TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Monday, June 11, 2018

Tax Havens Blunt Impact Of Corporate Tax Cuts

New York Times, Tax Havens Blunt Impact of Corporate Tax Cut, Economists Say:

The new corporate tax cuts are unlikely to stimulate the level of job creation and wage growth that the Trump administration has promised, a trio of prominent economists has concluded, because high tax rates were not pushing much investment out of the United States in the first place [Thomas Tørsløv (Copenhagen), Ludvig Wier (Copenhagen) & Gabriel Zucman (UC-Berkeley), The Missing Profits of Nations (data and slides)].

Instead, the researchers conclude, multinational corporations based in the United States and other advanced economies have sheltered nearly 40 percent of their profits in tax havens like Bermuda, depriving their domestic governments of tax revenues and enriching wealthy shareholders. That number suggests a jarringly large amount of what appears, to policymakers, to be investment pushed abroad by high tax rates is instead an accounting trick — so-called paper profits — which tax cuts will not reverse.

“This idea that if you cut taxes, you’ll attract a lot of physical capital, a lot of investment to the United States, I don’t think is supported by the evidence,” said Gabriel Zucman, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, and one of the paper’s authors. “Paper profits — that doesn’t boost wages for workers. What boosts wages is actual factories.”

The research by Mr. Zucman and Thomas Torslov and Ludvig Wier of the University of Copenhagen does not imply that corporate tax cuts will not help companies or lead to at least some new investment. But it challenges the magnitude of the increase that President Trump and congressional Republicans promised would result from cutting the corporate tax rate to 21 percent from 35 percent as part of the $1.5 trillion tax overhaul. ...

Administration officials dismissed the researchers’ results, saying the evidence is clear that reducing corporate tax rates increases investment and wages. ...

The research by Mr. Zucman, Mr. Torslov and Mr. Wier employs a first-of-its-kind method to assess how big a share of profits multinational corporations stash overseas. They draw on international data to determine a ratio of pretax profits to wages at individual companies, for both locally owned firms and foreign firms operating in those countries.

They find that multinationals operating in tax havens are far more profitable than locally owned companies in those countries, and that their profits dwarf what they pay workers. They break the numbers down to show the outsize profits are largely due to money being “shifted” — on paper — into those havens. ...

Zucman 2

Kimberly Clausing, an economist at Reed College who has written and researched extensively about the scope of shifting profits to tax havens, said the research demonstrated that “the decline in the corporate tax is a result of policy, not an inevitable feature of the global economy. This implies that policymakers have the ability to address this problem without losing out in a tax competition game against other countries. But they must have the will to tackle tax havens themselves, instead of directing their fire at other non-haven countries.”

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