In all fairness…

hot air balloonThere is an old, two-step joke that many know.

A man is flying a hot air balloon but gets caught in gale winds and loses his bearings; when the wind subsides, he spots some guy riding a bike, so he decides to ask for directions:

“Where am I?”

to which the guy on the bike answers:

“You are in a hot air balloon, about fifty meters from the ground”

The traveler then retorts:

“You must be in Public Relations”

“I sure am, how did you know?”

“Your answer was 100% factually correct, but answered 0% of my question”

As a professional who spent 20 years advising companies on how to handle Public Relations, I know well what would be the standard answer every time a reporter asks a question about taxes:

Our Company pays all the taxes due in every Country we operate

See the trick? 100% factually correct, but 0% information, because the real question is not whether you pay all the taxes that are legally due, but all the taxes that are due in fairness.

In the paper this morning there is a rather large article announcing that the Italian Government will start a new levy on payments to big online companies such as Amazon, Facebook or Google. 25% of all sums being transferred by the banking system to any such company will be withheld at source as an advance payment against taxes due.

2015 04 25 tassa per online giantsOf course, the trick will be in how the Government is able to define the perimeter of the economic activity of any such company who will employ armies of tax consultants and lobbyists to exploit (or create) loopholes in which to stash the billions it makes.

If I was advising any of the above companies (which I am not) would I have the nerve of suggesting an alternate response?

Our Company will pay all the taxes that are due in fairness, shunning opportunities for legal avoidance.

I said the joke was a two-step, because there is a second finale:

The guy on the bike then says:

“And YOU must be a top manager!”

“Yes, how did you guess?”

“You got yourself in trouble and now it’s MY fault!”

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