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Written by Brigitte Alepin and Harold Crooks / Directed by Harold Crooks

Jim McDonald: I don’t feel any remorse about not paying taxes. I think it’s a marvelous way of life.

Other than in principle, I know very little about tax havens, including how or why they even came to exist, so my hopes to be educated and informed with Harold Crooks’ THE PRICE WE PAY, were high. I found it fascinating that it was Canada that was fully involved in the transformation of British laws in the Caribbean, when they first became tax havens. In fact, it was Jim McDonald, a business lawyer close to the Conservative Party of Canada, in the 1960’s, who advised the Caymans to toughen up banking secrecy there when it came to “hiding” money. Tax havens were initially created to help the rich citizens stay rich and to benefit multinational corporations. It is also interesting to learn how companies like Apple, Amazon and Google took this concept and financially capitalized on it. These revelations make up the few moments in this movie that I enjoyed. Past that, all my hopes were almost completely dashed.

Any movie, whether it be a documentary or not, that opens with menacing dark storm clouds interspersed with bolts of lightning pretty well establishes it has only one goal in mind. Ominous things will be revealed. And just in case you missed the obvious symbolism, director Harold Crooks replays it ad-infinitum. To make matters worse, we are subjected to a myriad of talking heads – be they economists, sociologists, journalists, politicians, vicars and firemen, to name but a few – prattling on and on to the point where the actual point of the film gets confused. What exactly does Crooks want us to focus on? Tax havens? Tax avoidance? Income inequality? Digital markets? The Occupy Movement? Welfare? Pension plans? By the time a talking head insisted that banks should revert back to the ancient Babylonian Code of Hammuraki, my yawning was out of control.


All the same, the cynic in me absolutely fell in love with two scenes in particular. The first one had some talking head (it may have been some handsome bartender in Dublin, as I had stopped paying attention to who was saying what by then) talk about how Guatemala only gets a small percentage of the profits from their banana industry with the majority of the money going to tax havens owned by consumer countries. This is subsequently followed by the Offshore Alert Conference, well attended by pot-bellied, cigar rolling, wine drinking gentlemen, where the keynote speaker eloquently behooves the notion of tax havens. I might have been more impressed with his indignant rant had the conference not been held in South Beach, Miami but, maybe in an economically impoverished country, like oh, I don’t know, Guatemala? However, my favourite bit in THE PRICE WE PAY has Lady Margaret Hodge, a British Labour MP, tell an Amazon representative at a congressional hearing that she buys many books from their website and then ambushes the poor sap with tales of how local bookstores were permanently shut down because of them and ending with her saying, “We’re not accusing you of being illegal. We are accusing you of being immoral”. Pretty heady stuff considering her own admitted shopping habits.

Watching THE PRICE WE PAY is like babysitting pre-schoolers all on a sugar high. Too many topics. Too many questions. Too many idealistic theories. And no solutions offered. It’s not something I will ever subject myself to again. A documentary should be able to inform, not to frustrate its viewer. And the irony of the director’s last name is not lost on me.

2 sheep

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How many sheep would you give The Price We Pay?


One Comment

  1. I saw that movie yesterday, and I very much agree with your last paragraph: too many topics or questions, no solutions. I went out of the room asking myself what the director and author were trying to tell me, or what they wanted me to do. All I could figure out was they wanted my support for the “Robin Hood tax”, but nowhere did they show how that tax would alleviate the issue of tax havens and all the corporate schemes to avoid paying taxes. The movie was definitely out of focus. Two sheep also.

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