A tech lobbying group has written to the OECD to try and stop the G20's efforts to close loopholes that let international firms legally avoid some of their taxes. The Digital Economy Group's letter was published by the think-tank along with other documents both for and against reforms to international tax laws, ahead of a …
You missed one of the best quotes from the document, which said that the tax avoidance was an incidental aspect of how they had organised themselves, implying that tax is not the reason that all their European operations are based in Ireland.
I bet it's because of the great broadband so their employees can work from home.
Now I'm no fan of corporation tax as a principle (tax people and behaviours, not organisations if possible - see Tim Worstall column a while back for an explanation why) but while we are stuck with it then something needs to change.
Tax the proletariat, you mean. After all, it's only fair, right? Goods and services taxes are fair, no? Progressive taxation is bad. Evil! Why should we tax the rich more than the poor? That's discrimination!
Then you can get into the fallacy that the rich will pay more tax in a GST scenario. Though they rarely do. After all, the rich only eat so much, only have so many cars, only need so many clock-radios, etc. And the tax shortfall that occurs when you move to regressive taxation? Just up the rates! After all, it's fair, isn't it?
That person making $20,000 a year should be paying out a good 30% of that - at least! - in goods and services taxes. That person making $2,000,000 a year should only pay out a good 0.3% of that in goods and services taxes. It's only fair!
Businesses are where the money is concentrated. Unless you are willing to dramatically reform capital gains taxes as well as move to a proper progressive system, then saying "no business taxation" is the same as saying "tax the poor, not the rich."
Taxes need to be levied where the money is. No matter how hard you try you just can't tax the destitute enough to keep your roads and sewers and private-terminal-equipped airports running.
NZ fiscal whizzkids once explored the bounds of non-progressive tax
About twenty years ago the Treasury Dept (always on the astringent side of dry) carefully balanced part of the budget by cutting low-income benefits by X megabucks. Come the end of that fiscal year they were gobsmacked to find that the tax take fell by a hearty fraction of X megabucks - because of course the orchestrated litany of dole bludgers, solo mums getting up the duff deliberately, and other such bogeymen always spent almost all of their money within the local economy, so getting significantly recycled by the GST (consumption) tax and income taxes of the local shopkeepers.
(this isn't buying into the fight of how/if social welfare should be delivered or whether globalcorps are a nett good. I just found it bleakly funny that the whizzkids claimed to have the pulse of the country but hadn't completed this join-the-dot picture)
Now I'm no fan of corporation tax as a principle (tax people and behaviours, not organisations if possible if you don't tax corporations the result is that everyone who can, will incorporate to minimise tax. If you restrict yourself to taxing people then they will move to lower tax regimes and then you're in an unedifying race to the bottom. The same with behaviours. You can only tax what is in your jurisdiction.
Oh and there's the final piece in the puzzle from the US, corporations are people according to SCOTUS.
Well of course they are
"corporations are people according to SCOTUS."
A corporation is a legal person. And we're all very glad that they are too. For being a legal person is the definition of us being able to sue them.
If you're not a legal (nor natural) person then you can't commit crimes, sue or be sued. Or be taxed of course.
Given this would you prefer that corporations were not legal people?
"Taxes need to be levied where the money is"
You can also wait and tax inheritances. That may be easier than trying to establish whether / when someone may have earned capital gains. (Did you earn money if the value of your stocks / house went up but you didn't sell?)
Re: Well of course they are
"Given this would you prefer that corporations were not legal people?"
Yes. Corporations can't go to jail. They only very rarely see the corporate veil pierced and see directors or executives go to jail. Corporations have a long, rich history of committing crime after crime and getting away with it, or getting hit with little more than a slap on the wrist.
When I compare that nonsense to the damage they have been able to do to the US (and frankly, Canadian) political, social and economic landscape through unchecked (and uncapped!) political donations I find that the greatest good for the greatest number is in taking the powers and privileges of personhood away from corporations as it has been demonstrated repeatedly and disastrously that they absolutely cannot use them responsibly. (And now corporations are allowed to have a religion?!? The fuck, what?)
Corporations should not be legal persons. If they break the law beyond what would be considered a minor breach of protocol/paperwork or a very minor misdemeanor (I.E. things that are understandable to have screwed up because our legal system is incomprehensibly complex) then the corporation should simply be dissolved.
Those who run and own the company are to act with honour and the best of intentions or they lose the privilege of running a corporation. Period.
As part and parcel of this, corporations lose their ability to bribe politicians and quangos outright. Any attempt to donate goods or services to a political campaign by a corporation should result in the immediate dissolution of the corporation and locking away the brass hats that run the thing for a very long time.
One vote per natural person. Period. None among us should be allowed to purchase influence with money.
Re: "Taxes need to be levied where the money is"
"You can also wait and tax inheritances." Which can be gotten around in a dozen different ways. Even I can think of methods to dodge inheritance taxes. I'm pretty sure a bunch of on-the-ball tax lawyers would know that one cold.
Re: Well of course they are
@Tim - yes I'd prefer they weren't natural persons. I think you are confusing person with entity. Corporations have always had a separate legal existence by definition. That's why we've always been able to sue them. What SCOTUS did, was to say they are legally people - like you and me - giving them the protections of the constitution. Now a corporation manifestly is _not_ a person and I think the founders would all react with a resounding wtf ?
If a corporation is really a person then they ought to be able to vote and they ought to be subject, as a person, to the criminal code all the way up to capital crimes.
Citizens United was an embarrassing brain fart by a court twisting themselves trying to justify unlimited campaign spending,
Re: Well of course they are
But they're not natural persons: they're legal persons.
What SCOTUS said was that certain constitutional provisions applies to the legal persons that are corporations. Like, for example, free speech (which is where the being able to donate to political campaigns comes from, that's regarded as an expression of free speech).
Certain other constitutional provisions do not apply to the legal persons that are corporations. Cruel and unusual punishment for example.
SCOTUS absolutely did not say that corporations are natural persons. They just defined which constitutional provisions apply to legal persons.
Re: Well of course they are
And what we're saying is that the SCOTUS decision is - to put it mildly - fucked up beyond all repair. Other countries get along just fine without corporations being persons. Other countries get along fine without corporations having the right to unlimited campaign contributions, or the right to a "religion" or any of the other bullshit that the USA has come up with in this regard.
You can create a legal category for "non-person entity" that means the entity can be sued for doing bad things without that entity having to be a person or having the protections of a person. Your arguments are simply flawed from the outset, Tim.
There is no rational reason to apply the human rights - such as free speech - to a corporation. A corporation is merely a means to shield entrepreneurs from certain legal consequences so as to reduce risk and better encourage entrepreneurship within a nation.
This legal shield - like patents - is a compromise. It is taking something away from society as a whole - the ability to hole to account those who run a corporation under various circumstances - in order to encourage a specific behavior. For a society to function properly, corporations themselves must not be viewed as "persons" unto themselves.
A patent grants a person a monopoly over an implementation of an idea for a fixed period of time in order to encourage people to invent. So long as the balance is carefully nurtured and maintained this ends up with a net benefit to a society. Similarly, a corporation grants an individual immunity from the debts accrued by a corporation from becoming their personal debts in order to encourage entrepreneurs to risk their personal capital and found a new business.
Both concepts can go horribly sideways and be misused. In the United States this has happened quite dramatically. Worse: the USA has started treating corporations more and more as though they have most of the rights of natural persons but none of the responsibilities.
What benefit to society is there in creating a separate class of "persons" with nearly all protections of society, a strong incentive to behave like complete sociopaths regarding the health and welfare of others, the influence brought about by concentrated capital, but meaningless levels of social responsibility and ineffectual enforcement of what little regulation exists?
The USA's approach to corporate personhood is both morally and ethically bankrupt. None of the extraneous crap that has become layered on top of corporate personhood needs to exist to accomplish the original goal of providing a firewall between debt collectors and entrepreneurs so as to encourage increased entrepreneurship.
A corporation must be viewed as an extension of the people who own and run it, not as a person in and of itself. It is an extension with limitations, but it is an extension nonetheless.
That the USA - via the SCOTUS, amongst other decision-making organs - has decided they want to take their society into an ever more polarized hell typified by increasing class strife and plutarchy does not make is right. That something is legal does make make it moral or ethical. Similarly, it can be - and increasingly is - entirely moral and ethical to do things that are illegal.
The USA has lost it's way and in no single instance is this more evident than the SCOTUS decision behind Citizens United. That is what people are discussing here, Tim. Our unease and outright hostility towards that decision. The fact that the society the USA is creating is emphatically not the society we want to leave to the next generation.
I don't expect you will ever be able to understand any of that...but maybe if you analyze the thread a little then in the future you'll be able to better separate a discussion about facts from one about morality and ethics. Nobody is here is debating the facts. We all agree on what has happened.
We simply don't agree with the rationale as to why those decisions were taken, nor do we see them as positive today, or for the future of our society. That's the bit you all to frequently miss, sir. The humanity of the situation.
Were will they go, Mars? Actually that might explain a lot of internet millionaires investing in rocket companies.
Is corporation tax relevant?
Shareholders are either taxed on dividends or - if the company doesn't distribute its earnings - capital gains when the shares are sold. The shareholder usually gets a credit for the amount of tax the corporation has actually paid. So, if the corporation pays no tax, the HMRC just gets it from the shareholders.
Peggy Hodge and her cronies can moan and moan as much as they like, but they should do what we're paying them to do: pass legislation.
There's a lot of media hyper-or-shite about companies avoiding tax, but the silence is deafening when it comes to criticism of MPs for complaining about the very tax laws that they passed.
Re: Is corporation tax relevant?
You need countries to co-operate on a truely global scale and it's hard to convince the few benefiting that they should stop. Plus you've forgotten about companies using their slush piles in tax havens to do business so a lot of that money might never reach the share holder.
Re: Is corporation tax relevant?
That's true to a point, but different countries have different rules for taxation of dividends. If one country says "no corporate income tax. we'll just tax their dividends" and another says "we'll charge corporate income tax but give favorable treatment to dividend income" (which is the situation in the US today) there is some room for corporations to organize themselves in a favorable way.
In practice, since the US taxes corporations on worldwide income (when the money is brought into the US) they can't take advantage of the better treatment for dividend income. But I'm sure you can see the different treatment of difference types of income around the world offers a lot of room for tax arbitrage.
Companies on the US Stock Markets have to pay a minimum tax somewhere/anywhere documented with receipts. If not somewhere/anywhere, then make out a cheque to the IRS.
"after only reporting a profit of £36.8m on turnover of £506m."
That is a 7.27% operating profit, which doesn't sound at all unreasonable. Most large companies would envy an operating profit figure that high.
Re: Profit Margin?
I've no idea where that turnover figure came from. Last I heard their UK sales were around £7.5bn.
Re: Profit Margin?
There's a difference between "UK sales" and "Sales in the UK". The other 7 billion of your figure will mostly be Luxembourg sales.
Re: Profit Margin?
"That is a 7.27% operating profit, which doesn't sound at all unreasonable. Most large companies would envy an operating profit figure that high."
And that's the point.
Most of the funds are siphoned off to Ireland and then off to somewhere else.
It sounds good until you realize that they have a much higher profit margin than 7.2%
Imagine if they are hiding 20% of the 506m GBP. 100m GBP untaxed...
Compared to the 36m GBP that was taxed?
And that's only 20% margins. Try doubling it to 40% hidden... or 200m GBPs untaxed?
UK water companies..... Privatised by Maggie. The biggest is French owned at it transpires pays no corporation tax in the UK at all. Not a penny. There is no investment to speak of and in fact they actually pay out more in dividends than the company makes in "profit", allowing them to book a "loss" - which has gone on for some time. Being French, you might think they pay tax in France..... In fact you'd be wrong, everything is washed through the Caymans and they pay no tax at al, invest nothing in the UK and allow infrastructure to fall apart. But hey, the almighty market is always right eh ?
Re: an example....
The BBC programme included some misleading and heavy spin from that OU guy, which should have been challenged. Also some valid points, most notably the fact that corporation tax presents a perverse incentive to take on lots of debt, so companies tend to take on the most debt they can get away with.
This is one more reason - if avoidance by complex trans-national schemes isn't enough - why corporation tax is unfit for purpose and should be replaced.
Re: an example....
"corporation tax is unfit for purpose and should be replaced"
Replaced with what? Seems to me the proletariat can't afford more of a tax burden than they suffer now, and there's no way on this earth you'll a G20 country is going to raise capital gains by a meaningful amount.
Re: an example....
"so companies tend to take on the most debt they can get away with." - As Starbucks does, so that in the UK they can declare a loss every year. Except that the debt is utterly bogus, even the international CEO has baldly stated this to worried shareholders. The debt is to the part of Starbucks that sells them the coffee and everything else they need to run the shops, and as justification for paying minimum wage.
In short, it's an abuse, gaming the system. Starbucks It's not corporation tax that needs to change it's the greed. You can't tell us that is Starbucks or whomever get what they want then they'll start paying rates to employees that don't require them to claim benefits, because with a duty to return the maximum to shareholders and self interest in the board room, that aint gonna happen.
There's already a generalised law on abusive tax avoidance tricks on the books, the fact it has never been used is more of an indication of where political will lies than anything else.
Re: an example....
"BBC programme included some misleading and heavy spin" If you could point them out, I'd be interested.
Taxation and Business: CEO's Explain
This is a tad long, but stick with me. I'm the Owner and CEO of a specialty manufacturer with not a insignificant annual revenue and margins based around knowledge that make Apple product margins look like a rounding error. My tax bills are disturbingly large, but that's because I chose to organize my company as a Sole Proprietorship, the company income is my income.
From an accounting perspective that's a really dumb thing to do, but from my perspective it's worth every penny. The only laws and regulations I have to follow are those anyone not raging ass would do simply because they're the right things to be doing (provide safe work conditions, no discrimination and such), other than that I answer to no one. I also ask for nothing, and that's where taxation veers into ethics and morality.
Directly and indirectly, about 30% of our revenue is from the US government. But we're not getting that work through lobbying or political leverage, we get that work because nobody else in the US can do the work. Lockheed tried once, but we bought their machines and tooling after they couldn't make it work. My point is that we deliver only the absolute best, anywhere, and we are rewarded for that. It's infuriating, it's expensive, it's fucking hard, but it's what we do. It's what I said I would do if I ever got the chance.
Now, I came out of big tech, that's where I got the resources to start my endeavor. For many years I had a deal of influence in how my employer managed through growth and international expansion. You can rest assured knowing that delivering the absolute best was not part of our discussions. Ten or twelve people, the leadership component of the company, were only peripherally aware of what we actually made. If anybody in those meetings knew more than one model number of current products I'll kiss your ass. I'm quite nearly positive that our CFO had never actually seen one of our products in person.
Our days, weeks, months and years were spent working out how to best skirt regulations (mostly financial) and how to reduce our tax liabilities in various countries. Customers, product offerings, logistics, those are predefined and immobile. Laws and regulations, now those were plastic and could be altered to better suit our needs. That wasn't unique to us either, if you know a company's name, it is guaranteed the same thing is taking place.
Something is terribly, terribly wrong when a company feels it can't do anything about its products or customers, but that it can just bend politicians and legislators to their will instead. Sure, the CEO's will poke their heads out a few times a year and bemoan the horribly oppressive taxes and how they can't innovate because the tax man is taking too much. But I can assure you that we were laughing at the bar before the Senate hearing on corporate taxation and we were laughing even more when we went back to the bar afterward.
It was always hilarious and the CEO's who made the most ridiculous straight faced statement to the Senate would drink for free that night. These are people who would sell you their wives and children if the price was right and you believe they're going to pass up hundreds of millions or billions in revenue because of taxes? Please... It was funny because we were managing the governments, and the citizens of those countries with fear of a situation that would never occur and they ate that shit up.
The issue here is that big companies have enormous leverage over the laws if the countries where they do business. If that's going to be the case, where companies are asking for direct government intervention, then they should be paying far, far more in taxes. You didn't elect Tim Cook to office, so if Tim Cook (or whoever) wants to play politics instead of focusing on his products and his customers he needs to pay.
Meanwhile, companies that don't ask to (re)write your countries laws should pay a lot less in taxes. I ask for nothing from the governments of any country where we do business. I accept their rules, play by their rules and still won't deliver anything but the best. That's because I'm a businessman, not a politician or a lawyer. I'll thrive or I'll starve on my own merits and I won't be trying to force my will on the free citizens of any country. If you want to play that game, then you need to pay, not scare people by holding their jobs for ransom.
You ask yourself how much your freedom is worth, because that's what you're selling every single time a giant company writes your laws instead of your elected legislators.
@Don Jefe. Splendid post.
Re: Taxation and Business: CEO's Explain
OK, where do I apply for a job in this company? I'll sweep floors, if that's what's needed...
"From an accounting perspective that's a really dumb thing to do, "
And sadly for a lot of senior managers that's the only perspective they actually have.
Multiply that by the above average tendency of hiring and promoting psychopathic personalities ("So what if there were better candidates. I got you to fire them or drove them out") and you have the current business climate of self congraulatory CxO types who (literally) see nothing wrong in the idea that their profits should not be taxed anywhere.
Re: Taxation and Business: CEO's Explain
@Don Jefe Any jobs going in a UK office perhaps?
Re: Taxation and Business: CEO's Explain
I ask again.. are you accepting resumes?
taxes are for little people, suck it up.
Please don't make us pay
"We believe that enterprises operating long-standing business models, subject to established international tax rules, should not become subject to altered rules on the basis that they have adopted more efficient means of operation."
Translation - we found these loopholes fair and square! You can't change the law to close them because it'd mean we would have to pay a lot more tax. Since we found this loophole in the law that wasn't intended to be used this way we deserve to keep it for being devious enough in exploiting it massively.
"We're special. Please don't make us pay the tax we deserve to pay."
I despise whiny ass corporate b**ches.
And I think I always will.
The Digital Economy Group ..
Is there a members list available for the Digital Economy Group?
Really? What's more efficient about "running" your business in Ireland compared to having the same office in the UK? Are Irish staff more productive? Do the computers run faster in Ireland?
The argument doesn't hold up!
Re: More efficient?
That's the rub with ExecuSpeak. Legalese, political speech and marketing are the same as well. They all apply definitions to words without telling you what dictionary they're using. Even if they told you which one they were using, there's no legal requirement that the dictionary be available to the public. It gets extra messy because each instance of a word can use different definitions, even in the same sentence or paragraph. On top of that, the exact text, from the same company, in the exact same context can mean something completely different in every county where you use it.
People don't know it, but one of the reasons lawsuits against big companies take so long to get underway is that they spend months, even years, going before the judge and arguing what definition a word will use. What the definition of is is, has to be established even before juries (in a jury trial) are assembled.
Making the definition of a word a matter for the courts is how companies get away with things like 'unlimited, free, organic, healthy, engineer, etc...' As long as you don't put yourself in a corner and actually supply the definition, you can ascribe any meaning you like to words, even common sense words like 'use' or 'study' or 'safe'. It's also how CEO types can say diametrically opposed and directly contradictory things to say, Congress and Parliament and nothing can be done except try to shame them.
It's all quite silly, and fairly insulting, but hey, Firearms Education and Safety Council would have a much harder job as one of the largest firearms exporters and firearms logistics insurers in the US if they were called Scorched Earth or Indigenous Pest Management. Same with the Forest Stewardship and Groundwater Advisory Group. Until the early 2000's they were the largest commercial slash-and-burn agricultural land reclamation conglomerate on Earth (remove rainforest, insert cattle).
I always advise that unless you actually stand to gain, or lose from what official types are saying (98% of people believe things apply to them, but they're 99.9% deluded) then you'd be insane to take their words at face value. Risk is required to gain, or minimize losses, but it isn't required if you aren't truly impacted by what's being said/not said. Why be mistaken for a nutter by siding with a cause that might very well destroy you when it gets undone?
" Firearms Education and Safety Council "?
Is that not the organisation that one of Aaron Eckhart's friends in "Thank you for smoking" works for?
Re: " Firearms Education and Safety Council "?
Ha! You might be correct. It's really close anyway.
"I didn't get where I am today by paying taxes in the country where I do business."
Big upvote for the Reggie Perrin reference, made me
"We believe that enterprises operating long-standing business models, subject to established international tax rules, should not become subject to altered rules on the basis that they have adopted more efficient means of operation." -> "We paid good money to our lawyers to evade that tax and we don't want the hassle of doing it all again".
Plenty are at it
I've got plenty of clients who have done the same. Set up an entity in a low(sh)-tax location e.g. Switzerland.
Step 1. Transport some staff to Head Office & claim that's where decisions are made, sales happen & risk is taken (therefore where tax should be paid)
Step 2. Set up new companies overseas & transfer manufacturing, service, distribution and local procurement into those companies.
Step 3. Operate tolling system where H/O owns stock & pays local manufacturers to covert raw materials into product & ship on behalf of Head Office.
A few honchos move, lots of people get new contracts in the new companies.
Re: Plenty are at it
"Transport some staff to Head Office" - Google..... Not sure if it's still the case, but the Dutch office, the one that allowed them to avoid tax on money being shipped to the Caymans, has precisely zero employees and performed no other purpose than as a conduit.
Change the rules on whether payments to other parts of the group of companies the company is part of are tax deductible or not, making a payment to a subsidury/ partner/ parent is not deductible (maybe... unless it is in the same country... )
Basically, making a payment to another company not part of your group- that's business expenses and part of cost of sales.
Making a payment to your own group of companies- that's moving profits and not part of cost of sales
Or is that a daft idea? I know EU rules say you can move money to any other EU country as long as tax is paid somewhere, but until the EU has harmonized tax rules it's not going to work and bog all tax will be paid...
that's the point...
a) companies/corporations have the freedom to "deduct" the process of running the business so taxation is only taken AFTER they pay everyone, and "executives" know this that is why crap people end up running companies, because it is the pursuit of cash for no benefit to the company.
b) Citizens do not have the freedom to deduct (much), hence taxation is a ~%100 burden..
Hence, taxing citizens without representation is a BadThing(tm) as it rewards political corruption.
Taxing business on the other hand is simply a way of taxing citizens without representation, since you may or may not have a choice to buy from a certain company, but it is physically impossible to exist in our society and not pay someone. Business rates attempt to do this, and don't get me started on those...>-0
Something has to be arranged where once a company gets to a certain size it attracts a fixed percentage of turnover, prorated for some calculated threshold. It is calculated every year, and perhaps averaged over a few and statistics used for whole economy. If you plot business size vs "effective tax", you get the idea...
You would see companies that currently make a lot of profit, have a choice to pay shareholders (who can be taxed), hire more staff, otherwise pay govt.
My instincts tell me that mathematics could be used to make this scrupulously fair...
On whom taxes really fall
The real delusion that governments like to foster is that income tax is a tax burden on the individual worker or company concerned. In fact, all taxation incurred in the production and supply of goods and services can only be paid out of consumers' money since only the end buyer can supply the total amount of money out of which all expenses of supply can be covered. To produce a transparent tax system, we should abolish all income taxes on the production and supply side, as they are a massive burden on consumers that consumers simply do not appreciate. Instead we should impose an equivalent consumption tax, that is what we already pay implicitly, but explicitly made fully visible at the point of sale, to show starkly the huge real cost of the state to every voter and consumer. There are territories which have this tax regime, but they are improperly called tax havens. In fact, becoming a "tax haven" ourselves would be a tremendous benefit for the UK economy.
"Enterprises that employ digital communications models operate in all sectors of the global economy," the group argued. "That we claim to do almost all of our business in certain areas is neither here nor there"
Taxation is poorly implemented all round
Taxes need to be low, predictable, and unavoidable. Until they are all three things, people and companies will find ways to not pay.
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