Tolstoy wrote in War and Peace that "kings are the slaves of history." And when the "king" in question depends on the patronage of happy customers for his well-being, his monarchy is also a slave to public opinion. Unfortunately for Burger King, which intends to renounce its American status for tax purposes, neither history nor public opinion is on its side.
In fact, if social media is any gauge, the Burger King's American subjects are downright pissed.
Burger King's Facebook page currently features the rather unfortunately-timed slogan, "Chicken Fries Are Back." (Is that as in, too chicken to pay your taxes?), and it has drawn a lot of angry comments about its planned tax move.(All comments are unedited, except as noted.)
A recent status update entitled "Lunch? Brunch? Same difference" drew this comment, presumably directed toward a constituent's Senator:
As a veteran I encourage you to sponsor a bill that shuts down every single Burger King located on an American military installation in the U.S. ... I feel only companies that are headquartered in the U.S. Deserve to be able to conduct business on govt facilities. I find it very up unpatriotic that our service members who risk there lives would have these tax dodging companies located on their bases ...
On a post which advises readers "Be the Chicken Fries you want to be," comments included "I loved the chicken fries but not from some traitorous tax dodging company...Hello Wendy's!!!!"
Other commenters addressed the role of government in Burger King's success and its subsequent display of ingratitude. One wrote:
Burger King's ingredients are trucked in on taxpayer-funded roads. Burger King's meat is made safe by taxpayer-funded beef inspectors. Burger King's workers are paid so little that taxpayer-funded social safety net programs have to pick up their slack. And in return for all of these taxpayer-funded services, Burger King won't even pay the American corporate tax rate. Boycott...
American tax dollars inspect the safety of your "chicken fries" yet you don't want to pay American taxes. I will never spend one penny of my American money in your traitorous stores.
The royal court has clearly heard these rumblings of discontent from the citizenry, because its most recent status update says:
"We hear you. We're not moving, we're just growing and finding ways to serve you better ... both Burger King Corp. and Tim Hortons will continue to operate as independent brands. We'll just be under common ownership. Our headquarters will remain in Miami where we were founded more than 60 years ago and business will continue as usual at our restaurants around the world."
The statement goes on to say that the merger decision "is not tax-driven - it's about global growth for both brands. BKC will continue to pay all of our federal, state and local U.S. taxes. We're proud of the heritage of Burger King and will maintain our long-standing commitment to our employees, franchisees and the local communities we serve."
It concludes: "The WHOPPER isn't going anywhere."
That part's certainly true, because there are several "whoppers" in this statement. While it may be true that this merger isn't solely tax-driven, Burger King is the larger of the two corporations, and it was founded in Jacksonville, Florida in 1953. Domiciling the merged company in Canada would result an evasion of American taxes, and that Facebook pledge to "pay all of our federal, state and local U.S. taxes" obscures some key facts, including the fact that this maneuver would allow it to evade U.S. taxes on overseas profits.
And let's not start the discredited argument that it's being forced to move because US corporate tax rates are supposedly too high. The actual rate paid by American corporations, once they're done applying all the loopholes their lobbyists in Washington have designed, their actual rate is at the low end of the global tax spectrum - and this at a time when many corporations are achieving record-breaking profits.
As for Burger King, its 2013 results led to headlines like the Wall Street Journal's "Burger King Profit Rises on Lower Costs," after an increase in profitability of nearly 40 percent. And its performance in the first quarter of this year led USA Today to proclaim that "Burger King cuts costs, serves up tasty profits."
The proposed tax-dodging moves has led several groups (including the Campaign for America's Future and Americans for Tax Fairness) to start a petition drive against Burger King. It has also led to grassroots fury, if the company's Facebook page in any indication. Here are a few of the recent comments to that recent "WHOPPER" of a statement:
burger king crowned king of the tax dodgers! boycott!!!!!
Nice spin. The Burger King Corp. half of the company will remain headquartered in Miami. HOWEVER, the corporate headquarters of the combined company will be based in Canada as a U.S. tax avoidance. A customer exodus to save a few bucks on the tax bill ...
If you move I will unfortunately never be able to eat at any Burger King anywhere. I travel internationally and that will include any other country I go to. Pay American tax. Also, you may want to start paying your employees a living wage as well!
And more commenters joined in the impromptu boycott sentiment:
I was going to come in today to get food (haven't been there in a long time) and heard you guys are being extremely greedy. Never mind. Going to Chipotle instead.
I now consider you to be tax-dodging traitors, and I'll never spend another dime in your establishments. In other words, enjoy Canada, but say good-bye to my business, ya hosers, eh?
Just wanted to say Goodby sorry to see you leave. Our family has spent a lot of days in Burger Kings lines, we were good customers, spent a lot of money but your lost will be another companies gain. I'm sure Wendys or Checkers will be happy to get us ...
To be sure, not every commenter represented lost revenue for Burger King. The handful of right-wingers who consistently trolled these comments clearly aren't going anywhere, and another said rather crudely that "I wouldn't eat the horse meat you serve anyway you dicks."
Well, okay, Burger King won't lose revenue on that guy. But a lot of people are clearly angry, and they're clearly planning to take their business elsewhere.
What's more, the fast-food monarch isn't just losing the serfs and rabble-rousers. Even reliable royalists like Sir Joe of Scarborough are whispering of rebellion. That's right: Conservative talk show host Joe Scarborough endorsed the idea of a Burger King boycott on his morning talk show, saying "I think a lot of Americans are should not go Burger King again if they're going cheat on their taxes."
Another host responded, "Their fries suck."
"They do suck," Scarborough agreed.
That's not the kind of commentary any corporation wants, especially a publicly-traded one. Soon its investors will be beseeching the King of Burgers: Turn back, Sire, before it is too late. Otherwise Burger King may be forced to learn the lesson England's George III was taught in 1776: Americans bend the knee to no foreign monarch, even if he offers chicken fries on the side.
An informal boycott seems to have started already. If Burger King insists on picking a fight with the American people, the response may very well come in the words of one of its own slogans:
Have it your way.
(Here's a petition to the CEO of Burger King: "Keep Burger King American and pay your fair share. If not I'll dine elsewhere.")
Follow Richard (RJ) Eskow on Twitter: www.twitter.com/rjeskow