Did you hear the one about the billionaire mogul who thought the way to fix inequality was to cut corporate taxation? But wait, here’s the kicker — he’s one of the world’s biggest tax dodgers, but he wants a crackdown on the tax dodging of his competitors.

The more we learn about Rupert Murdoch’s address, at the invitation of the Australian government, to G20 finance ministers in Washington earlier this month, the more embarrassing it seems, especially after the British Telegraph revealed that the government bungled its arrangements for Murdoch and he had to fly in at the last minute and give an off-the-cuff speech to the group, some of whom didn’t know who he was.

The general thrust of Murdoch’s speech is already widely known, but today in The Australian — a paper that, in the spirit of free enterprise and rugged individualism championed by the Murdochs, is subsidised to the tune of $30 million a year — Murdoch’s faithful stenographer Paul Kelly pretended to have discovered the Ark of the Covenant and bid us attend its opening.

What’s clear — and this has been demonstrated by Murdoch’s tweets — is that there’s still enough journalistic instinct in him that he’s worked out inequality has gotten traction with the public, despite his publications railing en masse at Thomas Piketty. Murdoch, champion of the super-rich and advocate of the economic policies that have delivered the staggering inequality of the United States economy, now purports to regard inequality as socially harmful. Not that it’s been caused by neo-liberal economics of pro-corporate and pro-rich economic and fiscal policies, of course — indeed, the Murdoch thesis is that current policies are insufficiently pro-corporate and pro-rich. No, the cause of inequality for Murdoch is loose monetary policy and particularly quantitative easing, which has inflated asset prices, thereby making the rich richer.

“Meanwhile,” Kelly quotes Rupert as saying, “the lack of any real wage increase for middle-income workers means growing societal divisions and resentment”. Rupert’s onto something there. Real wages have been stagnant at best in countries like Australia, the US and the United Kingdom — one of the reasons why company profits have been so strong in Australia is that labour productivity has improved but real wages growth has been weak or non-existent over the last two years. To deal with that, Rupert wants more industrial relations reform (perhaps he could start by slashing wages at The Australian?) — because giving employers more power over workers and unions will help with real wages growth and societal division, right?

As for quantitative easing — well, Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal has railed at QE for years, claiming it would cause a burst of inflation that we’re still waiting for, but it’s QE that has allowed Murdoch’s companies to keep alive the dream of global domination. The QE from the Bank of England has helped spark a rebound in the UK economy, allowing BSkyB to continue to make billions of dollars in profits and be the vehicle for Murdoch to centralise his European satellite TV empire. In the US, the Fed’s three rounds of QE has helped that economy recover from the self-inflicted damage of the global financial crisis and helped The Wall Street Journal and its associated financial arms such as the Dow Jones Newswire and Marketwatch.com remain in business, and indeed thrive.

QE has even helped Fox’s TV and cable arms thrive as well, courtesy of the Tea Party conspiracy theories about the Federal Reserve, the threat of inflation and bank bailouts that Fox News goes on with — nonsense Murdoch seems to believe and that he has managed to sweet-talk Treasurer Joe Hockey into believing (or perhaps Hockey is simply trying to revive his political standing by ostentatiously agreeing with Murdoch?).

QE also allowed Murdoch the ambition to launch that US$80 billion bid for Time Warner, which was called off after 21st Century Fox shares fell 11% and some of his major investors rebelled. Perhaps his diatribe against QE and central banks is really a proxy attack on those big investors who wouldn’t support the assault on Time Warner?

Then there’s tax. Rupert’s views on tax are complicated. In general, he wants even lower corporate tax rates, presumably because that will do so much to help inequality and social divisions. At a B20 meeting in July in Sydney, Murdoch defended multinational profit-shifting and criticised attempts by governments to crack down on it, lauding the Irish government’s tax rate. Murdoch’s News Corp of course is one of the world’s greatest tax dodgers, and easily Australia’s champion at leaning, rather than lifting, when it comes to tax. But Murdoch thinks some profit-shifting should be targeted — chiefly that of his competitor (and enthusiastic exploiter of Irish tax laws) Google, which is steadily devouring what’s left of his print media lunch and which Murdoch, irrationally, blames for internet piracy. “Google harvests nearly $1 billion annually in Australia by pirating the copyrights of local taxpayers,” Murdoch averred to finance ministers, who may have wondered why they were being asked to embroil themselves in Murdoch’s losing copyright battles.

How about this, Rupert — you agree to pay your fair share of tax, maybe people won’t feel so eager to download your movies for free?

So, in summary, Murdoch thinks real wages aren’t growing enough, so we need to deregulate industrial relations, there’s too much QE-caused inequality, so rich corporations need to pay less tax, and tax avoidance is good unless you’re a competitor, in which case governments — which should otherwise “get out of the way” — should come down like a tonne of bricks on them.

In other words, the usual self-interest dressed up as half-baked economic philosophy — a News Corp specialty.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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