Home > Uncategorized > Bruce Bartlett: Some Big Corporations Don’t Pay Taxes, Either – NYTimes.com

Bruce Bartlett: Some Big Corporations Don’t Pay Taxes, Either – NYTimes.com

September 19, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

Luxembourg is, of course, a notorious tax haven. Arranging to realize its profits in such places has long been a tax-avoidance policy practiced by Microsoft and other big corporations. According to a July 22 report by the London-based Tax Justice Network, as much as $32 trillion of global financial wealth may be parked in the world’s tax havens.

Even without taking account of offshore tax havens and other aggressive tax avoidance activities, corporate taxes are grossly overrated as a cost of doing business in the United States. According to the Office of Management and Budget, the corporate income tax raised just 1.2 percent of the gross domestic product last year. Even in 2007, before the economic crisis, it raised only 2.7 percent of G.D.P. This is well down from the 1950s, when the corporate tax raised twice as much revenue as a share of G.D.P.

Republicans often point to the statutory corporate tax rate in the United States as evidence that American companies are overtaxed. Indeed, it is true that the United States has the highest statutory central government tax rate among members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The combined statutory rate in the United States is 39.2 percent, including state taxes, compared with an average of 29.6 percent in the O.E.C.D.

However, as a Sept. 13 report from the Congressional Research Service explains, looking only at the statutory rate is highly misleading as an indication of the burden of the corporate tax. That is because it does not take account of the many tax expenditures that reduce the effective tax rate paid by American corporations. In 2011, they reduced corporate tax revenues by $159 billion.

As a consequence, the weighted effective tax rate – taxes as a share of profits – is 27.1 percent in the United States, which is below the 27.7 percent average rate of O.E.C.D. nations. The weighted average marginal tax rate on corporations – the tax on each additional dollar earned – is 20.2 percent in the United States, compared with 18.3 percent in the O.E.C.D.

For these reasons, the investor Warren Buffett says it’s “a myth that American corporations are paying 35 percent or anything like it.”

The Congressional Research Service report also notes that in the United States corporate taxes as a share of G.D.P. were the third lowest among all O.E.C.D. countries in 2009 – 1.7 percent of G.D.P. (including state taxes), compared with an O.E.C.D. average of 2.8 percent of G.D.P. Even Ireland, which conservatives often point to has having an exemplary corporate tax system, raised corporate taxes equal to 2.4 percent of G.D.P.

One continuing confusion in the corporate tax debate is who, exactly, pays it. Corporations, after all, are not entities separate from their owners (shareholders), employees and customers. They are the ones who pay the tax, but economists have been debating about who and to what degree for a century.

A Treasury Department report in May concluded that 82 percent of the corporate tax is borne by capital, with 18 percent borne by labor. Contrary to popular belief, none of the tax is shifted to consumers, which stands to reason because prices are set by producers that pay different tax rates or may even be tax-exempt.

The private Tax Policy Center published a study on Sept. 13 with similar conclusions. It estimates that 20 percent of the corporate tax is paid by labor, 20 percent is borne by the “normal” return to capital – roughly, the risk-free interest rate – and 60 percent by the “supernormal” return to capital. The latter is the extent to which the return to corporate stock has historically exceeded the risk-free interest rate.

One driving force for tax reform is a widespread belief, on both sides of the aisle, that the statutory corporate tax rate should be reduced. That is fine as long as the tax base is broadened by eliminating loopholes. But the idea that cutting the tax rate is a magic bullet to jump-start growth is nonsense, because corporate taxes are, in fact, quite low.

via Bruce Bartlett: Some Big Corporations Don’t Pay Taxes, Either – NYTimes.com.

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