Apple & The Paradise Papers: The real story (Part II)

The missing moral outrage, Occam’s Razor, and informing public opinion

Sean
We can only speculate as to the answer. At best, maybe we can make educated guesses colored by election polls and sentiment surveys…

Perhaps “Americans are not more outraged by this kind of practice” because this is capitalism. Apple is a winner — Apple is winning — and Apple’s doing it legally. That’s the point of the game.

More specifically, in the middle-America red-states you referenced, low-income voters in aggregate don’t seem to want social or economic uplift derived from government handouts. Nor do they seem to feel under-served by government resources like new roads. They do appear to want to lift themselves up from their own bootstraps; but, right or wrong, they appear to feel obstructed from doing so by the system. Again, right or wrong, they see policies like immigration and globalization as having inorganically “chosen winners” at their expense. In other words, to borrow an analogy from J.D. Vance, ‘we’re here waiting patiently in line for ours, but you let those people cut us.’

Of course, those are broad strokes. They’re not my personal opinions or politics, but that’s as good of a characterization as we have.

So, maybe people aren’t as outraged as you’d expect because they don’t want the winners — who earned their winnings by cleverly following the rules of the game — to lose due to exogenous intervention.

In addition, you say:

“But I think overall you’re obfuscating the main argument, which is a moral one, and therefore needs to be grounded in people, real people, and the sorts of people Apple is ironically courting. It is exactly the sort of legalese-like, wonkish reply you’ve supplied here, that moves this argument away from the public sphere and into that of policymakers, economists and business leaders.”

Pesky laws, annoying details… I hate when the truth is so complicated. 😉 But seriously, I gave you both the wonkish reality and the moral empathy. There’s no obfuscating the moral argument — about which I was explicit:

“Yes, the American public purse (and Americans by extension) is a victim. But, crucially, no, Apple is not the villain… Apple’s legally obligated to offshore this money to maximize returns for its shareholders… unless customers vote with their feet to change the opportunity costs of forgoing patriotism’s goodwill… There are so many constructive directions you can take the story from there. For example, there’s the inequality/wealth gap angle… the misincentives of corporatocracy/fiduciary obligation angle… the public disservice angle… You could stick to the facts and make this the agent of change it is — exposing the system’s structural weaknesses. But, I fear that applying it the way you have — which can be misconstrued as tortured rationalizations and false narratives — could have the opposite effect.”

It’s a bit of a straw man to divert the discussion away from my stated objective. I’m not the one who wrote a story about this issue; I’m the one who commented on potential mistakes and misrepresentations in the story. I think your story has inaccuracies and/or content susceptible to misinterpretation. We’re discussing the validity of those risks, and it’s a cheap diversion to make a meta argument about whether or not the concerns I voiced gave heed to the all-conquering “moral” trump card — which they coincidentally did.

Accordingly, my reply isn’t a diversion from anything — it’s a plea that you shore-up your feature to make it a more perfect source for informing public opinion. Accordingly, my copyedit has no obligation to provide balance or holism — although I did, amply, as excerpted above.

Finally, I don’t get the disdain for “legalese-like, wonkish [arguments] of policymakers, economists and business leaders.” Are we not trying to understand problems, why they exist, what their consequences are, and how to fix them? In commenting on your story, I’m trying to stem the opposite: misplaced or ideological kicking-and-screaming just for the sake of it.

You probably would not approve of Apple violating a legal, fiduciary obligation on the grounds of “morality.” That’s amoral in and of itself. I’m also sure that you would want Apple to speak-out about these moral misincentives in the global tax code. It sounds like you’re highlighting a dualism there, a paradox. Well, that’s the story you should have written — and that’s one of the directions my comment suggested you take it. But that’s not the story you have written. You could still make this an accurate representation of the problem, why it exists, what its consequences are, and how to fix them… or leave it as idle, misinformed, kicking-and-screaming. It’s not fair for me to give you a false choice like that, but that’s how it looks to me, in my honest opinion.

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