Since the onset of the global financial crisis in 2007-08, the administration and the Federal Reserve have implemented policies explicitly designed to spur investment, grow GDP, and reduce unemployment. These actions haven’t worked — certainly not as expected.
The weapons of choice to boost the U.S. economy have been low interest rates, deficit spending, and increased money supply through the Fed’s balance-sheet expansion to over $3 trillion. Yet almost five years later, GDP growth has been anemic at below 2% and at times negative, and aggregate domestic investment is about where it was in 2004, and considerably below the 2006-2007 level.
Optimists believe it’s still too early and that we have spent too little. More of the same would eventually produce good fortune — at least, that’s the hope.
S.P. Kothari is deputy dean and professor of accounting at the MIT Sloan School of Management. He is the author, with Jonathan Lewellen and Jerold Warner, of ”The Behavior of Aggregate Corporate Investment”.
When a U.S. company owns a subsidiary overseas, it has a big decision to make when it comes to the earnings of that subsidiary. Does it send the money back to the parent company in the U.S. and pay U.S. corporate taxes or does it avoid the U.S. tax by permanently reinvesting the money abroad?
Given that the U.S. has one of the highest corporate tax rates of any country in the world, it’s not surprising that many companies choose not to repatriate the money.
Our current system in the U.S. — known as the worldwide tax system — is one where U.S. companies’ earnings are taxed in the U.S. even if earned overseas. However, companies are not required to pay the U.S. taxes on operating income of foreign subsidiaries until they bring cash home to the U.S. parent company.
Today U.S. multinationals have more cash stashed overseas than ever before –according to several estimates, companies have more than $1 trillion in profits squirreled away in foreign subsidiaries. Many of the companies with the most money abroad – including powerhouses from Apple to Google to Pfizer – say they’d like to bring a large portion of it back to the U.S.
This comes with a catch, however. The companies want a temporary tax holiday – nearly identical to the one passed in 2004, and the subject of my recent paper – that would allow them to repatriate profits attributed to their foreign operations at a 5.25 percent tax rate instead of the usual 35 percent. Most of the funds returned to the U.S. will likely be paid to shareholders rather than used for investment and new hiring (as the companies lobbying for the holiday claim). But the tax break would raise billions of dollars for the government and bring cash back to the U.S., which is arguably a good thing. (It’s no secret that the Obama administration has recently made overtures to reboot its relationship with the business Read More »