Tax Reform: End the Corporate Income Tax to Grow Economy & Wages

The Corporate Income Tax, today, collects just 1.8% of GDP, and accounts for only 8% of total federal revenues.  By comparison, at its peak in 1952 the CIT amounted to one-third of federal revenues.  Corporations have employed every legal resource to reduce their tax liability, and while some multi-national corporations park profits in lower-taxed countries, others with less ethical boundaries claim overseas subsidiaries in tax havens and transfer their profits to a mailbox.

With the CIT having been perversely minimized, the VATinfo website has endorsed the concept of sweeping tax reform, at once eliminating the Corporate Income Tax and replacing it with a Value Added Tax, and combining it with a progressive Personal Income Tax employing a large standard deduction and no other deductions.  VATinfo’s rough “Smart Tax” calculation…based upon IRS tables with insight provided by IRS and the Tax Policy Center at Brookings Institute…projected that a VAT tax rate of 9% would be required to replace the CIT and offset a Personal Income Taxes cut for incomes under $100,000.  (The plan envisioned eliminating the PIT for filers with Adjusted Gross Income under $50,000…two-thirds of all filers; reducing the PIT by 56% for those with AGI between $50,000 and $75,000; reducing the PIT by 17% for those with AGI between $75,000 and $100,000.)

In December 2013, the National Bureau of Economic Research released a working paper, “Simulating the Elimination of the U.S. Corporate Income Tax,” with very reinforcing conclusions.  Foremost is the understanding that when U.S. capital moves to a lower-taxed country, U.S. workers suffer a loss in labor demand and real wages.  And, the reverse would be true were the U.S. to end the CIT.  The study projects that capital would flow to the U.S. resulting in “a rapid and sustained 23 to 37 percent higher capital stock.”  “Higher capital per worker means higher labor productivity and, thus, higher real wages.  Indeed, in the wage-tax simulation, real wages of unskilled workers end up 12 percent higher and those of skilled workers end up 13 percent higher.”

The NBER study concludes that while the economic gains from eliminating the CIT would fall short of replacing the revenue loss entirely (requiring an increase in taxes on wages, or a consumption tax), there would be relative distributional gains accruing to both skilled and unskilled workers, i.e., addressing income inequality.

VAT to Replace CorpIncTax =
Fair Trade, Jobs & Growth

VAT to Replace CorpIncTax = Fair Trade, Jobs, Growth (Bill Clinton explains)

Domenici-Rivlin Ditch DRST (VAT), testimony before Senate Finance Committee, 06/19/12

Sen. Pete Domenici and Dr. Alice Rivlin appeared before the Senate Finance Committee in open session to discuss their plan for sweeping tax reform.  They emphasized the overarching point that additional revenue is needed to reduce the deficit.  After all prudent cuts are made to Medicare, and after means-testing Social Security, there will still be a need for additional revenue to meet the obligations of a growing retired population.

Senator Hatch asked for confirmation that the revised D-R plan as now presented would replace their original element of a Deficit Reduction Sales Tax, a VAT, with an increased Corporate Income Tax (CIT).  Dr. Rivlin confirmed in response, but added that they “both still like” the idea of the DRST, however there was “no appetite” in Congress for a VAT.

The fact that no one in the Senate has the courage to back a Value Added Tax is at once understandable and regrettable.  Introducing a VAT…even dedicated to deficit reduction…would create yet another new tax in addition to the CIT.  Senators would have a hard time convincing their constituents that this medicine would be in their best interest.  It just would not be politically viable.

The way to sell a VAT rests with outright replacement of the CIT, which is a broken cog in our tax system.

In the process of avoiding taxation, corporations employ accountants, tax attorneys, and lobbyists to find and create loopholes that will minimize their costs.  These specialists are hugely successful, particularly for the large multi-national corporations.  As a result, the CIT is riddled with many exceptions —for agricultural subsidies, off-shore profits, American cruise lines, literally hundreds upon hundreds.

The result is a complicated maze that only a team of specialists can navigate. And, who knows what’s right? Neither individuals nor corporations know for sure whether their taxes paid are more or less than they could or should be.  As Will Rogers said, “The income tax has made more liars out of the American people than golf has.” Ultimately, this crazy quilt of code has undermined trust in government.

The CIT has long been criticized for being too high and uncompetitive.  This is why our multi-nationals tend to park profits in countries with lower tax rates. Some multi-national corporations push the limits by incorporating overseas profit centers that are no more than a mailbox in a foreign land. Such legal non-compliance may be an ethical and moral question, but it makes for good after-tax profits.

The fundamental purpose of our tax system should be to efficiently collect revenue in a way that is equitable and minimally inhibits economic growth and domestic employment.  William Simon, who served as Secretary of the Treasury in the Nixon and Ford administrations, said disparaging of our tax code: “The nation should have a tax system that looks like someone designed it on purpose.”

Look at how unsuccessful the CIT really is.  Collections peaked as a percentage of federal tax receipts in 1952 at 32.1%.  Receipts averaged 21.3% of total revenues in the 1960’s, 16.1% in the 1970’s, 9.6% in the 1980’s, 10.5% in the 1990’s, 10.4% in the 2000’s.  In 2010, the CIT contributed 8.9% and in 2011 only 7.9%.

A 2011 study by Citizens for Tax Justice revealed that the 280 most profitable corporations sheltered nearly half their profits from federal income taxes in the prior three years; their average effective tax rate was 18.5% over the three years, about half the statutory 35% rate; 78 of these companies paid zero federal income tax in one or more of those years.

Corporations are so successful at gaming the CIT, that taxes paid have fallen to the point where their compliance expenses including accountants, lawyers and lobbyists cost these corporations $740 for every $1000 the government collects.

If federal receipts from corporations have declined from one-third of federal revenues and now amount to less than 10%, why continue a tax system that is so easily thwarted and inefficient?

Why not replace the CIT with a smarter tax, a VAT to better compete in world trade and to assure compliance?

VAT is already accepted and proven.  This tax system was specifically created for world trade and is employed by all our trading partners and over 150 countries.  It is a consumption tax levied at each stage of production and in total is equivalent to a retail sales tax.

What makes the VAT important for trade is its border adjustability, meaning it is subtracted from exports and added to imports.  This feature removes the variable of the burden of government from the cost comparison of goods in international trade.

For example, when a car is shipped from Germany to China, the 19% German VAT is deducted from the price of the vehicle, and the 17% VAT in China is added to the price of the car when it is imported there. But, when a U.S. car ships overseas, there is no such deduction for the cost government (the CIT), and a VAT tax is added to the price by the importing country.  Here in the U.S., there is no VAT added to imports.  Without our own VAT, there is a large price wedge against U.S. products at home and abroad.

Our largest trading partners add the following VAT cost to goods they import from us.  The range is from 5% VAT in Canada and Japan to over 17% on average from the others: Canada 5%, China 17%, France 19.6%, Germany 19%, Italy 20%, Japan 5%, Korea 10%, Mexico 16%, Spain 16%, United Kingdom 17.5%.

These countries have a CIT in addition to a VAT.  But, that does not make sense for the U.S.  Why just add another tax onto the CIT, which we already know is a broken system?  How would replacing the CIT by a VAT affect us?

  • We would very likely see a strong economic growth spurt and more jobs.
  • U.S. goods would be more competitive with imports here, since imports would be equally taxed by the VAT.
  • U.S. exports would be more competitive, as the VAT, unlike the CIT, would be subtracted from exports.
  • There would be no double-taxation of dividends.  Because corporate profits would not be taxed, only dividends would be taxed to individuals when they receive them.
  • U.S. multi-nationals…which now park profits in lower-taxed countries…would bring their capital back to the U.S. for investment. The U.S. with NO corporate income tax would be the best country for recognizing your profits.  Foreign corporations would likewise shift profits to the U.S. for investment.

 If VAT is so good, why don’t we have it?  Again, VAT would be a new tax, and politicians fear proposing taxes, even if it is good medicine.  Tax is a four-letter word to politicians.  But, we don’t have to follow other countries and make our VAT an “add-on” tax.  Our VAT can be a dollar-for-dollar replacement for other taxes.  We can replace all corporate tax revenues by an 8% VAT, including rebates to protect individual tax filers with low income.  Companies would save substantially on their compliance expenses, and that savings could go to stockholders or consumers in the form of lower prices. Companies would no longer have the CIT to dodge, so they would no longer need a bevy of expensive lobbyists to push for loopholes (unless we made the mistake of permitting exceptions to the VAT, which would be like letting the camel’s nose under the tent).

Want to see the idea considered of replacing the CIT by a VAT?  Contact your representatives in the House and Senate. Tell them you would like the U.S. to get a fair shake in international trade.  Tell them replacing the Corporate Income Tax by a Value Added Tax will make the U.S. more competitive and create jobs.  Tell them you will not vote against them for proposing a revenue-neutral VAT to replace the Corporate Income Tax.

Chances are, some of our representatives really get the concept and would support a VAT, but they need to know you will support them.

Hollings, Sen. Fritz, “Untying the Knot,” HuffingtonPost.com, 04/09/12

“There is an immediate solution to deficit spending and creating jobs — just replace the 35 percent Corporate Tax with a 6 percent VAT. The 2011 Corporate Tax produced revenues of $181.1 billion. A 2011 6 percent VAT would have produced $728 billion. This will cut taxes, eliminate loopholes, give instant tax reform, promote exports, free up $2 trillion in offshore profits for Corporate America to create jobs in the United States, provide billions to avoid deficits, and create millions of jobs.

Everyone in Congress is for these initiatives, but not one of the 535 members will introduce the VAT solution, nor will President Obama. Why not? Because Corporate America doesn’t want to increase the cost of their China exports to the United States. U.S. exports to China are taxed twice: the 35 percent corporate tax and a 17 percent VAT when exports reach China. China’s exports to the United States are tax free. 141 countries compete in globalization with a VAT that is rebated on exports. Wall Street, the big banks, and Corporate America are the biggest contributors to the President and Congress. Contributions for reelection in Washington come before the nation’s economy. Talk shows and the political pundits don’t mention the VAT solution because the press and media are owned or in bed with Corporate America.

In 2006, the Princeton economist, Alan Blinder, estimated that for the next decade off-shoring would cost the U.S. Economy an average of 3 to 4 million jobs per year. We are off-shoring jobs faster than we can create them. The recession ended over 2 ½ years ago and we wonder why the recovery is anemic. The economy would come alive by replacing the 35 percent corporate tax with a 6 percent VAT.”

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sen-ernest-frederick-hollings/untying-the-knot_b_1412370.html

Breaking the Spell on the Economy

Halloween has passed, but our economic witches’ brew remains in place.  In our major cities, an impatient and resentful citizenry has taken to the streets in anger to protest inequality in opportunity.  And, it is spreading.  In Oakland the demonstration turned violent.  People are trapped in a spell fueling our nation’s debt — between a stalled economy with negligible job creation and rising entitlement demands from retiring baby boomers.

Both political parties are shackled to their core principles, but neither has a real remedy.  Republicans are steadfast in believing that tax cuts will fuel growth that will overcome the increase in short-term debt that these cuts will produce; they would rather cut entitlements to pay for some of the cuts.  Democrats believe that if government spends more on infrastructure projects, the jobs created will relieve the malaise; they would rather increase taxes on the wealthy to cover the cost of investment spending.

Both visions are incomplete, as both lack an identifiable long-term solution.  Can the Republicans foresee an industry that would fuel private sector growth?   Can the Democrats see that infrastructure projects are only a short-term fix for an economy that is hemorrhaging through outsourcing?

At one time, it was said, “As Detroit goes, so goes the nation.”  We can no longer look to the auto sector for salvation growth, since much of the industry is comprised of imports and imported components.

The internet industry propelled the economy for a time, but that was a finite bubble.  The new generation of internet applications, e.g., Facebook, Google, are not as labor intensive as manufacturing and have a much lower ratio of employees to sales.   The computer industry no longer resembles its original promise for domestic jobs, as the finished products or components have largely been outsourced.  Apple Computer, for example, has created tens of thousands of jobs in the U.S., but more than a million jobs for Chinese assemblyline workers.

The construction industry filled the gap after the internet bubble deflated, but, as is inevitable in the course of our boom and bust cycles, the end came to the housing bubble.  What’s next?  Can we identify a nascent industry on which to place our bet?  And, if so, how can we best support that industry?

The obvious target is alternative energy, whether nuclear, solar, wind.   In addition to sparking growth and employment, we would save billions of dollars for imported oil, which money Thomas Friedman has repeatedly warned fuels the middle-eastern countries that hate us.  That is why placing a bet on Solyndra was a good idea.  Their product had unique competitive advantages, and it would have been produced here in California.

We can no longer accept that our future “Apples” will be grown in China.  In nurturing promising players in the alternative energy field, we must think ahead to their success, and how to assure that entrepreneurs will scale-up their inventions here and not turn to outsourcing. This means government must not only provide the tax incentives and investment funds (loan guarantees) for start-ups, but must also alter the rules of the game.

First, and foremost, the U.S. should sweep away its cumbersome and corrupting corporate tax code with all its loopholes in favor of a value added tax, so that the burden of government taxation is not shouldered by exports and is added to imports equally as to domestic production.  The U.S. would become the lowest taxed country (zero), making the U.S. a magnet for foreign capital and encouraging the return of multi-national corporation profits currently parked in lower-taxed countries.  Gone, too, would be the double-taxation of dividends.  In a nutshell, our Corporate Income Tax is a drag on our economy and all our trading partners now use VAT to our competitive disadvantage.

Second, the protection of a U.S. Patent should be restricted to products that are 80% value-added in manufacturing facilities here.  Too many products are outsourced in their entirety and too many are merely assembled here using imported high-value-added components.  Patents would still be licensed to foreign manufacturers for producing goods for their own populations, and foreign manufacturers would need to open plants here for U.S. Patents and to tap our market.

Third, where necessary, we should not hesitate to add tariffs to the mix to protect promising new industries, especially where we can identify dumping practices of foreign countries.

Turning our economic ship of state will take time.  Congress will deliberate on tax reform, patent law, industrial policy and tariffs.  In the short-term, the parties will fight over tax cuts vs. infrastructure spending.  But without visionary leadership with a longer horizon, we will not break the spell.

Energy Tax Policy & Tax Reform, statement of Steve Abramson, VATinfo, submitted to Joint Hearing of House Ways and Means Committee, 09/22/11

Dear Chairman Tiberi, Chairman Boustany and Members of the Committee,

Thank you for the opportunity to provide you with this submission for your hearing on Energy Tax Policy and Tax Reform.

Historically, with the notable exception of the internet bubble, to climb out of recession we have needed growth in one of two core industries, automobiles or housing. Today, automobiles are a smaller portion of our economy, with much of that industry comprised of imported cars and outsourced parts. The housing market is sitting on a huge inventory, and heightened foreclosures threaten further price decline.

There is no more promising industry to create economic growth and jobs than in renewable energy, particularly solar and nuclear, but that will require a robust industrial policy to support private investment. This is the role that government should play ⎯ to encourage the private sector creation of jobs, while reducing our dependence on imported oil. China now produces over half the world’s supply of solar panels and exports 96% of them to the U.S. and Germany. This is an industry in which we must successfully compete. Our industrial policy will have to include domestic content provisions that skirt WTO restrictions, just as China has managed to do in building its industries. Domestic content provisions will assure that we capture solar manufacturing jobs, here, for our middle class.

Overall, we must find the way to create and hold these domestic manufacturing jobs in the face of low Asian labor costs and subsidies. In the absence of such policies, CEO’s can be expected to outsource all the new ideas for production to Asia for the benefit of their shareholders and their own stock options. In January 2011, Evergreen Solar, the third largest domestic solar panel producer announced that it was closing its main U.S. factory, eliminating 800 jobs, and shifting its proprietary technology to China. In August 2011, Evergreen filed for bankruptcy, as did Solyndra and SpectraWatt. In May 2011, BP closed its U.S. solar manufacturing plant in Maryland and shifted its production to India, China and other low-cost countries. Then CEO, BP’s Tony Hayward said: “We remain absolutely committed to solar, (but BP was) moving to where we can manufacture cheaply.”

The Evergreen example, particularly, should be another wake-up call for the need of a protective renewable energy industrial policy. Even though Evergreen received $43 million in tax credits and grants from Massachusetts, Evergreen is not to blame for making the decision to sell their technology and outsourcing their labor. The business motive is rightfully the bottom line, and not to protect domestic jobs. Incentivizing job creation is the policy role of government.

About Solyndra.  The failure of this manufacturer has much to do with the hyper-competitiveness of the industry, including the plummeting cost of silicon (which Solyndra does not use) and lower costs in Chinese manufacturing (labor and overhead plus subsidies). Solyndra’s technology is unique (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2DlCUmBw7AU), and their robotic manufacturing plant with one-of-a-kind systems represents hugely expensive start-up costs. However, the Solyndra solar panels have features and benefits not available with other systems, and are superior for commercial flat roofs and apartment buildings: lower installation costs, wind resistance, omni-directional placement affording more wattage per square meter, zero-visibility on flat roofs, no need for roof-penetrating fasteners. Hopefully, by virtue of the public investment in this technology (plant and equipment), Solyndra will emerge from bankruptcy in the hands of an American company, rather than see this promising breakthrough technology exported to China as was Evergreen’s.

A U.S. Patent Restriction?  Recently, it was revealed that the Defense Department is requiring domestic content for solar panels. This is a step in the right direction to build and retain a home-grown industry and jobs. Government policy could also make it more difficult for companies like Evergreen to transfer their technology abroad. For example, U.S. Patent protection could be restricted to products with a minimum 80% domestic value-added in manufacturing.

On January 9, 2011, The New York Times reported that China is disturbed that the Pentagon, a rapidly growing consumer of renewable energy products — in insisting on buying solar panels made here is interfering with world trade. This despite China’s pervasive export subsidies and local content requirements. China has subsidized their solar panel manufacturing industry, something the U.S. is loath to do. Our policy has been to subsidize consumers and let them choose in the “free market.” But, the price advantage to Chinese panels gives them an almost insurmountable advantage. The result: today, China produces well over half the worlds solar panels and exports 96% of them to Germany and the U.S.

The intent of the Buy American provision in the defense appropriations section of the 2009 stimulus legislation is that Chinese manufacturers, and others, will be encouraged to establish manufacturing production in the U.S. This restriction can and probably will be challenged under WTO free trade rules. However, the U.S. would be wise to look at additional barriers to protect nascent industries for future U.S. jobs. Innovators will make their initial products in the U.S., but if successful in finding a market, will look to scale-up in lower-waged countries with fewer workplace and environmental restrictions.

Replacing the Corporate Income Tax with a VAT.  Under GATT rules, the value added tax is subtracted from exports and added to imports with the purpose of excluding the burden of a producing country’s government from the price/value relationship of competing goods and services. Currently, all U.S. trading partners and over 120 countries use a VAT to the competitive disadvantage of the U.S. The U.S. should consider replacing the Corporate Income Tax and other taxes including the payroll tax with a VAT balanced by a flat personal income tax with a high threshold as recommended by Gov. Mitch Daniels.

Federal FIT Match for States Paid-for with Gas Tax.  The uncertainty of the incentive price for clean energy production is a large impediment to domestic demand. In 2010, I had the opportunity to ask then energy czar Carol Browner about the potential for a national Feed-In Tariff (FIT), i.e. the incentive price at which green energy could is sold back to the grid. The FIT has propelled Germany into first place in the installed base of solar panels; this, even though Germany is at a latitude close to New York City’s, i.e., far from the maximum incidence of light. Ontario, too, which has recently implemented a VAT, is rapidly expanding solar installations. Ms. Browner responded that a FIT would not work here because the U.S. has diverse power companies regulated by individual states. However, that should not preclude the incentive of a federal matching FIT subsidy to the states. Electric utilities would be responsible for their average production cost per kilowatt hour and the FIT incentive overage would be shared by the states with a federal match. The FIT demand incentive expense should be paid-for by an increase in states’ gasoline taxes, adding an economic disincentive for imported fossil fuel.

Fully Deductible PACE Financing.  Demand would also be fueled by the state and local government adoption of fully deductible PACE bonds (Property Assessed Clean Energy Bonds) that would enable the deduction of principal as well as interest for residential installations of solar panels. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are known to oppose this incentive since the liens would come before their mortgage liens. Congress could and should legislate this hurdle away. Again, thank you for the opportunity to submit these ideas for your consideration.