Dec 5, 2017 – Arsenal For Democracy Ep. 206

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Topics: The Senate Tax reform bill, the Kansas low-tax experiment, and tax policy as ideology. People: Bill, Rachel, Nate. Produced: Dec 5th, 2017.

Episode 206 (53 min):
AFD 206

Related links

– Washington Post: Winners and Losers in the Senate GOP Tax Bill
– Washington Post: In a Pro-Trump Area, Many are Skeptical of GOP Tax Plan
– Politico: Senate tax bill and the Hillsdale College endowment
– Washington Post: Here’s what the tax bill means for schools, parents, and students
– Washington Post: This is class warfare: Tax vote sparks political brawl over populism that will carry into 2018 elections
– Kansas City Star: ‘One of the most secretive, dark states’: What is Kansas trying to hide?
– Slate: Republicans are about to repeat Kansas’ tax cut disaster
– NY Times: Kansas Tried a Tax Plan Similar to Trump’s. It Failed.
– Tulsa World: History of Tax Cuts Catches up to Oklahoma

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Music by friend of the show Stunt Bird.

Oct 21, 2015 – Arsenal For Democracy Ep. 147

Posted by Bill on behalf of the team.

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Topics: American unions for the Millennial generation; Fortune 500 tax avoidance. People: Bill, Persephone, Nate. Produced: October 18th, 2015.

Episode 147 (49 min):
AFD 147

Discussion Points:

– What is the future of American unions as Millennials come to the fore?
– Fortune 500 firms may have avoided $620B in recent taxes

Related Links

The Atlantic: “Can Millennials Save Unions?”
AFD: “Fortune 500 firms may have avoided $620B in recent taxes”
CTJ/PIRG report: “Offshore Shell Games 2015: The Use of Offshore Tax Havens by Fortune 500 Companies”

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Fortune 500 firms may have avoided $620B in recent taxes

A new Citizens for Tax Justice / US PIRG study of IRS/SEC filings indicates that 358 of the 500 largest companies in the United States are stashing $2.1 trillion in legal tax havens.

The lost U.S. tax revenue from just 57 of them who admitted the difference in what they would have paid on those profits without havens versus what they actually paid (legally!) was $184.4 billion in total. The report then extrapolates that the lost U.S. tax revenue from the full Fortune 500 due to offshore tax avoidance may be around $620 billion total, or $90 billion yearly over the period in which the untaxed offshore stash was earned.

The tax haven countries themselves often have yearly GDPs smaller than the profits supposedly being “earned” in those countries by the “subsidiaries” of US megacorporations “based” in those countries.

Also:

Between 2008 and 2014, the study added, the amount of offshore cash holdings for American multinationals doubled.

 
Ah, I guess big U.S. firms can’t hire more people or pay better wages (duly earned through higher productivity!) because they “only” have over $2 Trillion in offshore savings. You see, it’s very tough as American megacorporations to pay living wages when you’re collectively only avoiding $90 billion a year in taxes.

Meanwhile, a major Democratic Party candidate for president wants to give tax breaks to big firms to pay workers more fairly, even though they already legally skip $90 billion annually in taxes now.

This is ludicrous. You don’t pay companies to do things they need to do anyway. You really don’t do it when they’re effectively stealing tax revenue now. As the head of the World Bank just said, legal tax avoidance schemes are a form of corruption. This needs to end. It just does.

Op-Ed | Trump’s Bankruptcies In Perspective

The following op-ed originally appeared in The Globalist.

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U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump has publicly described his business empire’s four bankruptcies in the following terms: “I have used the laws of this country…the [bankruptcy] chapter laws, to do a great job for my company, for myself, for my employees, for my family.”

Because his businesses entered “Chapter 11” bankruptcies – named for the provision of the U.S. legal code that allows businesses to restructure without closing shop and liquidating – he sees the four episodes in utilitarian and strategic terms, not as failures.

While I am not defending Donald Trump’s view of his practices, one key question needs to be answered: Are Trump’s business bankruptcies really worse than other corporate legal manipulations and practices?

Gaming the system

True, Chapter 11 bankruptcy is uncommon by comparison to other maneuvers through American business and tax law. Certainly bankruptcy still carries a bit of a scarlet letter stigma even if the risk is somewhat controlled, and so it is generally avoided.

But is manipulating corporate bankruptcy law really worse than those other tactics? Major U.S. companies use and abuse legal provisions constantly to evade and avoid taxes to the government.

Trump, by contrast, used the law to avoid creditors at major investment banks and funds (and most of them came out the other side of his restructurings with lucrative deals).

Some U.S. companies do complicated maneuvers like “offshore reincorporation” and other tax-avoidance mergersa loophole Trump has actually criticized on the campaign trail.

The entertainment mogul used Chapter 11 for cashflow management purposes (and to slash hundreds of millions of dollars in company debts). If companies use the U.S. legal code to boost their profits and cashflow via tax avoidance, how is that less dubious than using Chapter 11 bankruptcy?

Donald Trump made business deals on the (correct) assumption that he could fall back on restructuring laws. Other firms make deals based on assumptions that they can fall back on tax loopholes.

Firm defenders of American business law might dismiss the existence of business law loopholes as irrelevant either way and might prefer to judge his record solely on what these bankruptcies says about his ability to run businesses responsibly.

Poor financial management

Well, what about comparing it to popular and trendy legal maneuvers that are questionable long-term business practices? Many U.S. companies have been borrowing heavily to reward their shareholders, instead of using it to invest in expansion.

This practice effectively means shareholders are profiting against the company’s future financial health, rather than from current (or future) returns on its previous (or current) investments. That means literally raiding the companies’ future earnings to generate payout cash now.

Such a company will eventually have to pay back the borrowed money with interest. In the meantime, it will not have gained anything from that borrowing because it was used to rain money down on shareholders instead of actually growing the company’s operations.

The vast majority of American stock is held by a very small number of people with a lot of money to throw around. This means companies are putting themselves deeper into a long-term hole, even as wealthy shareholders rake in money in the short-term.

Trump may be incorrect when he asserts that “virtually every person” at the top of the business world has made use of bankruptcy protections. But his claim might simply be a bit ahead of its time – given the short-termist (mis)management of so many major U.S. companies today.

Down the line, by borrowing to benefit shareholders, a lot of American companies could have very high debt burdens. They would also be very underdeveloped compared to foreign competitors who invested in keeping up with the times and growing their long-term potential earnings.

That will make them uncompetitive, as well as vulnerable to bankruptcy or Japanese-style zombification.

And even all of this is to say nothing of the Wall Street debacles in 2008 that would have forced massive bankruptcies were it not for backstop loans by the Federal government.

Trump, business law exploitation pioneer

Sure, Donald Trump flew closer to the sun (and did so sooner) than these other future Icaruses, but the effect may eventually be the same. Singling him out would be mistaken, if not hypocritical.

Once again, as with his xenophobic appeals, one finds that Trump is merely reflecting back a refined and purified vision of what America has become in its re-expanding dark corners – in this case corporate America and the wealthiest 1%.

Those corners of our society exercise financial and political power in a dangerous direction. But he did not make it that way, and he is not the exception.

There is a separate set of rules in the United States accessible only to the very wealthy and their mega-corporations that allows them to evade and avoid debts and taxes that are seemingly inescapable for average Americans.

That lack of fairness in the rules is undermining voter confidence in the political and economic governance system. Ironically (and worryingly), that mix of frustration and apathetic helplessness has created the opening for someone like Trump to step into the breach.

Are Trump’s bankruptcies worse than other business law manipulations?

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The Washington Post earlier this month described Trump’s business bankruptcies:

The 69-year-old real estate tycoon has never filed for personal bankruptcy and has for years portrayed the Chapter 11 bankruptcies of his glittering hotels and casinos as calculated, even shrewd maneuvers, and facts of life in the high-stakes worlds of mega-development and commercial finance.

The Trump-tied bankruptcies have all been filed under Chapter 11, a provision allowing troubled companies to stay in business while restructuring their business model or reducing their debts. In the business world, those filings are far more common, and far less disastrous, than Chapter 7 bankruptcies, in which companies are liquidated to satisfy debts.
[…]
An estimated 5 percent of the 500 biggest U.S. companies have filed for bankruptcy in the past two decades, Georgetown law professor Adam Levitin said.

 
While I am not defending Donald Trump’s view of his activities, I do have to ask: Are Trump’s business bankruptcies really worse than other corporate legal manipulations?

True, Chapter 11 bankruptcy is uncommon by comparison to other maneuvers through American business and tax law, but is it worse? Major U.S. companies use and abuse legal provisions constantly to evade and avoid taxes to the government. Trump used the law to avoid creditors — at major investment banks and funds, so let’s not weep too hard (and most of them came out the other side of his restructurings with lucrative deals).

Some US companies do complicated maneuvers like “offshore reincorporation” and other tax-avoidance mergers. He used Chapter 11 for cashflow management purposes. If companies use the US legal code to boost their profits and cashflow via tax avoidance, how is that better than Chapter 11 bankruptcy?

Trump made business deals on the (correct) assumption that he could fall back on restructuring laws. Other firms make deals based on assumptions that they can fall back on tax loopholes.

Perhaps you are both unswayed by moral arguments and unpersuaded by his argument that he was using the system to his advantage like everyone else. Perhaps you would prefer to judge his record solely on what these bankruptcies says about his ability to run businesses.

Well, what about comparing it to popular and trendy legal maneuvers that are questionable long-term business practices? Many companies have been borrowing heavily to shower money on their shareholders, instead of using it to invest in expansion:

This practice of borrowing to pay shareholders instead of borrowing to invest, as you might guess, basically means shareholders are profiting against the company’s future financial health, rather than from current (or future) returns on its previous (or current) investments. That means literally raiding the companies’ future earnings to generate payout cash now. The company will eventually have to pay back the borrowed money with interest, but it will not have gained anything from that borrowing because it was used to rain money down on shareholders instead of actually growing the company’s operations. This means companies are putting themselves deeper into a long-term hole, even as wealthy shareholders […] rake in money in the short-term.
[…]
Down the line, a lot of American companies could have very high debt burdens while also being very underdeveloped compared to foreign competitors who invested in keeping up with the times and growing their long-term potential earnings. That will make them vulnerable to bankruptcy and other problems.

 
Maybe it’s true that Trump flew closer to the sun (and did so sooner) than these other future Icaruses, but the effect will eventually be the same.

Once again, one finds that Trump is not the epitome of evil. He is merely reflecting back a refined and purified vision of what America has become in its re-expanding dark corners. Those corners of our society exercise financial and political power in a dangerous direction. He didn’t make it that way. This is our country. We allowed this to happen.

October 8, 2014 – Arsenal For Democracy 102

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Topics: Colorado history curriculum fight, new rules on corporate tax avoidance via inversion (offshore reincorporation), Turkey’s role in Syria. People: Bill, Nate. Produced: October 5th, 2014.

Discussion Points:

– How one Colorado county school board is trying to erase and control US history
– Will the new Treasury Department rules stop corporate offshore reincorporation and inversion that avoid taxes?
– What should Turkey’s role in Syria be? Is Turkey abusing its alliances?

Episode 102 (52 min)
AFD 102

Related links
Segment 1

The Colorado Independent: State Board of Ed member: ‘U.S. ended slavery voluntarily’
The Colorado Independent: JeffCo students walk out, join in battle over proposed curriculum reform
The Colorado Independent: The kids are all right: Students are the story in JeffCo curriculum clash
Al Jazeera America: Colorado students vow civil disobedience over curriculum ‘censorship’

Segment 2

AFD: Treasury Dept. acts to discourage tax avoidance mergers
The Globalist: Pfizer: Tax Havens or Bust!

Segment 3

AFD: Joe Biden made to apologize for publicly saying fact about Turkey
AFD: ISIS still moving faster than coalition forces on Kobani; will Turkey Enter?
Wikipedia: Tomb of Suleyman Shah

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Treasury Dept acts to discourage tax avoidance mergers

Fantastic. The Treasury Department last month began establishing rules to make it significantly harder for U.S. companies to re-locate offshore for tax purposes by taking over foreign companies and registering out-of-country under the smaller entity with access to tax havens or lower corporate taxes. Earlier this year, both on this site and in The Globalist, I criticized Pfizer’s efforts to initiate a tax avoidance merger like that.

This practice, known as an “inversion” (or sometimes “offshore reincorporation”), had rapidly accelerated recently, to the point where the overall number of all such mergers ever attempted by American companies doubled in the past two or so years. While the new rules are just a small step forward — the much bigger problem of European-controlled tax havens, allowing such mergers to make sense in the first place, remains unchanged — it’s a step much more in the right direction than the constant Republican calls to slash corporate taxes to compete with the tax havens, when sensible reforms and regulations are really what’s needed.

There was also another sign that this Treasury Department action was having the intended deterrence effect. A bunch of companies who were in talks or seen as potentially likely to pursue such mergers took a pummeling in the stock market on September 23rd in response to these regulations being announced the day before, since the companies were less likely to make gains than expected.

That’s well deserved punishment, in my opinion, and more still needs to be done. As I argued in my oped in The Globalist in May of this year:

As a matter of fact, U.S. corporations — as profitable as they are — have taken their home nation for a nearly tax free ride for too long. The U.S. tradition of the rule of law that allowed business to flourish cannot be permitted to devolve into a “rule of loopholes” system that just barely stays inside the lines.

Tax avoidance is a cancer on democratic societies. It both undermines confidence in the fairness of the taxation system and erodes the government’s ability to invest in infrastructure and provides services. In the end, that reduces any government’s credibility with its people.

Without the U.S. government’s help, big American corporations would never have been so successful in the first place. We cannot let them get away with chipping away at the country’s tax base even further.

And the corporations should tread lightly for their own good. If such mergers as the one Pfizer proposes are the future of globalization, the American people will continue to feel very abused. Such schemes may eventually produce a backlash strong enough to erase any of the positives.

 
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