While we’re talking about taxes…
Over the weekend The Zero Hour with RJ Eskow interviewed economist Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, to talk about “A New Way to Make Corporations Pay Their Fair Share.”
The idea is, as Baker wrote last week in the LA Times, Instead of taxes, make corporations give the government stock,
If the tax reformers are serious, and I hope they are, here’s one simple way to largely eliminate the gaming opportunities that have made these people rich.
Instead of traditional taxes, the government could require corporations to turn over a portion of their stock, say 25%, in the form of non-voting shares. The government would benefit from any dividends or share buybacks but would have no voice in running the company.
This system would eliminate almost all opportunities for gaming since a company would not be able to deny the government its share of profits unless it also withheld profits from its other shareholders. And we would not call that “tax avoidance” but outright theft – the sort of thing that gets people sent to jail.
This government (We the People) share of corporations would replace taxation, because the government would collect dividends or the value of the share would increase along with the profits (formerly taxable) of the corporation. The government and corporate tax-accounting bureaucracies would be unnecessary. Our democracy would receive revenue so it can do things to make our economy and lives better.
Why should the government (We the People) have a share of corporations? People generally do not understand what a corporation really is, and this common misunderstanding works to be benefit of those who make money off of them.
Corporations are entirely creations of government. They don’t exist without government. A corporation is a package of laws designed to accomplish a public purpose.
Individuals do not generally have the kind of capital available to accomplish large-scale projects like building a series of factories to make cars or airplanes. It’s also risky to sink so much of one person’t holdings into something like that so those with sufficient resources might not do it.
So government (We the people) created corporations to enable pooling of capital and reduction of individual risk. We (through our government) grant these entities the right to enter into contracts, write checks, hire people, borrow money, file lawsuits, etc. as if they were a “person.”
A common misconception is that shareholders “own” corporations. They do not, but shareholders do elect the Board of Directors, which hires people to manage the corporation according to the Board’s instructions.
People tend to think of and talk about corporations as sentient entities. But corporations do not think or decide or act or anything else. The managers of the corporation do that. For example, “Wells Fargo” did not “decide” to commit fraud against their customers, the corporation’s executives — people — did that.
Another common misconception is that corporations are required by law to do whatever they can to make profits for the shareholders. In fact this is a relatively recent concept that flourished as people’s understanding of the purpose of corporations diminished. In fact government does much to limit what corporations can do while seeking profits. They cannot (aren’t supposed to) kill or injure people to increase profits, cannot poison the air and water, cannot commit fraud, etc.
So the idea that government should keep their hands off of corporations and not hold some percent of them for the benefit of We the People is really preposterous. This thinking misunderstands what a corporation is, how and why it exists and what its purpose is.
The goal of Baker’s idea is to create a system where corporations are paying their share to We the People, without all of the incentives to come up with schemes to avoid taxes. Baker’s idea accomplishes that goal. Baker suggests that government hold 25% of corporate shares, but the tax rate has already dropped from 52% to 46% under Reagan to 35% today, and the corporate share of the overall tax burden has fallen from 32% to only 10%. SO perhaps a higher share would be appropriate for restoring revenue and democracy.
(See Lynn Stout’s The Shareholder Value Myth for a deeper dive into what and why a corporation is.)