How rich: Gates lecturing other people on taxes

Published by The Daily Mail (21st April, 2017)

Scarcely had the starting gun for Britain’s election battle been fired when technology guru Bill Gates waded in with a doom-laden warning to the Prime Minister.

The American multi-billionaire, the world’s richest man, was accused of ‘lecturing’ Britain last night after telling Theresa May not to slash the country’s bloated foreign aid budget – claiming that doing so would diminish Britain’s influence in the world and mean many more lives lost in Africa.

In an article in the Guardian, he wrote: ‘The big aid givers now are the US, Britain and Germany. If those three back off, a lot of the ambitious things going on with malaria, agriculture and reproductive health simply would not get done.’

Gates claimed our aid contributed to ‘uplifting countries’ and ‘creating stability’ — sentiments fiercely disputed by the many experts who argue it does precisely the opposite: corroding democracy, fostering corruption and inflaming conflict.

His carefully calculated intervention came amid renewed hopes that May might use the election as a chance to finally abandon her predecessor David Cameron’s daft commitment to dole out a fixed proportion of our national income in overseas aid.

Downing Street is currently refusing to say whether the Tory party’s manifesto will continue with the pledge to give away 0.7 per cent of national income — which currently amounts to more than £12billion a year.

Gates’s words carry weight. Although once seen as a sharp-elbowed businessman, he is these days revered as a secular saint after pledging to give away much of his staggering £67bn fortune.

Since 1994, he has donated billions through his charitable foundation — arguably the biggest philanthropic venture the world has ever seen.

But I am afraid I don’t share the admiration of Gates. For his insistence that our Government should continue to pump billions into the bloated aid industry reeks of utter hypocrisy.

Yes, he may be giving away sums beyond most people’s dreams. But never forget how he became the world’s richest man — thanks to a firm infamous for its tax-dodging.

Microsoft — like other technology titans such as Apple, Facebook, Google and Uber — grew into a global giant while doing its utmost to avoid paying its fair share of tax.

It used all the loopholes that could be found by the world’s best lawyers and accountants as it shifted profits around the planet. The firm was even used as a case study for a U.S. Senate inquiry into tax avoidance.

Gates claims he pays his share of personal taxes. Fair enough. Yet by shifting earnings around low-taxation countries such as Bermuda, Ireland, Luxembourg, Puerto Rico and Singapore, the firm he founded and ran tenaciously for so long avoided paying an estimated £3billion annually in tax.

One Harvard law professor worked out that Microsoft’s divisions in three small, low-tax nations employed fewer than 2,000 people, but supposedly recorded around £10billion of pre-tax profit in 2011. This is more than the 88,000 other employees in all its other global divisions put together.

Last year, Microsoft was exposed for avoiding up to £100million a year in UK tax by booking billions of pounds of sales in Ireland under a confidential deal with the British tax authorities.

Over five years, more than £8billion of revenues from items bought by Britons were sent to Ireland — where the corporation tax rate is lower than the UK’s, at 12.5 per cent. As a result, Microsoft has avoided the need to pay UK corporation tax on revenues from software sales in Britain — which generate up to £1.7billion a year.

Despite all this, Gates, the man who turned this firm into a global behemoth, has the gall to enter a British election battle to lecture us on ethics.

Such an extraordinary intervention exposes Gates as just another hypocritical do-gooder, like those celebrities who preach the aid gospel yet do their best to avoid paying taxes themselves. And it is not the first time.

Gates has repeatedly lectured British taxpayers on the need to keep pouring our cash into his pet causes — even accusing those who disagree with him of ‘promoting evil’.

In one intervention, Gates agreed to be wheeled out for a deeply cynical stunt cooked up by aid campaigners and their British paymasters at the Department for International Development.

In a bid to shore up support for the huge sums they were frittering away on flawed projects abroad, they decided to exploit Britain’s hosting of the 2012 Olympics to promote aid policies. The aim, leaked documents revealed, was to exploit the prestigious global event to ‘keep the home fires of UK public support [for overseas aid] burning’.

So on the closing day of the Games, medal winners were called in to a ‘hunger summit’ at David Cameron’s Downing Street. And this was followed by a rally in Hyde Park the following year, alongside a second summit, plus more pledges of taxpayers’ cash and pious talk of Britain leading the fight against world poverty.

With the usual inflated statistics thrown around by the aid industry, it was ludicrously claimed the event had saved the lives of 1.7million children.

Gates was the star turn, praising Britain for hitting global aid targets. Ministers, pop stars and charity chiefs queued up to be photographed with their hero. But few of his cheerleaders paused to consider the supreme irony of Gates standing on a stage telling British taxpayers to dole out more of their cash for foreign donations.

It is, of course, praiseworthy that many of the super-rich such as Gates and his fellow Silicon Valley superstars throw their energy and wealth into sorting out the world’s most desperate problems.

But I believe that however much good they are doing, their behaviour is not just arrogant but profoundly undemocratic and undermines the wider collective good.

But then, the digital age has spawned a new wave of self-righteous billionaires who, like Gates, made money with astonishing speed while masquerading as hippy entrepreneurs.

Their fortunes, they claim, are built on a brand of ‘ethical capitalism’ that is a force for good across the world. There is even talk of one of these — Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg — running for U.S. president.

Gates himself has spoken of how he and his generation of technology billionaires have been inspired by past philanthropists — such as the oil giant John D. Rockefeller — credited with building the US in the 19th century.

In one sense he was right. Those industrialists — nicknamed ‘robber barons’ on account of their greed and ruthless exploitation of monopolies — stopped at nothing in pursuit of immense wealth. Then, as they grew old, they sought to polish their tarnished images with good deeds.

Today we see the same process again. And all too often it is accompanied by sanctimonious cant from Silicon Valley as these billionaires claim to be saving the world.

Whatever good they do today, the fact remains that Gates and others built their empires on foundations of grubby tax avoidance. And this impacts hard on those who pay their fair share, and their countries that struggle to fund hospitals, schools, security and social care services.

So please Bill, don’t bother telling us how to spend our taxes.

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