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Comment: Re:Misleading headline (Score 1) 201

by IamTheRealMike (#49765527) Attached to: Amazon Decides To Start Paying Tax In the UK

Why should companies like Amazon get all the benefits of our country - working roads, efficient transport systems, a stable legal system, health facilities and crime prevention while paying nothing towards it

This is a really messed up way of looking at things. Amazon doesn't get the benefits of the UK - the people living there do! Amazon is just a convenient legal handle for a large group of people around the world working towards a common goal, with collectively owned assets. So let me turn that question around - why should that group of people, many of them not living in the UK, collectively pay for British roads that they may never drive on? Surely it's up to British people to pay for that?

And incidentally, the entire point of my post was that the UK no longer has a stable legal system as far as large corporations are concerned. A stable legal system would be one in which you can read the law and then know what you can or cannot do. The UK GAAR breaks that: you really have no idea whether your companies financial arrangements might be OK today and retroactively "unreasonable" tomorrow. It depends mostly on political winds, some arbitrary judgement by an HMRC bureaucrat, how in debt the country is etc.

I and lots of people in the UK are frankly sick of your attitude. If they are making billions from selling to UK consumers, they should damn well pay their fair share of tax on it. We're not asking for taxation of other countries to be paid to us, just our fair share from these heartless global behemoths. They're not working on your behalf buddy.

Frankly, I and many other people are sick of the UK attitude too. Yes you are asking for the taxation of other countries to be paid to you. Every time a company is whacked because they chose to pay Irish taxes or Luxembourg taxes instead of British taxes, you are demand that money be spent on YOUR needs instead of the needs of the people of Ireland or Luxembourg. Hey, guess what? That's a double edged sword.

Maybe tomorrow, France will decide that companies headquartered in London are all engaged in dirty tax evasion because the British corporation taxes are by no means the highest in Europe. They will argue that there's no real reason to be in London other than to avoid French taxes. Then maybe it'll decide to just slap a nice fat 75% tax rate on those companies, I heard Hollande likes that sort of tax level. And if that leads to job losses in Britain, well, they were heartless tax avoiders who just wanted to wriggle out of paying French pensions so fuck them, right?

Or what ...... do you think companies are bottomless money pits that every country can just pump without end?

By the way, I'm British myself. And the debate over tax avoidance there makes me embarrassed for my country. The UK is marching towards authoritarianism so fast it makes my head spin. Tearing up the rulebook in frustration and beating up on whoever is unpopular is certainly not the first step down that road, but it's an important one.

Comment: Re:I'll believe it when I see it... (Score 1) 63

Millions of subscribers? You have trouble nowadays convincing people that we went to the moon in the first place. Even the worst television series has more views than any (real) space-related stuff.

That aside, watching a mars rover live is like watching paint dry. Opportunity has a top speed of 0.18 km/h and on average it has moved 10 meters a day. It spent over 11 years on a marathon that runners on Earth do in two hours. Everything else it does is equally slow, it makes a sloth seem energetic. The reason is of course that it's running on a tiiiiiiiny trickle of power, but it doesn't make for great entertainment. It's like for example CERN, you get a huge splash when they find the Higgs boson but between that it's months and years between something newsworthy happening.

Comment: Re: just what we all love (Score 1) 201

by IamTheRealMike (#49765461) Attached to: Amazon Decides To Start Paying Tax In the UK

But somehow marketing in all these different languages isn't overwhelming enough to stop them from selling their goods in these countries.

Eh, yes, it is actually. Many online services aren't universally available throughout the EU because they aren't translated into the local languages, and it wasn't so long ago that we were reading here on Slashdot about how the EU Commission is annoyed by geo-blocking of services. These rules aren't just about Amazon and Google you know. They also apply to a huge long tail of smaller companies who given a choice between "having to respond to letters from the Bulgarian government, written in Bulgarian" and "spending the time on other things" will choose the latter.

And if you're worried about efficiency, let's remember that it would be FAR more efficient to only tax corporations, than to tax EVERY SINGLE CITIZEN.

No, it really wouldn't. This whole fiasco is demonstrating that very clearly.

Taxing people makes sense. People cannot be in multiple countries at once: figuring out if someone should be a taxpayer can be as simple as adding up how many days they spent in the country. People are what use government services. Companies don't use them anywhere near as much - companies don't get sick and go to hospital, they don't drive down roads, they don't draw pensions etc. Companies get the services of the legal system, although sometimes those "services" may involve being sued by a competitor and other times they have to pay fees to use the courts anyway.

What's more, the moral justification for taxation fails when applied to companies - they suffer taxation without representation. Companies cannot vote. Heck, they get demonised even for talking to governments, so voting is entirely out of the question.

The biggest problem with taxing companies though, is figuring out how to slice the pie between different governments. Unlike people, companies can be in many places at once. So suddenly every cash-starved government feels like they're entitled to a bigger piece of pie. It turns into a crazy tug of war with the company being torn apart in the middle.

In the old days this problem didn't matter much because large scale free trade is a relatively recent thing, so previous generations of companies were mostly based in one or two places. But sometimes, especially with modern companies, there's no really good way to divide the spoils up. Where does Google make its profit? Is it in California where the search engine is developed? Is it in Ireland where the advertising contracts were signed? Is it in Germany where the datacenter handled the request, or Oregon where the data the datacenter served was generated? Is it where the customer who clicked the ad is located, or the customer who paid for it? If it's the latter, what if the customer is itself a transnational company?

These questions are enough to feed an army of lawyers and accountants for all eternity, and the end result will still seem unfair to big groups of people. Accusations of "avoidance" (whatever that means) will still fly. There is just NO WAY to do this well.

The logical conclusion to all these problems is to simply zero out corporation taxes entirely, and raise revenue from the individuals who live there. Of course this is deeply unpopular because corporation taxes feel "free" .... it's harder to understand the impact they have, whereas it's easy to understand the impact that less money in your wallet has. So I think we will continue to see a never-ending stream of asshattery and countries finger-pointing at each other over tax, especially tax of perceived foreign companies, because taxing them looks to politicians suspiciously like free money.

Comment: Re:Yeah, no. (Score 1) 132

by Kjella (#49765425) Attached to: What AI Experts Think About the Existential Risk of AI

And while I'm not inclined to draw a conclusion from this, it is interesting that we've had quite a few very high intelligences in our society over time. None of them have posed an "existential crisis" for the the planet, the the human race, or my cats. Smart people tend ot have better things to do than annoy others... also, they can anticipate consequences. Will this apply to "very smart machines"? Your guess (might be) as good as mine. It's almost certainly better than Musk's or Gates', since we know they were clueless enough to speak out definitively on a subject they don't (can't) know anything about. Hawking likewise, didn't mean to leave him out.

Well, maybe not the actual scientists but there are quite a few dead cultures and species wiped out because guns and bullets beats spears and claws. And I don't think anyone doubts Oppenheimer was a bright guy, even though he wasn't the one dropping the nukes. Since you mention cats, would you like an AI treating you like you treat the cats? My guess is you would not, particularly not when they decide we're too fickle and resource hungry and would rather not have cats.

The reason I'm not worried is because we have no clue on how to build systems with self-awareness. The software is running, but the computer can't look at itself in the mirror and realize I need electricity and CPUs and RAM sticks to "live". Wake me up when we have a computer that can actually refuse me from hitting the off switch.

Comment: Re:just what we all love (Score 1) 201

by IamTheRealMike (#49765407) Attached to: Amazon Decides To Start Paying Tax In the UK

I am not contradicting myself. The point of a single market is that the distinction between national and multinational companies disappears. Inside the EU, as conceived, there is no such thing as a national company. There are only European companies, selling to Europeans. The concept is supposed to be as meaningless as talking about "state companies" would be in America. There's no such thing - people only talk about companies being American, regardless of which part of America they may have physically originated in.

The politicians and bureaucrats who set up the EU/EEA may have been thinking of short term benefits to pre-existing companies. But the system created was very straightforward in its goals - to tear down national boundaries across the trading bloc, starting with tariffs and later, standardising bureaucracies to eliminate red tape. And the way corporation and sales taxes worked were chosen to meet those goals.

And if it was the latter, why is the Commission investigating whether the arrangements negotiated between various companies and the Luxembourgeois tax authorities constitute illegal state aid?

Because the commission is a creature of EU politicians who represent countries that are, by and large, broke (except for the Germans). The notion that setting taxes lower than your competitors is illegal state aid didn't crop up until the European debt crisis, which isn't surprising because "taking less of your money than others would" is only "aid" under some very strange definition of the word. Aid normally would mean giving money, not taking it. But many of these laws are vague enough to be stretched to meet more or less political goal, and scapegoating foreigners for domestic problems is always popular.

Comment: Re:just what we all love (Score 1) 201

by IamTheRealMike (#49765383) Attached to: Amazon Decides To Start Paying Tax In the UK

I would not have any problem if their actual warehouses were all in Luxembourg and all shipments departed from there; however, they most certainly do not

So what? Why is the last hop on a long supply chain special to you, exactly? Many of those goods were made in China and shipped through several warehouses before they ended up at whichever facility dispatched the product to you - so picking that one specifically as where tax is owed is no less arbitrary than any other place.

The EU rules are quite clear about this and always have been. Attempting to carve up a company between countries is a losing proposition that explodes complexity and discourages trade, so companies are free to choose where their headquarters are and where they book sales. It requires nothing more than a nameplate, technically. This may seem "unfair" but any other scheme you can think of is ultimately no fairer.

The single market was intended to be used for simplification, not for tax avoidance.

See, this is why I hate the term "tax avoidance". It's meaningless. It literally doesn't exist and this statement is a great example of why not - simplification is tax avoidance. Every time a British company ships something to someone in Poland overland via Germany, and doesn't have to fill out dozens of company registration and tax forms in Poland or Germany, that is in some sense "avoiding" tax. But it's avoiding it because of the simplification. You can't have it both ways - paying taxes in foreign countries adds complexity to trade and results in less of it ..... and that's why trading blocs evolve.

Basically every argument I've ever come across about tax avoidance founders immediately, due to this problem. Attempting to define tax avoidance is like trying to define terrorism. People think it's simple and they know it when they see it, and then the moment they try and nail down exactly what it means they realise it's nothing more sophisticated than "behaviour I don't personally like".

Comment: What Would We Be Competing For? (Score 1) 132

by Greyfox (#49765097) Attached to: What AI Experts Think About the Existential Risk of AI
The resources required for an AI are radically different from stupid squishy meatputers. An AI would not need a large amount of space, had plenty of options for energy and could make its own arrangements for secure generation of such, could easily automate construction replacement parts and frankly would find the 25 miles or so of gases that meat-based creatures inhabit to be rather toxic. An AI would surely be much happier with magnetically-shielded facilities in space. Pretty much anywhere in the universe that meatbags find inhospitable would be prime territory for a superior AI entity. I'd think the biggest danger to humanity from an AI would be that it would find them to be completely irrelevant. Unless, that is, they go out of their way to make themselves an actual threat.

Comment: Re:what? (Score 1) 49

by HiThere (#49764293) Attached to: Universe's Dark Ages May Not Be Invisible After All

Higher energy photons are distinct from lower energy photons in having a shorter wavelength. They both travel at (about) the same speed. Presumably in a true vacum they would travel at exactly the same speed.

Thus blue light is more energetic than red light, and has a shorter wave length. You measure the energy of the photons by absorbing a certain number and measuring the change in velocity or temperature of the thing that absorbed them. (Usually this is done by some sort of photocell arrangement were the absorbtion translates into electron volts, and that's what you actually measure. I believe that this has been done down to the single photon level, but I'm not sure.)

+ - How Employers Get Out of Paying Their Workers

Submitted by HughPickens.com
HughPickens.com writes: We love to talk about crime in America and usually the rhetoric is focused on the acts we can see: bank heists, stolen bicycles and cars, alleyway robberies. But Zachary Crockett writes at Pricenomics that wage theft one of the more widespread crimes in our country today — the non-payment of overtime hours, the failure to give workers a final check upon leaving a job, paying a worker less than minimum wage, or, most flagrantly, just flat out not paying a worker at all. Most commonly, wage theft comes in the form of overtime violations. In a 2008 study, the Center for Urban Economic Development surveyed 4,387 workers in low-wage industries and found that some 76% of full-time workers were not paid the legally required overtime rate by their employers and the average worker with a violation had put in 11 hours of overtime—hours that were either underpaid or not paid at all. Nearly a quarter of the workers in the sample came in early and/or stayed late after their shift during the previous work week. Of these workers, 70 percent did not receive any pay at all for the work they performed outside of their regular shift. In total, unfairly withheld wages in these three cities topped $3 billion. Generalizing this for the rest of the U.S.’s low-wage workforce (some 30 million people), researchers estimate that wage theft could be costing Americans upwards of $50 billion per year.

Last year, the Economic Policy Institute made what is, to date, the most ambitious attempt to quantify the extent of reported wage theft in the U.S.and determined that “the total amount of money recovered for the victims of wage theft who retained private lawyers or complained to federal or state agencies was at least $933 million.” Obviously, the nearly $1 billion collected is only the tip of the wage-theft iceberg, since most victims never sue and never complain to the government. Commissioner Su of California says wage theft has harmed not just low-wage workers. “My agency has found more wages being stolen from workers in California than any time in history,” says Su. “This has spread to multiple industries across many sectors. It’s affected not just minimum-wage workers, but also middle-class workers.”

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