Turn Corporate Taxes Into Licences

A recent story in the Washington Post and republished in Greenwich Times shows that, once again, major profitable US corporations are playing the tax code to their own advantage and to the cost of the rest of US taxpayers.

  • 91 of the Fortune 500 paid NO taxes at all on earnings of $101 billion;
  • Amazon made a profit in excess of $10 billion but received a tax rebate of $129 million;
  • Video game maker Activision Blizzard had $447 million in profits but received a tax rebate of $243 million, resulting in an effective tax rate of -54.4%.

The new Trump tax code,

“lowered the U.S. corporate tax rate from 35% to 21%, but in practice large companies often pay far less than that because of deductions, tax breaks and other loopholes. In the first year of the law, the amount corporations paid in federal taxes on their incomes – their “effective rate” – was 11.3% on average, possibly its lowest level in more than three decades … [T]he new law introduced many new breaks and loopholes.”

Corporations around the world play the same tricks. Often they reside in tax havens and levy enough “corporate service charges” on their overseas subsidiaries to ensure that no taxes are paid.

And this all comes at a cost to the rest of us.  As corporate taxes fall and government deficits grow, there is increasing pressure to reduce those deficits by reducing spending on welfare services, health, and education.

Centre-right politicians have suggested that lowering corporate tax rates will encourage more companies to stay in-house as it were.  That is just an excuse to make the rich richer as the new Trump tax code proves.  There is a simpler and much more efficient way.

I suggest that corporate income taxes be eliminated completely. They should be replaced by a “license to operate” fee equal to, say, 10% of revenues earned in the country no matter where the head office is based. Simple to understand, simple to manage, and, I suspect, very difficult to get around.

Country of ownership becomes immediately irrelevant, and transfers to an offshore HQ will be pointless for tax purposes. Indeed, they may well create a double taxation situation in which those transfers become taxable revenue in the home country. It also gives corporations the right to NOT operate in any particular country if they choose to forgo the revenues.

Finally, I would make this tax law bullet-proof by including a provision that, should some smart accountant or lawyer find a loophole, then that loophole is closed retroactively to the dater of the law’s passage.

We should give this a try. It is a commonsense approach, eliminates the need for accountants, lawyers, and an army of regulators. It will produce fairness across the board.

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