Tag: corporate taxes

‘Corporations Are [Made of] People’

Mitt Romney’s explanation of why he’s against raising taxes on corporations — indeed, America already has some of the highest corporate tax rates in the developed world — at the Iowa State Fair was a bit awkward but not wholly incorrect.  Reason’s Katherine Mangu-Ward has a good post with video and transcript, but here’s the salient bit:

ROMNEY: We have to make sure that the promises we make — and Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare — are promises we can keep. And there are various ways of doing that. One is, we could raise taxes on people.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Corporations!

ROMNEY: Corporations are people, my friend. We can raise taxes on—

AUDIENCE MEMBER: No, they’re not!

ROMNEY: Of course they are. Everything corporations earn also goes to people.

AUDIENCE: [LAUGHTER]

ROMNEY: Where do you think it goes?

AUDIENCE MEMBER: It goes into their pockets!

ROMNEY: Whose pockets? Whose pockets? People’s pockets! Human beings, my friend. So number one, you can raise taxes. That’s not the approach that I would take.

Now, obviously, Romney is not saying that corporations are living, breathing beings with rights to abortion (or not, or depending on the stage of development of the fetal/baby corporations) and marriage, who are subject to Obamacare’s individual mandate (or even Romneycare’s for Massachusetts corporations), can be put to death if they murder someone, and so forth.  He means that corporate money always comes from, flows through, and ends up in human hands.  It cannot be otherwise: we are the only beings/entities/”things” on the planet that deal in money.  Not even the honey badger does that.

I probably would’ve phrased it differently — Democrats and left-wing activists are already having a field day (for example, mixing Romney’s speech with Barbra Streisand’s singing “People”) — but there’s really nothing wrong with Romney’s point.  Indeed, it’s the tax-policy corollary to the legal point I’ve been making ever since Citizens United came down: corporations don’t have constitutional rights because they’re corporations, but because they’re made up of individuals, who don’t lose their rights when they associate (in corporate form or otherwise).

As I said in a previous blogpost, “it really doesn’t matter that ‘corporations aren’t people.’  Of course they’re not living, breathing human beings, and their ’personhood’ for legal purposes is just that: a convenient legal fiction.”  I even wrote a law review article (co-authored with Caitlyn Walsh McCarthy) to explain this fairly simple argument.  From the abstract:

When individuals pool their resources and speak under the legal fiction of a corporation, they do not lose their rights. It cannot be any other way; in a world where corporations are not entitled to constitutional protections, the police would be free to storm office buildings and seize computers or documents. The mayor of New York City could exercise eminent domain over Rockefeller Center by fiat and without compensation if he decides he’d like to move his office there. Moreover, the government would be able to censor all corporate speech, including that of so-called media corporations. In short, rights-bearing individuals do not forfeit those rights when they associate in groups.

Similarly, when you tax corporations, you’re taxing the people who ultimately profit from corporate activity: officers, directors, and, most directly, shareholders.  Of course, all these people also pay individual income taxes so, in effect, that income is being taxed twice.   I’ll leave it to my colleague Dan Mitchell to explain why that might be bad and how otherwise to reform our tax code, but the fact of the matter is that raising corporate taxes does in fact constitute raising taxes on people — which you have to be against if you want to become the Republican presidential nominee.  That’s why Romney said what he said.

Anyhow, the title of my article is “So What If Corporations Aren’t People?” but perhaps I should retitle it “So What If Corporations Are People?” and offer it as a press release to the Romney campaign.

A Fiscal Royal Wedding

The British royal wedding was splendid, and the bride and groom were a great match. As a fiscal wonk, my idea of a royal match-up would be marrying corporate tax cuts and business subsidy cuts. The Obama administration is talking about corporate tax cuts and Republicans are talking about cuts to farm subsidies. Might they get together over a cup of tea and work out nuptials?

The global average corporate tax rate has fallen over the last decade from 32 to 25 percent (KPMG, page 79). We have been stuck with a highly damaging 40% federal-state rate. Canada is chopping its combined federal-provincial rate to 25 percent. The Conservative government just won a parliamentary majority, which promises even more pro-investment changes for our largest trading partner.

Consider a Japanese car company deciding where to build its next North American plant. Should it choose a place with a 25 percent tax and stable government finances, or a place with a 40 percent tax and soaring government debt threatening major tax hikes?

The American economy is sputtering, and today we learned that the unemployment rate is back up to 9 percent. If the Obama administration wants to get the economy booming before next year’s election, it should push for a cut in the federal corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent or lower. And it should put aside all this stuff about “closing corporate loopholes.” A lot of supposed corporate loopholes aren’t loopholes to begin with, and as soon as you start trying to cut the real loopholes, half the business community lines up against reform and nothing gets done. Furthermore, if we chopped the corporate rate, the economic distortions caused by loopholes would decline.

Anyway, the largest corporate “loopholes” are probably “homemade loopholes,” which start disappearing automatically if we cut the tax rate. With a high tax rate, corporations have fashioned all kinds of financial structures to avoid taxes. Corporate tax experts agree that the mobility of the corporate tax base is high and rising. If we sharply cut our corporate rate, reported income would increase substantially as multinationals shift their profits into the United States. (For more on this, see my book).

A corporate tax cut would spur capital investment and economic growth. In 2005, the Joint Committee on Taxation used two macro models to look at the effects of various fiscal reform packages. By far, the largest positive impacts on GDP came from matching a corporate tax rate cut with federal spending cuts. (See charts 1c and 1d). The JCT found that:

A decrease in the corporate income tax rate primarily affects the economy through increasing the after-tax rate of return on corporate capital, which provides incentives for increased investment in corporate capital. Over time, this increased investment results in more goods and services and higher total output. It also results in higher labor productivity, leading to increased wages and employment.

So, let’s get cracking on a corporate tax rate cut. Forget about the corporate loopholes, and instead match a rate cut with cuts to business subsidies, such as farm handouts.

Let’s also put aside the idea of tying corporate tax reform to individual tax reform, as Ways and Means chairman David Camp has suggested. That’s just a recipe for gridlock. Obama is offering up corporate tax reform — for the sake of jobs and the economy, Republicans should jump on that opportunity right away.

Deloitte Survey: Concerns about Government

A Deloitte Growth Enterprise Services survey of 527 executives at mid-market companies (annual revenues of between $50 million and $1 billion) found “tempered optimism” that the economic recovery will continue. However, the survey also found significant concern over government fiscal and regulatory policies.

A whopping 50 percent cited federal, state, and local debt as the greatest obstacle to U.S. growth in the coming year. Lack of consumer confidence (39 percent) and rising health care costs (33 percent) came in second and third. Lest anyone construe the executives’ concern about government debt as implied support for tax increases, high tax rates came in fourth at 30 percent. Government austerity, which can include tax increases, and infrastructure needs came in at 15 and 9 percent, respectively.

When asked to choose up to three items that represent their company’s main obstacle to growth, only 21 percent cited government budget cuts. I’m frankly surprised that the figure isn’t higher considering that a number of these companies probably “do business” with government. Increased regulatory compliance was only a tick higher at 22 percent. Health care costs came in third at 30 percent, and uncertain economic outlook was first at 41 percent. I would pin that uncertainty on government policies. It is likely that a substantial number of the respondents would agree given other survey results.

Reducing corporate tax rates (33 percent) was the clear winner when the executives were asked to choose up to two measures by the U.S. government that would most help mid-size businesses grow in the next year. Keeping interest rates low (32 percent) was close behind, followed by rolling back health care reform (23 percent). Keynesian measures that are popular in the White House, supporting increased infrastructure investment and stimulating private consumption, came in at 19 percent and 14 percent, respectively.

Finally, many, if not the majority, of respondents expect regulatory costs to increase next year, particularly in the area of health care reform. Respondents expect the president’s Affordable Care Act to sharply increase costs (33 percent) or slightly increase costs (33 percent). A majority (56 percent) expect tax compliance costs to increase. A near majority (49 percent) expect both economic and occupational health & safety regulatory costs to increase.

In sum, the good news is that optimism is on the rise in the business community. The bad news is that the heavy hand of government is still a dark cloud hovering over the recovery.

Rep. Hanna’s Corporate Tax Cut

Rep. Richard Hanna is one of the many new members of Congress with a no-nonsense business background. He is determined to move the GOP in the direction of major tax and spending reforms. When I chatted to the congressman, he told me that he had already read my Global Tax Revolution, so he will be well-armed in tackling business tax reform!

Hanna is off to a good start with his “American Competitiveness Act,” which would chop the federal corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent. He notes that “the average rate in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries is just over 25 percent, meaning the effective U.S. corporate tax burden, when state and local taxes are considered, can be 50 percent higher than some of our developed competitors, rendering our companies and workers less competitive.”

In his State of the Union address, President Obama said that he is willing to cut the corporate tax rate. So corporate tax reform could be the 2011 version of the Clinton-GOP welfare reforms of 1996. That is, a major pro-market success made possible by a liberal president moving to the pragmatic center.

Upcoming: On February 23, Cato will release new estimates of corporate “effective” tax rates by tax scholars Jack Mintz and Duanjie Chen. The study will shed further light on the dangerous uncompetitiveness of the U.S. corporate tax system.

Taiwan Cuts Corporate Taxes

From the subscription magazine Tax Notes today:

Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan (parliament), in an attempt to attract foreign investors, on May 28 passed legislation cutting the island’s corporate tax rate from 20 percent to 17 percent, retroactive to January 1…

The lower corporate tax rate will make Taiwan more competitive with its East Asian rivals Singapore, whose rate is also 17 percent, and Hong Kong, whose rate remains slightly lower at 16.5 percent.

The reduced rate ‘will make us even more competitive and will help attract international businesses to set up their headquarters in Taiwan. We believe we’ll see the positive results in the next several years,’ lawmaker Alex Fei of the ruling Kuomintang.

If you were the CEO of an international company that made semiconductor chips, laptops, or other manufactured products, would you locate your next plant in the United States – where the corporate rate is about 40% – or Taiwan where it is less than half of that?

Companies build new factories, buy machines, and hire workers in order to earn after-tax profits. Our government swipes twice as much of those profits as the Taiwanese government, so our economy obviously gets fewer factories and machines and lower wages than otherwise. 

The global business environment is changing, and we need to change with it. I’m not sure why that is so hard for U.S. policymakers to understand.

See here for corporate effective tax rates around the world.

Buy this book to read about the global tax revolution.