a distribution center and then back again! I have to confess I often give up altogether – although we only buy fair trade coffee, bananas, sugar, tea etc. and i don’t have a Kindle – wedded to paper!

  5. This issue of people jumping down other peoples throats really annoys me. For a start Amazon are only doing what they are allowed to do, as far as I am aware they have broken no laws. Blockbusters, woolworths gone to the wall because their management had their heads in the sand, companies have to adapt to survive. They did neither end of.
    I’ll stop there as I’m in serious danger of going into full blown rant.
    Is it time for my medication now nurse?

    • You rant away, that’s what the internet is for! Yes, there is something about following rules here (although Jesus was pretty scathing of those who followed the law exactly but didn’t care for their fellow humans). The thing is to get the rules right (what is ‘right’? Discuss!)

      • Ok it’s the middle of the night, this has been on my mind since you posted it….lol
        What is right?
        Who really knows?
        I’m too cynical sometimes I know…..
        Let’s start with “fairtrade” coffee. Does buying it actually help or are we being conned into buying it (now heres a can of worms) like organic food?
        Grown organically is it? Never been treated with pesticides or grown in ground that has been treated with the same?
        Not been genetically modified? Yeah riiiight!
        Of course there’s nothing wrong with genetically modified food is there? Nothing at all wrong with modifing rapeseed (which is poisonous) and makeing it safe to put in our food? Aren’t we wonderful?
        Because nobody puts nasty stuff in our food. Do they???
        Are we living longer because of better food? It’s probably all those preservatives lmao.
        Dare I even mention livestock?
        Nah!! Sleepy time. Sweet dreams.
        Processed food anyone? Snigger

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