“Amazon, in contrast, has never ruled out evil as part of its business plan, aspiring only to “Work hard. Have fun. Make history.” It sounds like anApprentice contestant’s Twitter profile. Last week it emerged that, despite £4.2bn of UK sales, the company paid only £2.4m in corporation tax in 2012. In the same year it received £2.5m in government grants. Which makes it a net benefits scrounger. And, in terms of sheer rapacious acquisitive nerve, I’d say that has made a little bit of history.
Is there any point in my being angry about this? Everyone else already is. It feels like the interesting thing would be to come out in favour of it. After all, as the company’s spokesman proudly announced: “Amazon pays all applicable taxes in every jurisdiction that it operates within.” So maybe it’s fine. Better than that, maybe it’s crazy and interesting. It’s a challenging artwork, but instead of oil paint or wood or clay or the excrement of the artist, it’s constructed out of pure injustice. A huge, malevolent sculpture of unfairness, ground-breaking and thought-provoking, reminding us of the iniquities of the natural world – a corporate metaphor for the worms that will one day eat all of our corpses.
Like any really important work of art, it’s bound to upset a few people. Just as Banksy causes collateral damage to the neatness of walls, so Amazon’s masterpiece is a defacement of the public purse. But it’s not just some hooligan’s tag, like Google’s artless Irish scam. This shows an impish wit and a dark insight. What elevates Amazon’s activity is the fact that it applied for government grants. The elegance of that corporate choice is like the ambiguity of the Mona Lisa’s smile, the ruthlessness of Mike Tyson’s punch and the adaptability of the malaria virus combined. There is no point in criticising anyone or anything that can do that. They can only be admired or destroyed.”
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