Individuals have stashed $8.7 trillion in tax havens, estimates Gabriel Zucman (2017), an economist at the University of California at Berkeley. After adding monies diverted from corporations, economist and lawyer James S. Henry's (2016) more comprehensive estimates yield an astonishing total of up to $36 trillion. Meanwhile, corporations’ refusal to pay their fair share inflicts a collective loss of around $600bn to governments around the world - a third of which is fleeing low-income countries which are starved of financing for essentials such as healthcare and infrastructure. This normalisation of offshore hoarding has risen behind a setting of rocketing inequality, failing public services, surging national debt, and increasingly stringent welfare states. Dutch historian Rutger Bregman’s tax speech at the World Economic Forum came as a much-needed wake up call for an elite business community oblivious to the multitude of crises threatening the security of our people and planet. This is important for us at Positive as we recognise Fair Tax as an integral element of a Regenerative Economy.
First and foremost, it is important to dispel some myths which linger in discussions surrounding taxation:
“Taxation is Theft”
Fortunately this is not considered a serious talking point in most circles. Every one of us experience the benefits of our tax money every day; even more so recently with the incredible sacrifice by essential workers since the beginning of the COVID pandemic. A progressive tax system is essential to a fairer distribution of wealth and opportunity, as well as directing funds to socially beneficial projects such as renewable energy and public healthcare. Admittedly, governments can misuse taxpayers’ money, wasting millions to purchase royal yachts and interrogate people with disabilities over their benefit entitlement. Also, there are issues, such as the housing crisis, which cannot be solved with tax reform alone. However, Regenerative businesses recognise the vital role of a Fair Tax system in achieving social and environmental justice.
“If we make businesses pay more tax we will lose jobs”
During the so-called “Golden Age of Capitalism” (post-WW2 until the end of the Gold Standard in 1971) where the US experienced record-low unemployment rates and formidable economic growth, the top federal income tax never fell below 70%, and peaked at 94%. If taxes truly are the cause of economic ruin, how would this have been possible in one of the most industrialised economies? Today we see rogue multinational corporations extracting resources from low-income countries, committing ecocide, and exploiting weak workers’ rights legislation; all while paying next to nothing in tax. The rewriting of taxation’s role in society arose among a backdrop of worrying developments: the dismantling of unions, stagnation of wages, outsourcing of production, hyper-financialisation, and intense commodification of many aspects of life. If a company can only remain profitable by paying poverty wages, wreaking environmental destruction and avoiding tax, perhaps it is not a viable business model. Regenerative businesses are showing it is possible to thrive within the planetary boundaries, paying their fair share and pursuing a Purpose greater than profit.
“I worked hard for my money, why should I pay more?”
Propublica recently released a shocking series of reports, demonstrating that the average American pays a true tax rate of 14%, meanwhile the 25 richest Americans paid an average true tax rate of 3.4% in the period 2014-2018. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has a net worth of over $200bn and Elon Musk follows close behind at $160bn. Yet, Bezos paid no income tax in 2007 and 2011, while Musk followed suit paying nothing in 2018. When people say “tax the rich”, this is the rich they are referring to. Taxpayers’ money is used to support workers on a poverty-inducing minimum wage (often paid by the very corporations refusing to pay their fair share), keeping afloat a dysfunctional, broken system. This illustrates the need for systems change alongside fair tax pledges. This argument falls apart most when we bring global poverty into the picture: how can we justify the failure of fast fashion retailers to pay fair tax in Bangladesh to support the underpaid factory workers who create their products? Are the workers just not hard-working enough and hence undeserving? The truth of the matter is there are myriad factors which determine your income and wealth, and work ethic is just a minor one. We cannot return to this Victorian-era mantra of “deserving vs undeserving poor”. For this reason, changemaker businesses utilise their successful entrepreneurship to make a positive impact rather than lobby for greater wealth accumulation.
Excessive wealth accumulation has been dependent on growth and, as we know, endless growth on a finite planet is a myth. Hence, recognition that the pie cannot keep growing forever has led to desperate attempts by a few to take more than their fair share; so desperate that the top 1% of households now own 43% of wealth globally. Governments and people are left starved of the resources needed to tackle environmental breakdown; at the mercy of those same 100 corporations which are responsible for 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Monopolisation of global markets by purely profit-motivated corporations coupled with unfettered tax evasion has created a toxic dependency on organisations which no longer resemble anything remotely human. The toughest obstacles to systems change are these very companies upon which the government depends for tax revenues, and the people for jobs. We should not be relying on the charity of the ultra-wealthy for basic human needs; after all, such grand acts of charity are only possible with the staggering levels of inequality we see today and flagrant greed.
Changemaker SMEs do not rely on tax evasion, worker exploitation, and environmental devastation; rather they are directed by their transformational Purpose, relying on all points of the Positive Compass: Planet, People, Partners, Places. They fully support the redistribution of excessive profits to activities and people as part of the wider mission for social and environmental justice.
Becoming Redistributive by Nature
A Regenerative economy should not limit itself to Fair Tax; systems change is intended to render the economy redistributive by nature, diminishing the role of taxation in social & environmental justice. By focusing their efforts on creating Value-for-All, Positive Impact Companies naturally produce both social and environmental benefits which foster stronger and more resilient communities, reducing the need for corrective government expenditure against negative externalities associated with destructive corporations. Furthermore, their commitment to Empowered Participation creates more equal pay scales and elevates worker wellbeing, moving away from an oppressive system which reinforces the poverty trap and subordinates wellbeing to mere survival. Margaret Thatcher’s assertion that “the problem with socialism is you eventually run out of other people’s money” perfectly demonstrates the ideological attack which has dominated talk of tax since; a belief all profits belong to the corporation and its shareholders only, owing nothing to Place, Planet or People. Positive Impact Companies are going beyond Fair Tax, looking to establish an economy which is fair and redistributive by nature, and where tax revenue no longer needs to clean up the mess left behind by the sociopathic, profit-blinded corporations that have pushed our planet to the brink.