Does Lowering Corporate Tax Rates Create Jobs? Answer is a resounding "no"

by Linda Beale

Does Lowering Corporate Tax Rates Create Jobs? Answer is a resounding “no”

For years (decades, actually), the American pro-wealthy right has argued that lowering corporate tax rates will create jobs.  That is the presumed purpose behind the push by Dave Camp to enact a tax reform package with lower corporate rates, and the reason that even President Obama has voiced (tepid) support for lower corporate rates.

Baucus at Senate Finance and Camp at House Ways & Means are part of an oft-cited “bipartisan consensus” (though its never clear whether there really is one) for cutting corporate tax rates through  “revenue neutral” corporate tax reform.  This is a consensus which, if it does exist, has resulted from decades of corporate lobbying in Congress and near-absolute capture of the media on the issue, combined with the proliferation of robotic economics and “law and economics” faculties who scribble endlessly about the “economics” of corporate and capital income taxation, producing studies that suggest policy based on simplifying assumptions commonly used by economists that ensure that the outcome of their mathematical games should have almost no application  in the real world.  See, e.g., Ponnuru, Max Baucus’s Self-Defeating Corporate Tax Plan, (Dec. 2, 2013) (indicating that “There’s bipartisan support for lowering the 35 percent federal corporate tax rate, which is among the highest in the developed world. Both parties see the rate as a burden for the economy because it pushes investors — American and foreign — to seek their returns in other countries. Economists argue that the tax therefore depresses wage growth in the U.S., a claim supported by numerous studies.”)

So in spite of those many “studies”, I’ve argued frequently in the past that there is no there there–i.e., that lowering corporate tax rates will do nothing to create jobs.  Instead, I’ve said, it will simply deliver an even higher profit margin to be skimmed off by the highest paid executives and, possibly, shareholders.  The higher profit margins are unlikely even to be used to increase workers’ shares of the corporate revenues through higher wages, a place where they could most help the economy other than new jobs created.  Thus, the drive for “revenue neutral” corporate tax reform (cut corporate taxes, cut expenditures elsewhere to make up for the decreased corporate tax revenues) is just another example of corporatism as an engine of the modern form of US class warfare.

The Center for Effective Government (formerly OMBWatch) has now done a study looking at the “job creation track records of 60 large, profitable U.S., corporations (from a list of 280 Fortune 500 companies) with the highest and lowest effective tax rates between 2008 and 2010.”   See Scott Klinger & Katherine McFate, The Corporate Tax Rate Debate: Lower Taes on Corporate Profits Not Linked to Job Creation, Center for Effective Government, Dec. 2013.   It confirms that corporate tax cuts don’t create jobs.

The study, for example, found that a supermajority (22) of the 30 corporations paying the HIGHEST tax rates created 200,000 jobs between 2008 and 2012, while only 8 of those 30 had any reductions in the number of employees.  IN contrast, the 30 profitable corporations paying no or very little taxes in that period had an aggregate loss of more than 51,000 jobs–half created a few jobs and half reduced jobs between 2008 and 2012.

Here’s the introductory text to the report:

The American corporate tax system is badly broken. Some corporations pay a third or more of their profits in federal taxes, while others pay nothing at all. Still others legally claim large sums as refunds even though they’ve generated sizeable profits in the United States. The responsible corporations that pay their fair share of taxes – companies like Smuckers, Nordstrom, Hershey, and Automatic Data Processing – are helping to fund the schools, infrastructure, national parks, and public protections that benefit all Americans. And the taxes they pay don’t stop them from investing in their businesses and adding new jobs for U.S. workers.

Many corporate leaders agree the U.S. corporate tax code is broken, but they argue that the core problem is that the tax on corporate profits (35 percent) needs to be lowered. Verizon’s CEO Lowell McAdam and 16 other CEOs who are members of the RATE Coalition wrote in a joint letter to the leaders of the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee: “Our competitors in the OECD have lowered their statutory tax rates while the U.S. rate has remained relatively constant. This has resulted in an uncompetitive tax environment that discourages investment and job creation here at home…a lower corporate rate will boost investment in the U.S., bringing more American jobs, innovation and growth.” …

A 2013 study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that large corporations paid on average just 12.6 percent of their 2010 profits in federal income taxes.1 Even when foreign, state, and local taxes were added in, the companies paid only 16.9% of their worldwide profits in [all] taxes in 2010. By contrast, small businesses pay an average tax rate on their profits of 19 percent, according to the Small Business Administration. U.S corporate profits as a share of the economy are at a 50-year high, yet federal corporate tax collections as a share of the economy are near a 50-year low. Id. at 2-3 (emphasis added).

Lowe’s was an example of a relative high tax-paying company that created jobs:  paying taxes at more than 36% and hiring more than 28,000 new employees between 2008 and 2012.  In contrast, Verizon made enormous profits ($32 billion between 2008 and 2010), paid no taxes (receiving refunds of $951 million) and eliminated about 56,000 jobs between 2008 and 2012.  The 58 firms that repatriated $218 billion in the 2004 “tax holiday” at very low profits saved $64 billion in taxes but then proceeded to eliminate 600,000 jobs.

Not to mention that if corporations in 2012 had actually paid the corporate tax rate of 35 percent on their humongous $1.8 trillion in profits, the corporate tax receipts would have reached $630 billion instead of the $242 billion actually paid, resulting in a one-third reduction in the deficit.It should not be surprising that most Americans see the slide in corporate taxes relative to corporate profits as a problem–the lost revenue could go a long ways to preventing cuts to education and infrastructure spending or Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security benefits.

[A] brand new national survey by Hart Associates found that “by a remarkable nine-to-one ratio, voters want revenue generated by closing corporate loopholes or limiting tax deductions for the wealthy to be used for public investment and deficit reduction (82%), not to lower tax rates on corporations or the wealthy (9%). In other words, the public does not support “revenue neutral” corporate tax reform.

Folks, it is quite clear that there cannot be a sustainable good-for-all economy if productivity gains constantly drift upwards (redistribution from the many to the few) as they have been in this country for the last two decades while at the same time tax policies “reward” the elite with lower taxes (another form of redistribution from the many to the few).  One has to wonder just how tone-deaf Congress must be, to continue to listen to economists whose policies rest on mathematical silliness and the lobbyists for big corporations and their wealthy shareholders and managers, while ignoring the crisis in middle and lower-income America due to a stagnant minimum wage and the deftness of the elite in capturing all productivity gains.  The tone-deafness has all the earmarks of a form of elitism–Congress is simply unable to understand the cacophony of the ordinary world and finds the neat equations of Chicago School economists, accompanied by the tender ministrations of corporate lobbyists and elbow-rubbing with CEOs and Board chairs, music to its ears.

cross posted with ataxingmatter


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