Economy & Business

Not Just a War on Tax Inversions, but a War on the Middle Class

The U.S. Treasury Department in Washington, D.C. (AgnosticPreachersKid/commons.wikimedia.org)
The Obama Treasury’s latest militant attack.

Does the U.S. government want to help American business or not?  Does the administration want to help middle-income wage earners or not?  Does Team Obama want to grow the American economy at its historic 3.5 percent long-term trend or not?

Apparently, President Obama’s answer to all three questions is “no.”

These are the real issues behind the Treasury’s latest militant attack on so-called tax inversions, where a U.S. company merges with a foreign firm in order to take advantage of that firm’s lower corporate tax rate. In this case, the attack is aimed at Pfizer, pending the $160 billion takeover of Allergan. Allergan is based in Ireland, which has a 12.5 percent corporate tax rate. Pfizer is based in New York. So the new combined entity will pay the Irish corporate rate, which is nearly three-times less than the 35 percent U.S. federal corporate rate. Obviously, a huge savings.

The fix here is simple: Slash the U.S. corporate tax rate and the problem goes away. It’s by far the highest rate of the major countries worldwide. As a result, we are not competitive. Canada is 15 percent, China is 25 percent, and Europe averages 25 percent. Companies owe it to their shareholders and workforces to act in a fiduciarily responsible manner.  But no, Team Obama wants to wage war against them.

So here are a few questions: Why does Obama want to punish business, rather than reward it? Why doesn’t this administration want America to be the top global destination for investment? Why not have the U.S. win the global race for capital instead of losing it?

President Obama always gives lip service to lowering the corporate tax rate. But he never specifies a particular rate or an overall plan. What’s more, he is trying to force U.S. multinational cash abroad to be taxed at 19 percent even if that money doesn’t come home. After that there would still be taxes at 35 percent for the repatriation of foreign profits. This is insane.

Many liberals argue that big U.S. companies don’t really pay the top corporate rate. While this is sometimes true, it’s mainly because, during recessions, companies lose money and get a tax-loss carry-forward that temporarily reduces their effective rate. But during economic expansions, when profits rise, companies do pay the top rate. So it’s a bogus argument. General Electric, for example, may not have paid taxes for a couple of years following the Great Recession. But during the recovery, its effective rate was near 35 percent.

Progressives also argue that corporate tax-cutting is a rich-person’s tax cut. Utterly untrue. Numerous studies have shown that the biggest beneficiary of corporate tax cuts is the middle-income wage earner.

By the same token, companies don’t just pay corporate taxes out of their own pockets. They pass it along in the form of lower wages and benefits to the workforce, higher prices for consumers, and lower stock valuations for investors. Again, the data show that lower corporate taxes benefit wage earners the most, consumers second, and shareholders third. One key reason why average wage earners have had virtually no pay increases in the past 15 years is the high corporate tax rate. That is why so many Americans are so angry with Washington: They want big change.

#share#Corporate tax reform should include not just large C-corps, but also smaller business S-corps and LLC pass-throughs.  And the need to simplify the inexplicably opaque and complex tax system is nearly as important as cutting business tax rates. Big firms can afford tax accountants to avoid all the K Street cronyism and corporate welfare. Smaller firms cannot — they get the short end of the stick.

Corporate share prices should not be driven by political tax games. Profits, not Washington shenanigans, should be the mother’s milk of stocks. And this shouldn’t be a partisan political issue. Either we want to make America great again or not.

Both Democratic candidates, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, oppose significant business tax relief. But leading GOP candidates Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and John Kasich do favor slashing corporate taxes.

Fortunately, nine months is all we have left before this tax nonsense comes to an end.

Larry Kudlow — Larry Kudlow is the author of JFK and the Reagan Revolution: A Secret History of American Prosperity, written with Brian Domitrovic.

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