Why Give Corporations a Tax Break?

BERKELEY – US President Barack Obama has called for additional revenue as part of a balanced plan to reduce future budget deficits. But he is also proposing a significant cut in the corporate tax rate. To many, this approach seems inconsistent: Shouldn’t the corporate tax rate be raised, not lowered, so that corporations contribute their “fair share” to deficit reduction? The answer is no.

After its 1986 tax overhaul, the United States had one of the lowest corporate tax rates among OECD countries. Since then, these countries have been slashing their rates in order to attract foreign direct investment and discourage their own companies from shifting operations and profits to low-tax foreign locations. In the most recent and audacious move, the British government has embarked on a three-year plan to reduce its corporate tax rate from 28% to 20% – one of the lowest in the OECD – by 2015.

The US now has the highest corporate tax rate of these countries. Even after incorporating various deductions, credits, and other tax-reducing provisions, the effective average and marginal corporate tax rates in the US – what corporations actually pay – are higher than the OECD average.

Cutting the rate to a more competitive level would encourage more domestic investment by US corporations, and would also make the US more attractive to foreign investors. Capital has become increasingly mobile, and differences in national corporate tax rates have a growing influence on where multinational companies locate their operations and report their income.