By Tom Ehrich
The juxtaposition was coarse and sad.
On the top left of The Times’ front page were photos of rescue workers searching for victims of yesterday’s mile-wide tornado in Oklahoma.
Top right was an article about Apple Inc.’s determined effort to avoid paying tens of billions of taxes to the US through an elaborate web of phantom companies and overseas tax havens.
Spanning the fold was the photo of a four-year-old girl burying her father, killed in battle.
While rescue workers dug with their bare hands to save human lives and the daughter of a fallen soldier carried the carefully folded American flag in her arms, Apple’s lawyers were scouring the globe to dodge their ethical duty.
My advice to Apple CEO Tim Cook when he testifies before Congress: don’t be clever, don’t mouth platitudes about obligations to shareholders, don’t pretend it doesn’t matter. Be ashamed. Be embarrassed.
What Apple has done — and many other corporations do, as well — might be within the law. But it is profoundly unethical. It is a violation of the covenant we all make as citizens to care for our fellow citizens.
Your company benefits greatly from the infrastructure provided to all enterprises, such as enforcement of contracts, public services and education, not to mention the freedom to dream great dreams. You cannot just take that and not give back.
The heroes in this land are teachers who shield their students from gunfire, neighbors who band together after the storm, first-responders who run toward danger and then stick around to deal with danger’s consequences, men and women who stand in harm’s way and sometimes don’t survive, and survivors who stand at the grave and commit to living.
You could get away with making billions from electronic wizardry. But when you shun your duty as an American citizen and withhold funds that states like Oklahoma desperately need, squeezing a bit more magic into a smartphone seems small and vain.
So, Tim Cook, when the hard questions are asked, keep a copy of The Times in front of you. Which do you want to be: the man selflessly digging through rubble to rescue a child, or the man digging for gold by evading taxes, employing workers in unsafe conditions, and lobbying government for favors?