Matt Levine has an illuminating post about why the recent reduction in corporate tax rates results in a reduction in some corporations’ reported profits. It seems that past losses can be saved as a “deferred tax asset,” permitting a reduction in taxes to be paid in future years. But the ratio of losses to tax reduction declines when the tax rate declines, so the deferred tax asset is reduced. Levine notes that such tax rate reduction can cause a corporation to appear less well capitalized, since it reduces assets, even tho it increases expected after-tax income.
Just another illustration of the absurdity of a corporate income tax (or perhaps of corporations in general). Of course corporations should pay taxes – based on the land (including spectrum and other natural resources) that they claim. And they should pay additional taxes reflecting the limited liability granted by the state. But the accounting concept of corporate income has little to do with this.
We hear that corporate tax rates, at 35% (federal), are too high and need to be reduced so U S companies can be competitive. I remain confident that the best way to fund public services is thru a tax on land value and other measures of privilege, but if any kind of corporate tax is to be retained, here are a few things to consider:
The statutory rate is 35%, but there are all kinds of credits and deductions a corporation can take, so typically the effective rate is much less. Here’s a U S Treasury report (pdf) claiming that effective corporate tax rates were 20% in 2011, the most recent year calculated. Major corporations have the ability to obtain special tax favors. (Just scan thru the tax code (big pdf) to find some of these special favors, available only to individual projects or corporations which reached specific milestones on specific combinations of dates.)
Enterprises in most countries, but not in the United States, have to pay a national value-added or sales tax. The rate and details of course varies by country, but is typically about 19% as indicated by this OECD spreadsheet. Scroll down to the second half of this article to get some more perspective from John Hussman.
Most U S states impose an additional corporate income tax, with varying rates and rules. Illinois takes 9.5%. I have no knowledge about other states nor subnational jurisdications outside the US. However, this table from Deloitte (pdf) provides some detail, including an assertion that the total national+local corporate tax rate in Germany is about 30-33%.
Some commentators complain about “double taxation” of corporate earnings, because corporate dividends are paid out of after-tax earnings. However, incorporation, with its perpetual life and limitation of liability, is a privilege, for which it’s reasonable to expect corporations to pay. I don’t suppose that taxable income is the best measure of the value of this privilege, perhaps a small percentage of total expenditures would be better, but certainly the appropriate fee is greater than zero. Furthermore, a considerable percentage of corporate stock is owned by various kinds of entities which do not pay tax, such as universities and other nonprofits, and Roth IRA’s.