But there’s some still big contradictions in his positionImage

Fair play to Bono. You have to hand it to him. When it was revealed that U2 had move its business to Holland to avail of low tax rates there, Bono immediately took some heat given that he’d been telling us all that to give more money to Africa, and if need be by paying more taxes. He also admonished Western Governments for not supporting Africa, but they can only do this if they raise taxes, which people (including, and especially, lucrative pop stars) should not be trying to avoid giving. But Bono came up with a clever defence: sure, didn’t Ireland base its economic success on inward foreign investment based on low tax rates, so what was wrong with U2 doing the same? But this was missing the point. Ireland’s low tax model is a commercial strategy. It is not tied to an altruistic mission to help the allegedly suffering. On the contrary, it secures the investment that might often otherwise go to developing countries, which are less tax-indulgent.

But as a defence, it was a smart try, and one got the sense of a media-coaching from someone savvy at the singer’s side, Paul McGuinness perhaps – the real commercial force behind the U2 machine. And yet now we wonder if this wasn’t the thinking of Bono himself, or part of it. It may not have made much sense as a defence of his asking us to give our hard earned cash to Africa, but as an investment strategy it was a clever philosophy.

And this week, Bono went further, he thought that in fact tax avoidance or a low-tax climate has been the secret of our success. And he’s right.

“Tax competitiveness has taken our country out of poverty’ he told the Clinton Global Initiative in New York ‘People in the revenue accept that if you engage in that policy then some people are going to go out, and some people are coming in. On the cranky left that is very annoying. But tax competitiveness is why Ireland has stayed afloat. When the Germans tried to impose a different tax regime on the country in exchange for a bailout, the Taoiseach said they would rather not have the bailout,” said Bono added, showing that song-writing and celebrity schmoozing hasn’t distracted him from our State’s torturous negotiations in Brussels.

And he’s right. Low taxation has long been one of our attractive assets for investors, and it’s a crucial reason multinationals have come here and provided thousands of jobs. For a mainly rural country with no real manufacturing base, it was our way to leap frog into a modern economy and embrace the increasingly open commercial world.  A new biography of aviator Tony Ryan describes the creation of a tax free zone in Shannon in the 1960s, a brilliant wheeze which today has resulted in half the world’s aircraft being leased from Ireland. Microsoft, Google and Linked-in have all set up HQ in Ireland for the same low-tax reason.

So Bono recognises this, even if by his logic he is now paying his main taxes in Holland. But he’s does pay some taxes in Ireland, and he sticks around and is good for the country’s profile with parties and VIP visitors. But most of all, he is now a stalwart endorser of the Irish economic model and of capitalism, pure and simple. Indeed, he is the original Celtic Tiger, but better since his boom isn’t based on a property bubble, but on hard work, enterprise – and low taxes.

Nor is he an unqualified cheer leader of capitalism. As he said in New York, ‘my father was Labour, a classic Dublin Northside household, and I still carry that with me. And though I believe that capitalism has been the most effective ideology we have known in taking people out of extreme poverty, I don’t think it is the only thing that can do it, and in some ways I wish it wasn’t’

But is it such a revelation that Bono is a capitalist? Like many rock stars who bleat on about ‘the people’ and the ‘downtrodden’, Bono is actually a serious alpha-male money maker, but at least he’s honest about it, unlike others: he thinks this is the way for the downtrodden to prosper – to get commercial. And he has certainly shown how. From its early days, U2 were very adept at re-issues and compilations, and about marketing and mark-ups. Nor has the money stood still. Bono has even invested in Fortune magazine and his investments in various digital ventures have multiplied. But what a pity then that he doesn’t apply his sound business sense to development in Africa, rather than still supporting the ineffective aid model, and expecting us, the high tax payers of Europe, to pay for it.

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