SOME of the biggest global brands have come under scrutiny
recently for employing accounting schemes that understate what
governments think are their liabilities. They typically respond
that their tax arrangements are within the law. Tax-evasion is a
crime; legal tax-avoidance is good housekeeping. It is clever but
not wicked to seal the deal in a lower tax environment than that in
which the deal is done.
The big brands are so vital to our way of life that we cannot
imagine being without them. As customers, consumers, and citizens
of nation states, we complain, of course, but there is not much
that we can do. It is always in the interests of one country or
another to shelter the money and the privacy of the global
Recent publicity about Amazon, Google, and Apple makes me wonder
whether we will one day look back on our tax-raising governments
with nostalgia. Companies could become stronger than nations. It is
tempting to imagine a Doctor Who scenario in which we are
all managed by a small number of global corporations, which will
sell us our homes, computers, and amusements; organise our food and
fuel; and portray themselves as benevolent masters, worthy of our
We will all be slaves, of course, and the greatest fears that
anyone has ever had about global capitalism will be richly
justified. Meanwhile, the companies will not have done anything
illegal. All will be within the law.
I have been asked to write some daily Bible notes about St
Paul's first letter to the Corinthians. Some recent commentaries on
this letter suggest that the Corinthian Christians who received it
were socially split between the haves and have-nots. This was the
source of the other doctrinal and ethical divisions - for which
Paul takes them to task.
The haves knew their rights, of course, and defended their
privileges tenaciously. When criticised for throwing their weight
around, they came up with the response that we have heard so much
recently: we are not doing anything illegal.
Paul agreed with them. All may be legal, he said, but not all is
helpful. And then he tore into them for their moral blindness and
irresponsibility. Perhaps it is unfair to compare the richer
Corinthians to our global corporations. But the fact that some
dodgy corporate behaviour is within the law does not make it right.
Global capitalism is a force that encourages creativity and
ingenuity, but, without a moral framework, could morph into a
The Revd Angela Tilby is the Diocesan Canon of Christ
Church, Oxford, and the Continuing Ministerial Development Adviser
for the diocese of Oxford.