Why Romney’s right that ‘companies are people’
Liberal groups, like Think Progress, are jumping all over Mitt Romney for this (via TP):
Mitt Romney completed a rowdy campaign stop at the Iowa state fair, before a key Republican debate tonight and an upcoming Iowa straw poll. At the end of his speech, a Q&A session quickly devolved into a shouting match during which he defended the rich, argued for cutting entitlements, and equated corporations with people. Romney told a group of angry Iowans that raising the retirement age to protect corporate tax breaks is appropriate. “Corporations are people, my friend,” he said.
Now I don’t think Romney was making a legal argument about corporate personhood, which is well established concept in US law:
In the United States, corporations were recognized as having rights to contract, and to have those contracts honored the same as contracts entered into by natural persons, in Dartmouth College v. Woodward, decided in 1819. In the 1886 case Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad, 118 U.S. 394, the Supreme Court recognized that corporations were recognized as persons for purposes of the Fourteenth Amendment
Rather, I am pretty sure he was trying to say that corporations are made up of people, but not in a Soylent Green sort of way. Rather they are comprised of workers generating goods and services for customers. And when you punish corporations, you punish workers and shareholders and customers. A few additional points:
1) Here an interesting bit from an OECD paper on taxes and economic growth
Corporate taxes are found to be most harmful for growth, followed by personal income taxes, and then consumption taxes. … A second option is to reform corporate taxes, as they influence productivity in several ways. Evidence in this study suggests that lowering statutory corporate tax rates can lead to particularly large productivity gains in firms that are dynamic and profitable, i.e. those that can make the largest contribution to GDP growth. It also appears that corporate taxes adversely influence productivity in all firms except in young and small firms since these firms are often not very profitable. … Lower corporate and labour taxes may also encourage inbound foreign direct investment, which has been found to increase productivity of resident firms. In addition, multinational enterprises are attracted by tax systems that are stable and predictable, and which are administered in an efficient and transparent manner.
2) And here is economist Greg Mankiw addressing the topic in his popular economics textbook:
Many economists believe that workers and customers bear much of the burden of the corporate income tax. To see why, consider an example. Suppose that the U.S. government decides to raise the tax on the income earned by car companies. At first, this tax hurts the owners of the car companies, who receive less profit. But over time, these owners will respond to the tax. Because producing cars is less profitable, they invest less in building new car factories. Instead, they invest their wealth in other ways—for example, by buying larger houses or by building factories in other industries or other countries. With fewer car factories, the supply of cars declines, as does the demand for autoworkers. Thus, a tax on corporations making cars causes the price of cars to rise and the wages of autoworkers to fall.
The corporate income tax shows how dangerous the flypaper theory of tax incidence can be. The corporate income tax is popular in part because it appears to be paid by rich corporations. Yet those who bear the ultimate burden of the tax—the customers and workers of corporations—are often not rich. If the true incidence of the corporate tax were more widely known, this tax might be less popular among voters.
3) Finally, economists Kevin Hassett and Aparna Mathur on who bears the burden of corporate taxes: “The results in this paper suggest that corporate tax rates affect wage levels across countries. Higher corporate taxes lead to lower wages. A 1 percent increase in corporate tax rates is associated with nearly a 1 percent drop in wage rates.”