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January 06. 2014

NYT Op-Ed: Corporate Tax Reform Would Benefit American Workers

Economist Laurence Kotlikoff, in the New York Times:

BOSTON — JOBS don’t grow out of thin air, especially well-paying ones. They require, among other things, companies that are willing to operate where you live. Just ask the Seattle-based District 751 of the machinists’ union, which was worried that Boeing will build its new 777X airliner someplace far away where it is cheaper to produce. Last month the union offered contract concessions, as its president explained, to ensure “the long-term success” of Boeing in Washington State. And on Friday, Boeing machinists approved a contract with concessions to keep assembly of the plane in the area.

In recent decades, American workers have suffered one body blow after another: the decline in manufacturing, foreign competition, outsourcing, the Great Recession and smart machines that replace people everywhere you look. Amazon and Google are in a horse race to see how many humans they can put out of work with self-guided delivery drones and driverless cars. You wonder who will be left with incomes to buy what these robots deliver.

What can workers do to mitigate their plight? One useful step would be to lobby to eliminate the corporate income tax.

That might sound like a giveaway to the rich. It’s not. The rich, including Boeing’s stockholders, can take their companies and run — and not just from Washington State to, say, North Carolina. To avoid our federal corporate tax, they can, and often do, move their operations and jobs abroad. Apple’s tax return says it all: The company, according to one calculation, paid only 8.2 percent of its worldwide profits in United States corporate income taxes, thanks to piling up most of its profits and locating far too many of its operations overseas.

I, like many economists, suspect that our corporate income tax is economically self-defeating — hurting workers, not capitalists, and collecting precious little revenue to boot.

Read the rest of the op-ed here.