I used to own an Alsatian dog. He was very partial to a dog biscuit called Bonios. When I first heard that Paul Hewson was known as “Bono” I was unable to dissociate him from the dog biscuit. He used to hang around Grafton Street in Dublin with the other members of U2. Personally, I considered them fairly mediocre.
However, since then they have become a global brand. Hewson is reckoned to have a net worth of about $700 million. In January he appeared at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and made a number of statements about capitalism that were widely quoted in the capitalist media.
Hewson is a bit like the dog. The dog would perform to get a Bonio; Hewson does the same—otherwise he would not appear at Davos.
Davos is an invitation-only event. It comprises the CEOs of the top 1,000 companies in the world, together with politicians, academics, and others. In order to be invited you would have to ingratiate yourself with the capitalist class.
Hewson made a number of statements, such as that capitalism is not “immoral,” it is “amoral.” This profundity is about as meaningful as saying the transmission system in a car is amoral. Capitalism is a mode of production, not a religious code. Just as the car needs a driver to start it, so capitalism needs human beings. On the one hand you have individuals or groups of capitalists who band together in order to use their capital to make a profit. In the early days of the capitalist mode of production they would have set up a manufacturing business and produced something to be sold for a profit. In order to sell for a profit you have to look at costs. One of those costs is labour.
Say the business is the manufacture of nails; then at each stage from the raw material of the iron or steel, machinery, infrastructure, all stages will have labour costs. These labour costs give value and are the source of the profit. The lower the labour costs the greater the profit. So, when the workers organise, form unions, and seek better wages and conditions, this will affect the amount of profit. It is the capitalist who is immoral, seeking to keep wages and terms of employment to a minimum.
If Hewson ever looks around he will see child labour, precarious working conditions and slave wages anywhere that the capitalist mode of production exists.
I am no fan of their music, but they are reckoned to make €5 million from each performance. When the Government introduced a cap on artistic earnings of €250,000, U2 moved their business to the Netherlands. To put it another way: instead of having their business pay its due taxes here they moved it elsewhere, to maximise profits. All perfectly legal, but hardly “amoral.”
Another statement from Hewson is that capitalism has “taken more people out of poverty than any other ism.” How he came to this conclusion boggles the mind. It might sound good to the people at Davos, but for everyone else it is bonkers.
Supporters of capitalism, from Thomas Piketty (author of Capital in the Twenty-First Century) to Warren Buffet (the Sage of Omaha), recognise that more wealth is concentrated in fewer hands than at any time in the past. Looking specifically at U2: essentially, they produce sound and songs using rhythms that appeal to an audience. In a live show they will invest in lighting, venue, etc. Profit is derived from takings, sponsorships, sales of music, less the labour costs of riggers, ticket-collectors, etc., and tax. They don’t get the takings and distribute them equally to all who put the show together. They maximise profits by keeping labour costs down.
Hewson may have noticed people fleeing sub-Saharan Africa in order to reach Europe and have a chance of a better life. Capitalism has never taken more people out of poverty than any other ism. In South America colonial forces from Spain and elsewhere not only decimated the indigenous populations but raped these countries of natural resources and assets, such as gold, silver, copper, and rubber. The colonialists from Europe did the same in North America.
It is highly likely that there will be a coup against the democratic forces in Venezuela, supported by the United States and Britain. Even in Ireland the English asset-stripped the country of our forests and attempted to destroy our culture. On the other hand the Soviet Union, Cuba and China lifted millions out of poverty and gave education and a secure standard of living, despite attempts to undermine it.
Capitalism produced fascists like Hitler, and the Holocaust. If it continues as it is it will destroy the planet and human existence.
When the Paradise Papers exposed Hewson as using property investments structured through Malta to avoid tax, his comment was: “It’s just some smart people we have working for us trying to be sensible about the way we’re taxed.”
Why pay fees to these tax planners and instead just pay your taxes? That is a question of morality. Few capitalists are that ethical.
The World Economic Forum says it wants to end world poverty by 2030. As John Wayne might have said, “That’ll be the day!”