Notes on: Bono and the Hypocrisy of the Celebrity Cause

by apatheticacademics

(In the second of our shorter “Notes On” series we take a glance at the U2 singer Bono and his dodgy tax dealings)


“Bono: Go on, hand everything over for the deserving…”


The latest release of tax documents covering the rich and famous had many stark revelations: The Queen has been hiding away millions, Mrs Brown Boys stars don’t know the meaning of ‘Tax Haven’[1] and people weren’t surprised that Lewis Hamilton never paid VAT on his private jet. However, one of the least surprising scopes was the fact that U2’s frontman Bono was involved in a fairly unlawful tax dodge through an investment firm who bought a Lithuanian shopping centre.[2] In this piece we discuss how his dodgy dealings have real consequences and how the hypocrisy, which oozes from his every pore, makes the world a worse place for us all.

Bono is no stranger to the tax dodge; when Ireland finally decided to start taxing artists a higher percentage in 2006, Bono and his U2 compatriots decided to move a large section of the band’s business to the Netherlands who offered a more favourable tax bracket.[3] Defending this move at the time, Bono claimed that this was “just some smart people we have… trying to be sensible about the way we’re taxed” [4] while at the same time stating that tax incentives issued by the Irish government have cultivated the only real prosperity Ireland has known. According to Bono, his business dealings have no consequence, he is in the right and merely a “smart person” for arranging his businesses in this way. At the same time as preaching the gospel of tax avoidance, he still considers himself an “activist” against poverty and within this his true hypocrisy is unveiled.

But where has this thinking on tax gotten us the last few years? In the case of Ireland, it was recently placed in 6th in the top 15 of tax havens around the world by the charity Oxfam.[5] As well as this, it has the unenviable tag of having one of the worst poverty rates in the European union, with over 1/3 of children in poverty, or at risk of poverty, compared to the European average of 28%.[6] This tax avoidance creates real problems, with real consequences for people in Bono’s own community. On a larger scale, tax avoidance worldwide costs poor countries “£92 billion” a year. This is money which could easily be used to educate “124 million” children.[7] Therefore, if you consult the majority of Bono’s quotes on his tax arrangements he continually hides behind the idea that he is looking at the bigger picture and focusing on Africa instead, completely ignoring the community he comes from. With the tax he is currently avoiding within Ireland (see also Facebook and Google’s activities), you could easily make a dent in the poverty figures and truly help people in his birth country. Surely the old adage that charity should begin at home applies? However, this completely misses the point of why he is in fact an activist.

From Live Aid onwards Bono has been ahead of the pack of outspoken celebrities with his condemnation of poverty, AIDS, and a multitude of African causes. He has consistently courted a conveyer belt of politicians, rich benefactors and any chic cause currently in the papers (see his devotion to the disgraced Aung San Suu Kyi). This has culminated in the formation of the ONE foundation, of which he is co-founder and CEO, which dedicates itself to the eradication of poverty and AIDS around the world. But from the very beginning these so called acts of philanthropy have been bogged down in controversy and misguided loyalties. It has been known for some time that the money raised by Live Aid was in fact not given to the poor of Ethiopia, but was instead spent by Mengistu the Ethiopian dictator on “sophisticated weapons from the Russians”.[8] Following on from this, as far back as 2010 it was reported that Bono’s ONE foundation was only donating around 1.2% of its annual revenue to charitable causes, while around £5.1 million of the £9.6 million raised was given to members of the organisation in salaries.[9] This provoked Bono to state that the idea of this particular charitable organisation was to not actual provide any charitable relief.

Why does any of this matter? Well, it was not really any surprise that the latest revelations of tax avoidance included several monarchs, sports stars and celebrities. However, it matters more with Bono due to the sheer hypocrisy of his cultivated public persona, and his insistence that he is looking at the bigger picture when confronted with these stark facts. When we do consider the bigger picture we in fact see that Bono is rotten to the core; he ignores the community he was born in, although it is in need, and instead concentrates on Africa, where there is clear proof that the funds raised are embezzled. Tax can really affect the communities it is gathered from, and directed to, and the £92 billion avoided around the world can be put to good uses and can benefit everyone. For Bono, and other celebrities like him, charity and community are vanity projects used to underpin their importance and existence. They cultivate a caring persona, while also gaining access to the top echelon of world leaders and influencers. He merely operates in these arenas as an act of auto-fellatio, making himself more important and inflating his sense of self. These people are not solving the world’s issues, or even the issues at home. Rather, they operate in a space governed by self-delusion on a grand scale, where they believe that they can do as they please because they believe they give back. Pay tax? No, he doesn’t need to pay the tax he owes to his country because he is focused on bigger issues, however, the only real issue he truly cares about is his own wallet.