Raymond Richman - Jesse Richman - Howard Richman
Richmans' Trade and Taxes Blog
The Corporate Income Tax Cut is a Cut for the Wealthy
Corporations are artificial entities and artificial entities bear none of the burden of income taxes; those who own them bear the burden of the income tax and gain from tax reductions. The burden of the corporate income tax is borne by the shareholders, and guess what? The top one percent of the richest Americans own forty percent of the stock of American corporations and the next nine percent own forty percent. The corporate income tax cut from 35% to 20% will reduce their burden 42%. That is why the U.S. stock markets have been booming since Trump’s election. But the purpose of income tax reform is not to make the rich richer; it is to lower taxes on the middle class and eliminate loopholes. So why are we giving the rich (and foreigners who own 15% of American corporate shares) such an enormous tax break?
The reasons given by its proponents is that the U.S. high rate causes American companies to 1) invest in or move their headquarters and factories to lower tax countries, 2) cause U.S. multi-nationals to keep their foreign earnings abroad because to return them to the U.S. will subject them to the higher U.S. income tax rates, and 3) U.S. multi-nationals will use the high rates and low or non-existent American tariffs resulting from international trade agreements to produce their products abroad and to export them to the U.S. duty-free. These and many other evils of the corporate income tax can be corrected by a costless solution, namely, taxing corporate earnings under the personal income tax just as we tax partnership earnings. After all, the corporation is simply a limited liability company and most American partnerships and proprietorship have registered as limited liability companies (LLCs), and 4) stimulate economic growth. Under our proposal, the earnings of foreign subsidiaries would be subject to the personal income tax so there would be no incentive to keep earnings abroad. ...
Needed Corporate Tax Reform Is to Eliminate It
The principal cause of the anemic growth of the U.S. economy in recent decades has been the chronic trade deficits with the rest of the world which have cost millions of U.S. manufacturing jobs and converted the U.S. from the world’s leading creditor to the world’s leading debtor. There are many causes of trade deficits. Tax reform, contrary to the claims made for it, will not balance our trade at all. The US international trade deficits averaged about 3 percent of Gross Domestic Product in recent decades. If trade had been in balance, the growth of the GDP would have been 5.3 percent on the average since 2001 instead of 1.6 percent.
The principal causes of international trade deficits are the relative costs of producing goods and services in different countries, the foreign exchange rates, and the existence of barriers to trade imposed by trading partners. Wilbur Ross, the Secretary of Commerce, in an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal 8/1/2017 states that the U.S. imposes fewer barriers on imports than the European Union and China with which we have huge trade deficits. Other countries with which we are experiencing large chronic trade deficits are Japan, Korea, and Mexico. Together with China and the EU, these countries accounted for 88.9 percent of our trade deficit in 2016. An unintended consequence of all of our trade agreements to date is that they enabled American corporations to invest in countries that have low corporate income tax rates and to export their products to the U.S. duty-free, exacerbating the trade imbalances. We would not be concerned about this practice if U.S. trade were in balance.
There is a simple solution to the trade deficits. We can impose single-country-variable-tariffs which are authorized by the world trade agreements which permit member countries to impose tariffs designed to balance trade. The tariff would apply to all imports from the trade surplus county including those of the multi-nationals formerly producing their products in the U.S. So long as trade remains unbalanced, the single-country-variable tariff would produce substantial revenues. Would it start a trade war? Countries with trade surpluses cannot win a trade war with countries they have trade surpluses with. The trade deficit country has the advantage in a trade war. If trade diminishes with the trade surplus partner, it will increase with the other trading partners with whom we have no trade deficit....
Trade Deficits vs.Income Tax Reform to Stimulate Economic Growth
The principal cause of the anemic growth of the U.S. economy in recent decades has been the chronic trade deficits with the rest of the world which have cost millions of U.S. manufacturing jobs and converted the U.S. from the world’s leading creditor to the world’s leading debtor. Multi-country trade agreements encourage American corporations to invest in countries with low corporate income tax rates and to export the goods they produce to the U.S. duty-free. The government’s first task is to bring our trade into better balance. Tax reform will not do it. As the U.S. Gross Domestic Product statistics show, the US international trade deficits averaged about 3 percent per year in recent decades. If trade had been in balance, the growth of the GDP would have been nearly five percent on the average instead of one to two percent. ...
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Tax Corporate Earnings As Personal Income; That Would Be Real Reform
The administration and the Congress are considering reform of the federal government’s corporate income tax by reducing the top rate of the corporate income tax from 35% to as low as15%. Real corporate tax reform would treat corporations the same as partnerships are currently treated, namely, to tax the earnings of corporations as the personal income of shareholders just as partnership earnings are taxed as the personal income of their partners. Corporations are simply limited liability partnerships. The distinction of limited liability no longer since most States enable partnerships to register as limited liability enterprises. So the first real major reform would be to eliminate the corporate income tax and to tax corporate earnings as the personal income of the shareholders. There is precedent for taxing corporate earnings as personal income. The earnings of partnerships, individual proprietorships, and “S” corporations are already taxed as personal income. Moreover, there are many other good reasons to tax corporate earnings under the personal income tax.
Economists have long considered the corporate income tax a bad tax. It violates the principle that persons in equal economic circumstances should receive equal treatment. The corporate income tax falls with the same weight on the earnings of the very wealthy as it does on shareholders with lower incomes. Shareholders in lower tax brackets bear the same tax rate on corporate earnings as millionaires and billionaires. As a result their incomes at retirement are much less than they would be if their share of corporate earnings were taxed at personal income tax rates.
It violates the principle of progressivity, that those with higher incomes should pay a higher rate of tax than those of lower incomes. The case for progressivity rests on the fact that incomes are unequally distributed. The personal income of most individuals with very high incomes is attributable to monopoly power caused by differences in personal ability, to different degrees of monopoly power inherent in a free market economy, to real and sometimes illusory product differences, to location, and even serendipity. Such differences are called economic rents and progressively taxing economic rents has little or no negative economic effects.
Economists have long pointed out the negative economic effects of the corporate income tax that the personal income tax does not have. These include encouragement of corporations to rely more heavily on borrowed capital rather than equity capital because the former is deductible as an expense. Other distortions include that fact corporations are encouraged to buy-back their stock instead of paying dividends. The former creates capital gains which are taxed at a lower rate than dividends. ...
Cutting the Corporate Income Tax Will Not Create Jobs, Jobs, Jobs
The corporate income tax cut being considered by the Congress will accomplish none of the goals claimed for it. It will not stimulate the economy and create jobs, it will not do anything to balance trade, it will cause the federal budget deficit to grow, it will worsen the already unequal distribution of income. The President seems to have bought the ideas of some economists called supply-siders who assert that the economic growth stimulated by the tax cut will more than offset the initial loss of revenue. Most economists disagree asserting that if growth occurs, it will because of other forces. Most economists agree that the corporate tax lacks interpersonal equity, has negative economic effects, and worsens the distribution of income. These negative characteristics can be avoided by eliminating the corporate income tax and taxing corporate earnings as the personal income of the shareholders, just as partnership earnings are currently treated.
One of the criticisms economists make of the corporate income tax is that shareholders of modest incomes pay the same rate of tax as those in the highest personal income tax bracket pay. In fact, those in the top personal income tax bracket are favored because corporate earnings are now taxed at a top rate of 35% compared with 39.6%, the top rate of personal income tax. Corporate stock is highly concentrated in the hands of the wealthy. Thus the corporate income tax makes it easier for the wealthy to become more wealthy than if they paid the personal income tax rate on corporate earnings, while those of middle income find it more difficult to provide enough for their retirement. The pension funds owned by middle income families are invested mostly in corporations whose incomes are taxed at 35% by the corporate income tax when they as individuals may be in the 20 percent personal income bracket. How much faster their retirement funds would grow if their share of corporate earnings were taxed at the rate of 20% instead of 35%/, as they would be if corporate earnings were taxed as personal income.
Corporations would pay the Treasury the top rate of personal income tax on its earnings and shareholders would be credited with the tax paid by the corporations on their behalf. The most wealthy taxpayers would pay more than the 35% to corporate rate, 39.6%. Less wealthy taxpayers, say those in the 20% personal income tax bracket would get a tax credit for the excess tax paid to use as a credit against their other taxable income. To illustrate how this would work, in 2016 Amazon Corporation had 474 million shares of stock outstanding and had net earnings before tax of $3,892 million or $3.25 per share. Suppose all the earnings were taxed at 39.6%, Amazon would pay $1,541 billion to the federal government as withholding of personal income tax or 3.25 per share. If a shareholder owned 100 shares, he would report income from Amazon of $821 and receive a tax credit of $325, while those in the 20% personal income tax bracket would pay $164 and apply the excess paid as a tax credit against his other income. The result is a substantial increase in progressivity. ...
Border Adjustable Tax
The Tax Foundation has put out an analysis of the House Border Adjustable Tax plan. This highlights some of the key elements of the plan, but may be incomplete in particular ways. The full analysis is available here: https://files.taxfoundation.org/20170215084119/Tax-Foundation-SR234.pdf
They make a number of valuable points about the plan. However, some of the arguments made depend upon assumptions which may not necessarily be relevant in the current situation.
One key assumption is that trade is balanced (at least in the longish run).
If trade is balanced, then of course this is right. On the other hand, the US has run a remarkably robust trade deficit since the Carter administration -- four decades. In the context of a situation in which trade is not balanced, it is worth thinking about the effects of the particular proposal. The current corporate tax system taxes exports but not imports. This will tend to discourage exports. The proposed change will tax imports but not exports. This will tend to discourage imports. If one assumes that trade is balanced, then of course a border adjustable tax will have no effect on the trade balance. But if in fact a country is running a trade deficit, switching the incidence of corporate taxation in a way that taxes imports instead of exports is a prudential measure likely to improve the trade balance. It switches from a tax code that taxes exports to a tax code that taxes imports. This is a VERY GOOD IDEA likely to improve the trade balance.
The paper makes a number of good points about the benefits of the proposal.
Under the current tax system, multinational corporations engage in extensive tax shifting and tax shelter strategies. I would argue that the presence of these strategies is bad for the economy in multiple ways...
In the American Thinker this morning, we suggest four tax changes that Congress could enact to balance the budget and boost the economy at the same time by taxing foreigners:
Our ballpark estimate is that these four proposals would bring the government $465 billion in tax revenue the first year. To read our commentary, go to:
Real Income Tax Reform Is Taxing Corporate Earnings As Personal Income
Although tax reforms have been proposed by all candidates for President in the primaries, they all fall far short of what most economists would propose. It is not tax reform to impose a flat tax as Sen. Cruz and others have proposed or to eliminate the estate tax as a number of Republicans have recommended. The proposals would simply eliminate all progressivity from the tax system. The personal income tax and the estate tax are the only taxes that reduce income inequality and wealth inequality in a free market system. It is not tax reform to propose a value-added tax as Pres. Obama once briefly suggested and his rival Romney said he was considering it. The VA tax, widely used in the Euro community and promoted by the IMF for every country in the world is not appropriate for countries with a federal system of government. It is a sales tax and nearly every one of the States in the U.S. imposes a sales tax. Sales taxes should be left to the States.
Real reform must call for abolition of the corporate income tax and taxing corporate earnings as personal income under the personal income tax. None of the candidates for President have proposed doing so. Instead they propose reforms that are not real reforms at all. ...
Only Modest Tax Reforms Are Needed to Get Domestic Industry Growing Again
John H. Cochrane, senior fellow of Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and formerly of the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago, writing in and op-ed in the WSJ, 12-23-2015, entitled “Here’s What Genuine Tax Reform Looks Like” states that, “The first goal of taxation is to raise needed government revenue with minimum economic damage.” No, the first goal of taxation is to distribute the burden of taxation equitably, i.e., fairly. Minimizing economic damage is a very important goal.
Another important goal is adequacy to fund the functions of government without causing an undesirable level of inflation. Governments may impose fees and taxes based on the so-called benefit principle, such as court fees, charges to record transfers and ownership of property, and taxes on motor vehicles to finance the construction and maintenance of roads and bridges. Minimizing economic damage also includes avoiding excessive disincentives to work, invest, and save. There is nothing in Cochranes’ writing to indicate that he is an expert in the economics of public finance.
He prescribes a number of reforms, some of which I agree with. First and foremost is his proposal to abolish the corporate income tax. He is correct that “With no corporate tax, arguments disappear over investment expensing versus depreciation, repatriation of profits, too much tax deductible debt, R&D deductions, and the vast array of energy deductions and credits.” He does not conclude that corporate earnings should be taxed, instead, under the personal income tax, as I have proposed in recent publications.
Instead, he proposes that “government should tax consumption, not wages, income or wealth”, not inheritances, nor capital gains. Doing so, he argues, would eliminate the need for the “complex web of shelters”, including IRAs, health savings accounts, life insurance exemptions, and the “panoply of trusts that wealthy individuals use to shelter their wealth and escape the estate tax”. He would reduce the progressivity of the personal income tax, eliminate “All the various deductions, credits, and exclusions”....
Tax Corporate Income as Personal Income -- we're published in today's American Thinker
Here's how we begin:
To read the rest, go to:
The Corporate Income Tax Is the Worst Tax; Repeal It and Tax Corporate Earnings under the Personal Income Tax
There are taxes which treat taxpayers fairly, are progressive in their effects, and have few bad economic effects. The corporate income tax is not one of them. The corporate income tax treats taxpayers unfairly, favors the very rich, and has bad economic effects. It is probably the worst major tax, vastly inferior to the personal income tax, sales taxes, death taxes, or any other major source of revenue.
So who bears the burden of the corporate income tax? As an artificial entity, corporations cannot bear any corporate tax burden. Only living individuals bear the burden of taxation whether it be the corporate income tax, the personal income tax, sales taxes, or excise taxes. Economists are not sure who bears the burden of the corporate income tax. The most common view is that most of the tax is borne by shareholders but some of the tax is shifted forward to consumers in the form of higher prices. The amount shifted depends on the structure of the particular industry. A monopolist has more control over the prices it charges than those in a highly competitive industry or one where much of the productive activity is conducted by proprietorships and partnerships which are not subject to the corporate income tax. (And many economists believe that the corporate income tax is borne by investors in general in the form of higher interest rates and by some special classes of employees, but we’ll ignore that in our analysis.) So shareholders in some corporations bear all or most of the burden and shareholders in others may bear a lesser share of the burden. Consumers of some products may bear much of the burden and consumers of others little of the burden. These considerations make the distribution of the burden of the corporate income tax very uncertain which is one reason that makes it desirable to eliminate it and tax corporate earnings as personal income.
As to economic effects, the corporate income tax penalizes exporters and its high rates encourage inversions (moving corporate headquarters abroad) and outsourcing of factories and jobs. Facing international competition, American exporters have little or no ability to shift the tax burden and the high rate of corporate income tax places them at a disadvantage.
Taxing Corporations As Partnerships Solves the Problems of Inversions and Outsourcing
Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew announced tightened tax rules to deter U.S. companies from moving their headquarters overseas to lower-tax countries, a practice called an inversion. Inversions sometimes take place to avoid paying taxes on the acquired company’s income which before the inversion paid taxes only to the country in which it has its headquarters. An inversion is not to be confused with outsourcing, the practice of closing factories and operations at home and manufacturing products and parts overseas. Outsourcing not only affects tax revenue but it also causes massive unemployment here at home, and worsens our balance of trade. Inversions do not. Hardly any jobs have been lost by inversions in contrast with the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs lost by outsourcing. Oddly, the administration has taken no action on outsourcing.
Nearly all the leading American corporations engage in outsourcing, including Apple, Nike, Honeywell, Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard, Motorola, IBM, NCR, Lev-Strauss, and many, many others. Most, like Apple, add insult to injury by importing the products they produce overseas, worsening the U.S. trade balance. Inversions have little effect on employment and no effect on the trade balance. Why the Administration’s silence about outsourcing? One might hazard a guess. The Treasury Secretary’s silence perhaps can be explained by domestic politics. Many of the corporations, their owners, and their trade associations contribute to the Democratic Party and the US chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers officially espouse free trade.
As an illustrative case, take Burger King’s inversion with Jim Hortons of Canada. It does not reduce U.S. revenues at all from Burger King’s and Tim Hortons’ operations in the U.S. All the Burger Kings and Tim Hortons in the U.S. will continue to pay U.S. and state corporate income taxes. Admittedly, the movement of Burger King’s headquarters will cost the U.S. tax revenue and Canada will gain some. Canada’s top general corporate tax rate is 28 percent (but see below) compared with the U.S. 35 percent, so Burger King would stand to lose from the merger if Tim Hortons’ income were taxed at the U.S. 35 percent rate. The real culprit is a foolish U.S. income tax system.
Tax Inversions and "Factoryless Manufacturers"
Likely without intending to, Greg Mankiw's recent piece advocating corporate tax reform in the NYT makes the critical argument against the creation of a 'factoryless goods manufacturer' category in our national accounting. Mankiw writes:
A main feature of the modern multinational corporation is that it is, truly, multinational. It has employees, customers and shareholders around the world. Its place of legal domicile is almost irrelevant. A good tax system would focus more on the economic fundamentals and less on the legal determination of a company’s headquarters.
If indeed the multinational corporation is in essence multi-stated or perhaps beyond any corporate state-affiliation, then it makes truly no sense at all to count some of the profits that corporation earns from its overseas activities as American manufacturing. Such corporations are, in Mankiw's logic not American. And the manufacturing clearly doesn't happen in America.
Inversion Deals -- Corporate Income Tax Flight Continues
The United States has noncompetitive corporate income tax rates which create powerful incentives for US companies, aided by hedge funds and Wall Street banks, to flee the country. A recent story in Forbes highlights the developing trend, and some of the key players in the effort to get Burger King a Canadian passport.
The U.S. corporate income tax rate is politically hard to touch because people like the idea of taxing big money corporations at high rates. But it is economically unsustainable, and needs to be significantly replaced by a VAT or some other tax that is less readily avoided. The move of even Burger King to abandon its U.S. corporate citizenship suggests just how important it is to break this political stalemate and reform the tax code.
U.S. corporate tax rates are quite high compared with the rest of the world. Canada's tax rate is 15 percent versus the U.S. rate of 35 percent, hence the attraction of a move north for Burger King.
High corporate tax rates exacerbate the U.S. trade deficit in multiple ways. For instance:
1. They make it hard for truly U.S. corporations to compete internationally. U.S. producers are at a disadvantage relative to foreign concerns paying less tax, and their products are correspondingly either less profitable or less price-competitive...
Abolish the Corporate Income Tax; Tax Corporations Like Partnerships
Both the Democrats and Republicans have proposed tax reforms. By and large, the Democratic proposals simply deny the rich deductions the remaining taxpayers can take. Republicans on the other hand appear to be opposed to any but consumption taxes. Neither party seems to be aware that over the centuries economists have developed a set of principles of taxation to aid in determining what tax is best to finance a given set and level of expenditures.
Some accepted principles of taxation are the following:
Here is what the Democratic proposals look like. According to the Center for American Progress, a self-described progressive group, the President has proposed that the 2014 federal budget include:...
A Proposal for a New Federal Tax Code Abolishing the Corporate Income Tax
Recently, in this space 5/23/13, we pointed out the urgent need for tax reform and proposed limiting the IRS to an income tax on wages and salaries. We proposed abolition of the corporate income tax and replacing it with a tax on the market value of corporations. Since then we have reconsidered our proposal and we want to share with you our thoughts about what tax reform is needed and the present status of the reform we are proposing.
The history of the modern income tax is often traced to Pitt’s British income tax of 1798 which fell short of achieving its targeted revenue, the shortage being made up by voluntary contributions. But the succeeding Income and Property Tax Act of 1803 was a success. It was simply a reenactment of Britain’s Income and Property Taxes that date back to William of Orange at the end of the 17th century and even earlier to the taxes under the Tudors. What they all had in common was that they had different treatments of income from different sources. We’re suggesting something similar, taxing income from wages, salaries, and bonuses more or less as they are currently taxed but taxing corporations by a tax on the market value of shares of the corporation. They would be two schedules of a single tax. Briefly, what we are proposing is to abolish the corporate income tax and taxes on dividends and capital gains and replace them with a tax based on the market value of the corporation’s outstanding shares and in another schedule we would tax wages and salaries, interest income, and the income of unincorporated businesses, including partnerships not listed on the stock exchanges and proprietorships. The taxation of real estate would be in a third schedule and the revenue reserved to the states in which such real estate is located.
Palin calls for elimination of corporate income tax
In her speech in Iowa on September 3, which you can watch above, Governor Sarah Palin called for the complete elimination of the U.S. corporate income tax as a way to create jobs. She correctly pointed out that the corporate income tax sends American jobs abroad and that eliminating the tax would cause investment in America to surge.
At the same time that she would eliminate the corporate income tax, she would end corporate bailouts, corporate welfare and tax loopholes. She would do so partly as an anti-corruption measure. She argues that Obama is growing a corrupt system of "crony capitalism" in the United States.
She is correct about the self-destructive nature of the corporate income tax. We summarized the disadvantages of that tax with the following four points in our 2008 book Trading Away Our Future:...
Milken Institute: Cutting Corporate Income Tax would raise GDP
On January 26, the Milken Institute issued a research report entitled Jobs for America: Investments and Policies for Economic Growth and Competitiveness. They analyzed several proposals for enhancing the American economy, and concluded:
• Reducing U.S. corporate income tax rates to the current average of OECD countries (from the current 35 percent to 22 percent) stimulates growth. By 2019, real GDP rises by 2.2 percent (or $375.55 billion) and 2.13 million jobs are created.
• Increasing the R&D tax credit by 25 percent and making it permanent enhances American innovation. By 2019, real GDP rises by 1.2 percent (or $206.3 billion) and 316,000 manufacturing jobs are created.
• Modernizing export controls on commercially available technology products for some countries would allow U.S. firms to capture increased international market share. In this scenario, real exports of goods and services rise by 1.9 percent (or $56.6 billion), and 340,000 jobs are added by 2019 (160,000 of them in the manufacturing sector).
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