Reuven S. Avi-Yonah (Michigan), Taxes in the Time of Coronavirus: Is it Time to Revive the Excess Profits Tax?:
At a time when most American citizens and businesses are suffering catastrophic economic damage from the Coronavirus recession, some corporations—such as Amazon, 3M, Gilead, and Zoom—are seeing their profits rise dramatically because of the pandemic.
Given that most corporations are losing money, but some are now earning enormous profits due to the crisis, it is time to revive the wartime excess profits taxes that the US deployed in World War I and World War II to prevent corporate winners from achieving this form of opportunistic unjust enrichment.
The most recent US excess profits tax was enacted shortly before the US entered World War II. It was first adopted in 1940, amended in 1941, 1942, 1943, and 1945, and repealed in 1950. ...
Given the diversity of the corporations that are likely to profit from the pandemic and the fact that most of them are not engaged in capital intensive activities, the tax should use the average earnings method based on 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019. The rest of the World War II methodology can be applied unchanged. Thus, to use Amazon as an example, one would start with Amazon’s 2020 net income, subtract a credit for average 2016-2019 earnings plus 8% of R&D (the principal capital investment), and apply a 95% tax rate to the excess profits. The resulting tax can be reduced by credits for wages of additional employees hired in 2020 to encourage the winners to hire and pay well during the recession.
It is unconscionable that some corporations would profit from the current crisis while everyone else suffers. Moreover, the federal government will be spending trillions to save the economy, and much of this spending will benefit the winners since it will be spent on their services. There is no reason not to use this opportunity to revive the excess profit tax and apply it to profits that derive entirely from the pandemic.
New York Times op-ed: Jobs Aren’t Being Destroyed This Fast Elsewhere. Why Is That?, by Emmanuel Saez (UC-Berkeley) & Gabriel Zucman (UC-Berkeley):
Some businesses, more broadly, will disproportionately benefit from the pandemic. While tens of thousands of brick-and-mortar stores are closed, Amazon sales rise. The Seattle-based company is one of the few S&P 500 firms whose stock price is higher today than at the beginning of the year. Cloud computing is exploding. Facebook traffic is booming.
But these windfall profits have a fair, comprehensive and transparent solution: The government should impose excess profits taxes, as it has done several times in the past during periods of crisis.
In 1918, all profits made by corporations above and beyond an 8 percent rate of return on their capital were deemed abnormal, and abnormal profits were taxed at progressive rates of up to 80 percent. Similar taxes on excessive profits were applied during World War II and the Korean War. These taxes all had one goal — making sure that no one could benefit outrageously from a situation in which the masses suffered.
To help make this happen, the next bill needs an excess profits tax. If Congress fails to act, the pandemic could well reinforce two of the defining trends of the pre-coronavirus American economy: the rise of business concentration and the upsurge of inequality.
Some will say that the solutions we’ve outlined show excessive faith in government. They will correctly point out that some of these policies are undesirable in normal times. But these are not normal times. The big battles — be they wars or pandemics — are fought and won collectively. In this period of national crisis, hatred of the government is the surest path to self-destruction.
April 1, 2020 in Tax, Tax News | Permalink
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