I had a very interesting conversation with a Swiss professor which led me to rethink how we have got to where we are on social media, tax transparency and politics and some related issues. We talked about the genesis of transparency as an issue in tax over the period from the 1980s until now. Back then there was little interest in tax or tax policy amongst civil society. This situation continued through the 1990s . Civil society campaigning focussed on other subjects with the environment as an example. So why did tax transparency take off after 2000?
Well part of the reason was technology as a facilitator. Transparency requires access to a lot of information which was much more difficult to access in a pre digital age, it was possible, but it cost a lot of money and required a lot of legwork. The internet and search engines have been the facilitator of transparency, its now quite easy for me sitting at my computer to access significant amounts of financial information about a company. In part that is due to the increasing amounts of financial information which companies put out into the public domain either because of regulation or because they want to. In addition to this social media allow the dissemination of this information and opinion about it at a speed and in a quantity that would have been hard to imagine even 20 years ago. Social media also allows the organisation of campaigns and events on a local and multinational basis.
So my thesis is that these technologies have been a key facilitator in driving tax transparency up the political agenda. The irony is, of course, that the companies which have provided the tools to push for tax transparency, have also become the key targets of transparency due to the low rates of tax which they pay!
This conversation took place in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London (which if you haven’t visited you should) and the lovely image attached was found by the professor – so I credit her for it.
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