Published On: Thu, Nov 30th, 2017

Corporate Tax Facts Vs Fiction: Do They Really Need To Be Cut?

Corporate Income Taxes 1975-2017

Income Taxes 1975-2017

In the realm of economics, there are lots of theories. There are also lots of urban legends. Both are often propagated despite lots of that question their credibility. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the former senator from New York, once said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own .” In today’s world of “fake news,” sorting out fact from is a challenge. In the realm of economics, there’s no shortage of data, which can be very helpful in discerning the difference between information and disinformation.

Which brings me to the subject of the US corporate tax rate, which Republicans are aiming to cut. The widespread view, especially among Republicans, is that the corporate tax rate is too high. They aim to pass a tax reform package before the end of the year that will lower the statutory rate from 35% to 20%. I’m all for tax cuts. However, I’m having a problem with the data:

(1) GDP data. Yesterday’s release for Q3 included corporate pretax and after-tax corporate profits. The data show that corporations paid $472.9 billion in taxes over the past four quarters through Q3. This series has been hovering in record-high territory around $500 billion since Q2-2014.

Dividing this tax series by pretax profits of $2281.4 billion over this same period shows that the effective tax rate has been significantly below the statutory rate since the start of the previous decade. During Q3, it was only 20.7%!

(2) Treasury data. But wait … the plot thickens: Actual corporate tax revenues collected by the IRS have been consistently less than the corporate taxes included in the GDP measure of corporate profits since the start of the former data series in 1972. For example, over the past four quarters through Q3, the Treasury reported collecting $297.0 billion in corporate tax revenues, 37% less than the $472.9 billion shown by the GDP measure, on a comparable basis.

The shocking result is that the effective corporate tax rate based on actual tax collections was only 13.0% during Q3, and has been mostly well below 20.0% since the start of the previous decade.

What gives? I’m not sure, but I am inclined to follow the money, which tends to support the story told by the IRS data. If so, then Congress may be about to cut a tax that doesn’t need cutting. Or else, the congressional plan is actually reform aiming to stop US companies from using overseas tax dodges by giving them a lower statutory rate at home. We may not be able to see the devil in the details of the bill until it is actually enacted.

Effective Corporate Tax Rates 1975-2017

Effective Corporate Tax Rates 1975-2017

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