Apple CEO Tim Cook will testify before a Senate investigative committee in Washington today. He will be there to respond to accusations that Apple has been exploiting loopholes in the tax code to avoid paying taxes on billions of dollars in profits. He should admit it, out loud, for all the world to hear. And his follow-up statement should be, “So what?”
The reality here is that most, if not all of the big companies, and private individuals (yes you, Mitt Romney) use every loophole they can find to shelter their profits from the taxman. It’s not a secret, it’s just something people don’t like to say out loud because it tends to make folks stir in their seats a little bit.
But Apple is in a unique position. Apple is not “Wall Street.” Apple is not “Big Oil” or “Big Pharma” or “Big Fertilizer Maker,” or any of those other big things that people despise in public but use in private. Apple is an iconic American hero, and everybody loves Apple. Ok, not everybody, just everybody who wants to be cool.
Tim Cook might be the only CEO in the country who could stand before the US Senate and say,
“Yes, it’s true. We exploit loopholes to avoid paying taxes. So does everyone else, and you know it. You’ve known it for decades, and you’ve played along with a wink and a nod, even while hosting an occasional hearing like the one we’re sitting in today so you can posture and grimace and act tough. What we’re doing is legal under the current tax code. Congress writes and maintains the tax laws. If you don’t like what’s happening, then change the laws. But I’m fairly confident that you won’t change the laws, because if you try, then your re-election funds go dry.
There’s a great big pot of money out there, just outside your grasp. That money could be used to do a lot of good things in this country. If you want your piece of it, then grow a backbone, do your jobs, and change the laws. Apple will do it’s part when everyone else has to play by the same rules.”
It is said that, in the days before he died, Steve Jobs’ parting words to Tim Cook were something to the effect of “Just do the right thing.” Mr. Cook, here’s your chance.