Trump Tax Plan May Free Up Corporate Dollars, but Then What?

Consider the tantalizing $2.6 trillion in global profits that American companies are keeping out of their home accounts and out of the Internal Revenue Service’s reach.

A pro-growth tax policy would presumably aim not only to reach profits kept abroad as a tax dodge, but also to encourage companies to use that money to expand their business and hire more workers.

.. President George W. Bush set out to do in 2004 when he imposed what was meant to be a one-time reprieve and lowered the tax on those funds to 5.25 percent from a potential top rate of 35 percent.

.. companies used most of the money to pay shareholder dividends or buy back stock, not to reinvest.

.. Most of the money is not stashed in some underground vault overseas, but already in American financial institutions and capital markets. Repatriation is in effect a legal category that requires a company to book the money in the United States — and pay taxes on it — before it can be distributed to shareholders or invested domestically.

.. “The earnings are not ‘trapped,’” he said. “They’re not offshore. They’re not even earnings. They’re accounting gimmicks that allow earnings to be shifted abroad.”

.. companies already get something akin to tax-free repatriation by borrowing against those funds

.. A recent survey of business leaders by the international accounting and advisory firm Friedman, for example, found that just 23 percent would reinvest repatriated funds. Most would use the money to pay dividends or engage in share buybacks.

.. “A lot of the funds got overseas in the first place via tax dodges, so giving firms a tax break on the money coming back seems like compounding the problem,”

.. a territorial system without sufficient safeguards could end up encouraging even more businesses to shift profits, operations and jobs to countries with lower tax rates.

.. “What’s driving companies to engage in paper transactions is not our 35 percent tax rate,” he said, but other countries’ willingness to undercut whatever rate the United States settles on. “You can never win if you are competing against their zero tax rate.”

..  “If Republicans cut tax rates to levels that are unsustainable, everyone will believe rates will go up,” said Joseph E. Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize-winning economist and the author of several books on globalization and economic inequality. “And that means you’re going to get even less investment, because they are looking at future tax rates.”

.. “Growth is low because labor force growth is slow,” and it is only going to grow slower because of immigration restrictions, he said. “And we’re not investing in education and research, which is why productivity is slow. The notion that changing taxes is going to lead to a growth spurt is pure nonsense.”

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