The US currently has extraordinarily high statutory rates, with a 35 per cent federal rate rising to 39 or 40 per cent once state taxes are considered – way above the average 24.8 percent for OECD countries, or the 19 per cent here. Tech giants and pharmaceuticals companies of course use deductions and exemptions such that they do not pay the full rate, but the World Bank and International Finance Commission estimates that, at 27.9 per cent, the US’s effective tax rate is still second highest in the OECD.
Corporate income taxes are widely believed to be one of the most damaging forms of taxation. Not only are they not transparent, with their burden ultimately falling largely on workers and shareholders, but high profit tax rates can encourage profitable companies to locate overseas for tax purposes, deter new inward investment and discourage incremental investment from existing companies by reducing the expected future return on capital.
Little surprise then that many Republicans in Washington look to London as an example to follow. The Conservative government here has dropped our headline rate from 28 to 19 per cent since 2010, with plans for further cuts to 17 per cent by 2020. Surely Trump should just do what we’ve done?
But the lessons from the UK are perhaps more nuanced than they first appear. In the first few years of the last Parliament, the government prioritised increasing companies headquartering or moving significant operations here by cutting the main rate. But they offset the loss of revenue by making capital depreciation and investment allowances less generous, broadening the tax base.