Any way you slice it, U.S. corporate tax rates are too high

February 2, 2011

David Leonhardt (NYT) makes the point that U.S. companies often pay far less than the top statutory corporate tax rate of 35 percent:

Of the 500 big companies in the well-known Standard & Poor’s stock index, 115 paid a total corporate tax rate — both federal and otherwise — of less than 20 percent over the last five years, according to an analysis of company reports done for The New York Times by Capital IQ, a research firm. Thirty-nine of those companies paid a rate less than 10 percent.

Arguably, the United States now has a corporate tax code that’s the worst of all worlds. The official rate is higher than in almost any other country, which forces companies to devote enormous time and effort to finding loopholes. Yet the government raises less money in corporate taxes than it once did, because of all the loopholes that have been added in recent decades. …

The problem with the current system is that it distorts incentives. Decisions that would otherwise be inefficient for a company — and that are indeed inefficient for the larger economy — can make sense when they bring a big tax break. “Companies should be making investments based on their commercial potential,” as Aswath Damodaran, a finance professor at New York University, says, “not for tax reasons.”

Instead, airlines sometimes buy more planes than they really need. Energy companies drill more holes. Drug companies conduct research with only marginal prospects of success.

Inefficiencies like these slow economic growth, and they are the reason that both conservatives and liberals criticize the corporate tax code so harshly. Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate leader, says it hurts job creation. Mr. Obama, in his State of the Union address, said that the system “makes no sense, and it has to change.”

It should also be noted that whether you are talking about the statutory rate or the effective rate, the U.S. is still at uncompetitive levels (via Tax Foundation):

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One comment

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Rubbish. Any taxes at all are too high for James Pethokoukis. Corporate tax rates in the United States are among the lowest in the world. Combine that with the loopholes that corporate lobbyists have bought for their clients, and most US corporations pay no tax at all.

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