The Price We Pay (La Face cachée de l’impôt), 2014.
Directed by Harold Crooks.
The documentary explores the dark history and dire present-day reality of big-business tax avoidance, which has seen multinationals depriving governments of trillions of dollars in tax revenues by harbouring profits in offshore havens.
Corporations like individuals try to avoid paying taxes and are more successful at it because the global financial system allows for the existence of tax havens, like London, England where a legal loophole allows for financial transactions to take place there even though they occur elsewhere. Other fiscal tricks involve setting up shell corporations in low taxation countries like Jersey and Luxembourg which purchase items from main subsidiary at a significantly low rate and then sell it back at the real price.
One interviewee in The Price We Pay suggests that the French Revolution where the disenfranchised peasants revolted against the aristocracy has gone a full circle 225 years later. The rich get richer while the poor and eroding middle class get stuck with rising taxes. A graphic artist in Ireland observes that the repercussions of catering to corporate balance sheet means the transportation infrastructure which the companies utilized are poorly underfunded and maintained. Complicating matters even further is the rise of digital commerce where instead of taking a couple of weeks to process a transaction it only takes a matter of seconds.
A wide variety of people provide their insights from bartenders to financial experts with the leaders of companies such as Amazon, Google and Apple appearing in footage taken from committee hearings. The topic of corporate tax evasion or “tax efficiency” is worthy of the documentary treatment because of the social impact it has around the world. Filmmaker Harold Crooks (Surviving Progress) has taken on the monumental task of trying to explain the subject within a two hour time frame. The trouble is that the finance industry is so murky and convoluted is that ordinary people get lost in all of the numbers and complexity.
The Price We Pay is divided into several chapters with slick graphics and archival imagery breaking up the various interview clips which are insightful. The problem with documentary is that it lacks a sense of focus and would have been well served being broken into a three act structure: background, consequences and solutions. To the credit of Crooks, he does suggest an answer in the form of the “Robin Hood Tax” where individual financial transactions are taxable but the underlying truth is until there is a global willingness to address the spiralling financial inequality business will continue as usual.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★★★/ Movie: ★★★