Category Archives: Taxes

Bill Black: The “Magical Fairyland” of Corporate Tax Scams

Yves here. Brace yourself for the perverse spectacle of Republicans and their US corporate masters whinging about tax rates when effective corporate tax rates are super low by historical standards, in large measure due to clever tax structuring and the use of tax havens.

The European Union has made a show of cracking down on Ireland as a tax scam, um, tax haven for its low corporate tax rate, while leaving the even more flagrant destination of Luxembourg untouched. A newly-relesed report shed some light on the scale of the Luxembourg tax scam, which is now leading to some official kabuki as to what to do about it. What goes unsaid is the degree to which the US and UK are top players in tax avoidance, the US through destinations here (including Delaware and Wyoming limited liability corporations) and the Caymans, the haven preferred by US banks. In the UK, the City has its own network of preferred tax haven, including the Isle of Man, Jersey, and Bermuda.

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Are Immigrants Bad for Government Budgets?

Yves here. One of the major charges leveled at immigrants in the US is that they use public services (the stereotype is that they show up in emergency rooms, which are not a taxpayer expense,* as well as send children to school) and don’t provide anywhere near the contribution to the economy in terms of tax contributions relative to what they extract.

Notice that that charge is implicitly made of illegal immigrants, who presumably don’t pay income taxes (although I personally know one who does, by virtue of being in an immigration Schrodinger’s cat uncertainty state and having a Social Security card and meticulously paying taxes for 15 years while no longer having a visa and not having become a citizen. Will not bore you whit his shaggy dog story). But their incomes are often so low that it’s not clear they’d pay much even if their taxes were reported, save regressive FICA taxes. Yet they do pay other taxes: sales taxes, gasoline taxes, and property taxes embedded in their rents.

There is a separate public policy argument about immigration and foreign guest workers on H1-B visas, which is that at least the way it is conducted in America, that in combination with an anti-labor-bargaining policies, cheap immigrant labor gives employers even more leverage against workers. This post focuses narrowly on the “are they worse than natives in terms of impact on the public purse?” The study focuses on the UK. One of the striking revelations is how little decent data there is on this topic, particularly in a country that has no where near the number of unofficial immigrants as the US.

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Class Traitors: How Ideological Brainwashing Gets Rich and Ordinary Americans to Undermine Their Economic Interest

Linda Beale, of ataxingmatter, has written forcefully and persuasively about some of the propagandizing-accepted-as-gospel that the well-heeled use to advocate policies that advance their economic interests. For instance, as most Naked Capitalism readers appreciate, but a remarkably large swathe of the US population does not, tax cuts for big corporations are simply a transfer to the rich. From a post last year:

I’ve argued frequently in the past that there is no there there–i.e., that lowering corporate tax rates will do nothing to create jobs. Instead, I’ve said, it will simply deliver an even higher profit margin to be skimmed off by the highest paid executives and, possibly, shareholders. The higher profit margins are unlikely even to be used to increase workers’ shares of the corporate revenues through higher wages, a place where they could most help the economy other than new jobs created. Thus, the drive for “revenue neutral” corporate tax reform (cut corporate taxes, cut expenditures elsewhere to make up for the decreased corporate tax revenues) is just another example of corporatism as an engine of the modern form of US class warfare

Beale takes up a different theme today: how the rich and poor act against their economic interest. For many in middle and lower income strata in red states, hostility to the government is an article of faith even though those states (and many of those same govement-hating citizens) are significant beneficiaries of Federal programs.

But less well recognized are the ways that the wealthy are undermining themselves. They’ve taken the “increase our distance from everyone else” experiment well beyond its point of maximum advantage, not just to the society around them but also in terms of the costs to the class warriors.

As we’ve pointed out, highly unequal societies have lower lifespans, even among the rich; the shallower social networks of stratified societies and the high cost of losing one’s perch, in terms of loss of friends and status, creates an ongoing level of stress that has a longevity cost. Beale points out something we’ve mentioned occasionally in the past, that creating an underclass with inadequate access to medical services is a great breeding ground for public health problems. The fact that many low income Americans can’t afford to take sick days and health plans generally have high deductibles, which discourage individuals from getting treated until they are sure they are really sick, isn’t a great program design if you want to reduce the spread of infectious diseases.

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Pro Big Corporate IRS: Agency Guts Whistleblower Program, Leaves Billions on the Table

It’s widely known among tax professionals that the US does little in the way of tax enforcement, and the little that it does do is directed against individuals and small businesses.

What is not so widely known is how deep the institutional bias is in the IRS in favor of letting big corporate tax cheats get away with it.

Conventional wisdom is similar to the rationalization of weak enforcement at the SEC: that the agency is afraid that if they go after big companies, they’ll have the penalties and fines challenged in court, and they’ll often lose by virtue of being outgunned by better lawyer (yes, Virginia, even if you have a solid case, that doesn’t mean you’ll win at trial). And top tax litigators are among the most highly paid legal talent. I’m not up on current rates, but in the mid 1980s, Sumitomo Bank fought the IRS on a $100 million assessment and won. Their attorney was a solo practitioner who charged $1000 an hour.

It turns out that the picture is vastly worse than that.

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Matt Stoller: Why We Need to Break Up Amazon – and How to Do It

Yves here. The main way that those of the left-leaning persuasion see Amazon as a bad guy is for its treatment of warehouse workers, who work in physically-taxing conditions and are paid what is barely a living wage for a single person.

As Matt Stoller describes in this piece, Amazon’s ambitions are monopolistic, and they’ve already gone a long way towards achieving that ambition in a large number of markets. They regularly engage in predatory pricing to crush competitors and gain market share. Their dominant position then allows them to chose how to extract more profit, which is usually a combination of squeezing suppliers and raising prices.

Antitrust has become close to a dead letter in the US. Amazon makes for a worthy object for reviving it.

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David Quentin and Nicholas Shaxson: The “Patent Box” – Proof That the UK is a Rogue State in Corporate Tax

Yves here. We are delighted to welcome two world-recognized tax experts as writers on our site. They also happen to fall in the minority that believes that paying taxes is the price of civilization. And to top it off, they write in a layperson-friendly yet technically accurate manner.

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G20 Finance Ministers Reveal Impotence in the Face of Rising Stresses

Yves here. It’s hardly uncommon for big international pow-wows like the G20 to produce grand-sounding statements that when read carefully call for unthreatening, which usually means inconsequential, next steps. But this G20 just past was revealing, in a bad way, about the state of international political economy.

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Another Private Equity Scam: Clawback Language Does Not Work As Advertised

As the SEC, reporters, and analysts dig into the operations of private equity firms, it is becoming obvious that one of the reasons that these financiers have cornered the best legal talent in America is for the express purpose of better fleecing their investors.

A prime example comes up in the use of clawbacks in private equity agreements.

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Burger King the Latest to Jump on the Corporate Tax Inversion Bandwagon

A number of corporations have engaged in corporate tax “inversions” this year, which typically involves a large U.S. company merging with a smaller counterpart in a lower-tax country abroad, then moving the corporate billing address to the lower-tax country to reduce the overall tax burden. The actual headquarters and the executives go nowhere, but the nominal address changes so the company can avoid U.S. tax rates. A number of corporations in the pharmaceutical space have pulled this off in 2014, but it took the drugstore giant Walgreen to flirt with the idea (through a merger with the Swiss company Alliance Boots) for the non-financial press and the public to really catch on. Outcry actually stopped Walgreen from going through with the inversion; they merged with Alliance Boots, but kept their headquarters in the U.S. Clearly, it was easier to rally public scrutiny to a consumer-facing brand attempting to skip out on America while still using the public resources afforded any company selling their wares here.

Now, the same coalition that stopped the Walgreen inversion will get another chance with Burger King:

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Philip Pilkington: Taxation, Government Spending, the National Debt and MMT

The other day my friend Rohan Grey — a lawyer and one of the key organisers behind the excellent Modern Money Network (bringing Post-Keynesian economics to Columbia Law School, yes please!) — directed me to an absolutely fascinating piece of writing. It is called ‘Taxes For Revenue Are Obsolete’ and it was written in 1945 by Beardsley Ruml. Ruml was the director of the New York Federal Reserve Bank from 1937-1947 and also worked on issues of taxation at the Treasury during the war.

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Unintentional Tax Humor on the Inversion Scam at Forbes

While you’ve all been busy being distracted by the strife in Gaza and Ukraine, or perhaps more sensibly decided to tune out and enjoy the summer, various not so pretty developments have been moving forward with alacrity in the US. One is a spate of so-called “inversion” deals, in which corporations use acquisitions to move their headquarters overseas, which allows them to arrange their affairs so as to greatly lower their tax bills. The latest group of companies to try this ruse are in the health care industry, brandishing the excuse that if they fail to follow this dodgy practice, they won’t be competitive.

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Senate Report: Hedge Funds Used Basket Options to Save Billions in Taxes

The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations released a report today that found that hedge funds have been using basket options to save billion in taxes. And when we say “billions,” the report indicates it’s more like tens of billions, since the paper estimates that the tax reduction achieved at one hedge fund, Renaissance Technology, operated by the famed James Simons, was $6.8 billion.

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Randy Wray: “Debt-Free Money” – A Non Sequitur in Search of a Policy

Yves here. I must confess that I am at a loss to understand the deep emotional reactions some readers have to MMT. It’s like raging at a thermometer because it shows you your body temperature. Virtually all of the complaints about MMT are based on a failure to understand what it says about how money works. MMT is descriptive of our current system, and it also has a message that progressives (the real kind, not the Democratic fauxgressive kind) ought to welcome, that the Federal government as a sovereign does not need to run a balance budget, and that a balanced budget is in fact destructive when the economy is as slack as it is now. That means the government not only can but should spend more, which is in contrast to all those barmy arguments about how we can’t spend to [fill in your priorities, have national health care, improve our infrastructure, feed low income kids in school, etc.]. If you don’t like the Federal government directing that much spending, there’s a remedy for that too: revenue sharing, which was instituted under that great liberal Richard Nixon, who though the Federal government raised revenues more efficiently than state and local governments, but state and local government were better at setting spending priorities.

MMT provides a basis for rejecting neoliberalism and austerity, and people who ought to embrace it are instead being told falsehoods about it and are becoming skeptical. That assures that the current crop of looters can continue their work unperturbed.

However, MMT does require that you turn the conventional stories about money inside-out. It takes some mental rewiring to understand it, and that degree of reorientation seems to be a big reason for the heated reactions.

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