No More Half-Measures on Corporate Taxes
In the face of climate change, rising inequality, and other global crises, governments are losing out on hundreds of billions of dollars in tax revenue as a result of corporate tax arbitrage. Yet despite the obvious deficiencies of the global tax regime, policymakers continue to propose only piecemeal fixes.
NEW YORK – Globalization has gotten a bad rap in recent years, and often for good reason. But some critics, not least US President Donald Trump, place the blame in the wrong place, conjuring up a false image in which Europe, China, and developing countries have snookered America’s trade negotiators into bad deals, leading to Americans’ current woes. It’s an absurd claim: after all, it was America – or, rather, corporate America – that wrote the rules of globalization in the first place.
That said, one particularly toxic aspect of globalization has not received the attention it deserves: corporate tax avoidance. Multinationals can all too easily relocate their headquarters and production to whatever jurisdiction levies the lowest taxes. And in some cases, they need not even move their business activities, because they can merely alter how they “book” their income on paper.
Starbucks, for example, can continue to expand in the United Kingdom while paying hardly any UK taxes, because it claims that there are minimal profits there. But if that were true, its ongoing expansion would make no sense. Why increase your presence when there are no profits to be had? Obviously, there are profits, but they are being funneled from the UK to lower-tax jurisdictions in the form of royalties, franchise fees, and other charges.
We hope you're enjoying Project Syndicate.
To continue reading, subscribe now.
Get unlimited access to PS premium content, including in-depth commentaries, book reviews, exclusive interviews, On Point, the Big Picture, the PS Archive, and our annual year-ahead magazine.
Already have an account or want to create one to read two commentaries for free? Log in