Microsoft's tax evasion, corruption, and the banality of evil

I spoke with a Microsoft executive today at a party. He asked me what I do when I’m not working. I mentioned my blogging and gave as an example my article about the (wished for) protest in Redmond against Microsoft: Massive protest over Microsoft tax evasion.

I said that the protesters were angry both about Microsoft’s tax evasions (the company is exempt from many state taxes) and about its bringing in foreign workers.  The hiring of foreign workers is unfortunate given our nation’s high unemployment.  Moreover, it’s sad and ironic that the state’s budget shortfall — due in part to Microsoft’s tax breaks — has resulted in tuition hikes at public universities and in the legislature having trouble paying for primary and secondary education.

No wonder the state can’t educate enough engineers for Microsoft: the company refuses to fund public education!

Also, in 2010, Steve Ballmer donated $100,000 to the campaign to defeat I-1098, the bill that would have instituted an income tax on the richest 1 or 2% of Washingtonians. (See Ballmer and Bezos opposing income tax initiative I-1098.)

What surprised me was that this Microsoft executive said that 98% of the developers on his team (over 100 workers in total) were foreign born.  He estimated that 95% of all engineers at Microsoft are foreign born.  In contrast, the business side of the company has a much higher proportion of Americans.

In the past, I had applied for a software job at Microsoft and noticed that most of the interviewers were Asian.  I used to work at Amazon, and about half of the software developers there were foreign-born.  But I was unaware that such a high proportion (~95%) of Microsoft engineers are foreign born (and presumably were hired from overseas).  That proportion is incredible and certainly newsworthy.

I’m not sure how to verify the proportion. I doubt that Microsoft reveals the facts about its percentage of overseas workers.

I discussed with this executive the banality of the evil of our economic system, and, indeed, of our empire.  Most of the individual people who benefit from injustices are probably personally amiable and kind. But they get sucked into the system, which is corrupt.   Soldiers who fight for our empire overseas are mostly just doing their job.    Almost everyone who has money and who invests in the stock market or keeps their money in banks probably supports evil corporations that engage in morally reprehensible behavior.  (I’m sure some of  the companies that my 401Ks invest in engage in evil behaviors.) Politicians like Cheney, Bush, Paul Ryan, and Ronald Reagan are probably pleasant people in person, and I bet think they’re doing good for the country, or for their friends.

The Microsoft executive is personally amicable and kind, and he was sympathetic to my points.   He himself immigrated to the US to work at Microsoft.  He speculated that Americans who are smart and motivated tend to gravitate towards careers in medicine or finance.  (That makes sense, given the corruption and inefficiency of our health care and financial industries, which result in high pay.)  He also said that some of the European engineers working for him expressed surprise that the company gets away with paying so little in taxes.  He said that those foreign engineers who choose to become citizens probably become Democrats — which is ironic, given that many Republicans favor loosening the restrictions on immigration of foreign workers.  Congress is planning to raise the visa limit for bringing in foreign workers, in response to lobbying by companies such as Microsoft.

At the party, others and I discussed corruption, which we agreed is common in every country.  Many places are even worse than America when it comes to corruption: in many developing countries, you have to pay bribes to police officers and to government workers, if you want to avoid arrest and get anything done.  Someone said that US cops are paid enough so they don’t need to demand bribes in order to get by.   As things get worse here, expect to see corruption to spread further in society.

When an empire collapses, corruption spreads like a cancer.

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