Corporate Taxes, Again
One common theme pushed by folks on the right is that corporations are taxed too much. When making a case for this, people point to the fact (and it is a fact) that the corporate tax rate is 35%. From a sensible view point, that does seem rather high. After all, having the state skim 35% off the top would make it much harder for business to hire people, re-invest and do all those other things that are rather important to keeping the balloon of capitalism expanding. As such, the call to cut corporate taxes often has significant appeal. However, there is on rather obvious problem with the argument: some corporations pay no taxes and the average is around 12%.
This lower actual rate is due to the fact that corporations are able to take advantage of various tax laws (often created at their behest or via heavily lobbied deals). This laws allow corporations to use loop holes and other means to lower their taxes significantly. Lest I be accused of ignoring the obvious, the tax laws also allow individuals to also lower their taxes through various deductions and exemptions.
One reason why the facts are important in this situation is that much of the rhetoric and (limited) arguments for lowering corporates taxes are not based on what corporations actually pay. To use the obvious example, when someone rails against the high corporate tax rate, they do not say that the average tax rate for American corporations is 12.1% and they most certainly do not mention that some companies (most infamously GE) are able to avoid having any tax obligations. After all, a 12% tax on what are often massive profits would not strike most people (especially those of us who work for a living) as particularly onerous. In fact, given the significant benefits enjoyed by corporations (corporate subsidies, use of infrastructure, military and diplomatic operations on their behalf and so on), this seems like an excellent deal.
Another reason why the facts are important is that they are rather important to having a rational discussion of what corporate tax rates should be. As noted above, the stock line is that corporations are being harshly taxed and these taxes need to be lowered. When the tax percentage is presented as 35%, that does seem rather harsh and lowering it seems reasonable. However, this claim has the obvious problem of not being what corporations actually pay. The average is, as noted above, 12.1% and this seems like a rather low figure already relative to corporate earnings. Also, if someone where to argue that the tax rate for corporations should be 15% (the cap for capital gains taxes), then the obvious response is that corporations already pay a smaller percentage, thus eliminating the need for such a reduction.
But perhaps the people who point to the 35% and call for lower taxes do not mean that they think that 35% is too high. Perhaps they are well aware of the real percentage but merely use 35% as a rhetorical trick because they think that the percentage that corporations pay on profits should be even lower than 12.1%. Of course, that would seem to be rather low, given what wage earners pay in terms of a percentage of their income. After all, corporations already tend to pay a lower % than many folks who work for a living. This might, of course, mean that the taxes on the working people are too high as well.
But, if they are, then we must explain the deficit entirely in terms of needless overspending. After all, if the state is taking in too much money, then the most plausible explanation for a deficit would be that we are spending too much on needless programs. This could very well be the case and should be duly considered. Of course, the key word here is “needless”-if we actually do need to spend tax dollars, then the tax rates should be devised so that they enable us to meet our legitimate expenses. The challenge, which is a very serious one, is sorting out the needless spending from what we should be spending. Naturally, everyone tends to hold that what the think benefits them is essential and what they think does not benefit them is needless. Unfortunately, there seems to be little tendency to address this matter in a rational way and the “discussion” seems to be based mainly on rhetoric, partisan ideology and unrestrained emotion.