Economics tells us that the person who writes the check to the government is not necessarily the person who bears the burden of the tax, and this holds for the corporate income tax as well. Labor bears a portion of this tax: the corporate income tax reduces the returns to investment so firms invest less, which means workers have less equipment to work with. As a result, they are less productive, which reduces wages as well as employment.
Other countries have figured out the economic cost of a high corporate income tax and have been reducing their corporate tax rates at a rapid pace: from 2000–2012 the countries that are members of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development cut corporate tax rates fully 85 times. Most of these were not offset by tax revenue increases elsewhere, either.
The economists Mihir Desai, James Hines and Fritz Foley estimate that workers bear well over 50 percent of the corporate tax burden; A study done by the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the proportion is more than 70 percent. If either proportion is anywhere close to reality then it is indisputable that the corporate income tax hurts working Americans.
A recent study that I did with Andrew Hanson, an economist at Marquette University, found support for that conclusion. We looked at a bevy of research that examined the relationship between the corporate tax rate, wages, and employment. Based on this research we concluded that reducing the corporate tax rate to the vicinity of 20 percent (Paul Ryan and Congress would like to get it into the low‐to‐mid 20s) from the current 35%—which is currently the highest among the 35 members of the Organization for Economic Development—would boost wages in the long run by 15 percent to 20 percent and employment from 10 percent to 15 percent.
The Nobel Laureate Robert Lucas once remarked that getting rid of the tax on corporate profits and other capital income was the closest thing to a free lunch he had ever seen in economics. While such a radical change is not on the table, we do have an opportunity to dramatically alter a poor environment for U.S. businesses by cutting the corporate income tax. Doing so would benefit American workers as much as anyone.