Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Problems With Recent Tax Foundation Study

From A Taxing Matter:

“The Tax Foundation is busy again pushing its latest propaganda idea--that the US has such high corporate taxes that it stifles competition and hurts our economy--with a new "" organization.

Wrong. Fact is, though our tax laws include statutory rates that are fairly high (35% for corporations earning about $18 million or more annually) but generally in the same ballpark as those of other developed western nations, the actual tax rates paid by US corporations are extraordinarily low, around 6%. Remember the latest GAO report (reported elsewhere on ataxingmatter) that shows that two-thirds of US corporations pay no federal income tax. That's not just the ones that are losing money, but also many corporations that have record high profits (including some Big Oil companies) that end up paying next to nothing in taxes.

That's because the statutory rate of 35% is only on paper. Corporations engage in aggressive tax planning that cheats the system, and they take advantage of a bountiful number of lucrative loopholes built into the system under the four decades of Reagan-style corporate favoritism and deregulation, including items such as accelerated depreciation, various expensing provisions that let corporations deduct before they really have an economic cost, and the lucrative research & development credit that lowers taxes dollar-for-dollar for R&D expenditures that corporations have to do anyway (so they do not serve as an incentive to greater development) and that corporations have often already done prior to the enactment of the one-year "extensions" of the credit that have been taking place as transitions to no-credit for years.

As a result, the US is actually a corporate tax haven, with the lowest effective corporate tax rates of almost all the countries that participate in the OECD. That's a little fact that the Tax Foundation apparently doesn't want the American public to understand, since all its hype is in terms of statutory rates and not in terms of effective tax rates.

Now, the Tax Foundation does put out a figure for the amount of corporate taxes collected--a little more than $300 billion. But it doesn't provide the historical context--the share of federal revenues paid by corporate taxes has decreased substantially, while the share of overall revenues provided by everybody else (including the little guys through payroll taxes, among other means) has increased.

The Tax Foundation does something else it often tends to do in setting out its propaganda: quote one source as a definitive authority, without mentioning conflicting conclusions from other respectable sources. The Tax Foundation wants employees to believe that they are the ones who "really" pay corporate taxes come. But we don't know the incidence of the corporate tax, and there are a number of conflicting studies. Even the studies that exist make a number of assumptions that may bring their conclusions into doubt. Many experts think it is primarily the shareholders (of course, that's also the claim of many of the right-leaning organizations like the Tax Foundation when they are arguing for eliminating corporate taxation because, they claim, it amounts to "double taxation" of the same earnings when shareholders are taxed on their investments). But it may be predominantly consumers, or workers, or creditors, or so diffuse that it isn't borne by any one segment of the economy. What we do know is that many corporations have been making very high profits and paying low taxes, and that the corporate contribution to the fisc is considerably less as a percentage of GDP than it used to be, at the same time that wealthy US taxpayers are paying astoundingly low overall effective tax rates on their income, including very low rates on their income from capital, while they are garnering an ever larger share of the income pie.

Instead of talking about a need to reduce corporate tax rates, the Tax Foundation should be answering the following question: if low corporate taxes are the key to success, how does the Tax Foundation explain that very favorably taxed US corporations--like Big Pharma, Big Oil, and of course Big Banks--that pay among the lowest tax rates in the developed world, still claim they need more government subsidies in order to successfully compete against their international counterparts (or each other, in many cases). Isn't this just another one of those straw-man arguments claiming a "need" to reduce US taxes for the "public" good, when the real goal is to eliminate taxes on corporations and on income from capital, so that wealthy corporate owners and managers can continue to garner a larger and larger share of the nation's income?

What US corporations need is more long-term thinking and less of the mentality that has reigned for decades, that leads to restructuring to build profits into hedge funds and equity joint ventures and managers and shareholders, but not leaving much on the table to build long-term commercial success. It's not a tax cut these corporations need, but cuts to the drivel at the top (executives earning in half a day what their average employees earn in an entire year) and more committed participation in the community and nation that has made their incredible success possible.

I hope Americans are too smart to buy more of this propaganda that is part and parcel of the deceptive marketing of the corporatist state. It's time to recognize the power that corporatism gives to wealthy owners and managers of corporations and set the rules to benefit the public good, rather than the wealthy few.”

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