The corporate strategy of inversion has gotten a lot of attention recently. That’s when an American corporation purchases a smaller overseas company and reincorporates in that country as a way to avoid paying US corporate taxes. Walgreens was recently considering the strategy, but decided not to give up its corporate citizenship after an outcry from its consumers threatening to boycott.
Edward D. Kleinbard, professor at the Gould School of Law at the University of Southern California and a former chief of staff to the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation, argues in his academic paper that companies who pay US corporate taxes actually pay less than they would in most other countries.
“Despite the claims of corporate apologists, international business ‘competitiveness’ has nothing to do with the reasons for these deals,” wrote Kleinbard. “Whether one measures effectiveness marginal or overall tax rates, sophisticated US multinational firms are burdened by tax rates that are the envy of their international peers.”
Currently, the US corporate tax rate is 35 percent, higher than the rates in Ireland (12.5 percent), Britain (21 percent), and the Netherlands (25 percent). Kleinbard says that, while all of these rates are technically lower than America’s, corporations here rarely actually pay anywhere close to 35 percent. According to the Government Accountability Office, companies paid on average just 12.6 percent by keeping trillions of dollars overseas.
Kleinbard argues that companies often invert because of their assets currently held overseas that they don’t want to bring back, but says it isn’t really “trapped.” He says savvy American companies have found a way to use it in the US.
“As Apple Inc. demonstrated in 2013, large multinational firms often can access their offshore earnings without incurring a tax cost, simply by borrowing in the United States and using the earnings on the offshore cash to pay the interest costs,” he explained. Tax code allows the inclusion of interest earned on offshore money in the US company’s income. That “offsets the tax deduction for the interest expense on the firm’s US borrowing, and the firm is left in the same economic position if it had simply repatriated the cash-free,” said Kleinbard.
Calling the current tax code “highly distortive and inefficient,” Kleinbard says that it’s not decreasing global competition the way CEOs would have you believe. “But one of the few deficiencies it has avoided is imposing an unfair international business tax competitive burden on sophisticated U.S. multinational [corporations],” he said.