The Transition Films Festival documentary The Price We Pay examines with impressive depth the vexing problem of big corporations avoiding tax by funnelling their income through off-shore tax havens. In this film a prestigious roster of experts including heads of economic commissions, academics and computer scientists dissect the global economy and the dangerous impact of corporate tax avoidance on the economic health and social stability of many nations.
The film places London and in particular the City Of London corporation at the centre of the problem. The film suggests that the city has become a hub of financial services connecting dubious global tax havens such as The Cayman Islands, the Bahamas, Jersey and Ireland who offer exceptionally low corporate tax rates and other favourable conditions that corporations use to park billions of dollars in profit and pay little tax in Britain itself. The film reveals how these tax havens form a stateless and poorly regulated alternate world of financial services that, for the last 60 years, has been operating several steps ahead of or in some cases in cahoots with legislators.
The film also examines the way in which technology, the digital economy and hyper-speed share trading have made transactions even more difficult to control thereby compounding the economic damage inflicted by companies evading tax. The film points out that this tax avoidance is not illegal but as the chairwoman of a British investigation suggests it’s probably immoral and almost certainly damaging to the financial well-being of the middle and working classes.
The film paints a compelling but grim picture of the global economy but provides some optimism in the call for a Robin Hood tax on financial transactions which, via the minimal imposition of a .05% tax, would generate enormous revenue to tackle poverty.
Since the GFC there have been numerous films and documentaries about the destruction wrought by unregulated financial trading so this film is not revelatory. Still, it examines the issues in impressive detail and generally manages to make a lot of complex information comprehensible to the layman. On occasion, though, the film jumps about too rapidly between talking heads making some issues difficult to grasp.
Also, annoyingly, the film incorporates some unnecessarily heavy-handed graphics and imagery designed to hammer home various points although thankfully it’s never as gratuitous as a Mike Moore film.
The Price We Pay provides a fascinating crash course in global economics and a sobering view of a system that appears dangerously inequitable and potentially out of control.
Nick’s rating: ***1/2.
Director(s): Harold Crooks.
Release date: 18th February 2016.
Running time: 93 mins.
Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM. Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. http://subcultureentertainment.com/2014/02/the-good-the-bad-the-ugly-film-show
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