With Europe in disarray after Brexit, US lawmakers should fix the nation’s broken system for taxing foreign profits of US corporations.
In theory, foreign profits of US corporations are subject to a US tax of 35 percent. But in practice, these profits are not taxed at all by the United States — unless they are brought back to the states. Because of this rule, US multinationals have kept abroad over $2.5 trillion of their foreign profits.
This huge sum could be a growth engine for the American economy. The money could be used to build factories, modernize infrastructure, or pay dividends in the United States. Instead, it is deposited in bank accounts or invested in foreign countries.
We clearly need to reform this system, but responses in the past have not had much success.
Most Republicans argue for a territorial tax system in which foreign profits would be taxed only where they are earned. But this unfortunately won’t work. US multinationals have become very adept at shifting their earnings to tax havens, such as Bermuda, and other low-tax jurisdictions, such as Singapore.
Senator Orrin Hatch, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, is focusing on an important aspect of the agenda for corporate tax reform — — allowing U.S. corporations to receive a deduction for dividends paid to their shareholders. That deduction would eliminate double taxation of corporate profits distributed as dividends; instead, these profits would be taxed only to shareholders, not at both the shareholder and corporate levels.
Although Senator Hatch has not disclosed the details of his proposal, a corporate deduction for dividends paid has several advantages. But such a proposal would raise financial and political challenges that would have to be addressed.
On October 29, China adopted a policy of two children per family, instead of one. This change is, in large part, intended to mitigate the adverse demographic trend plaguing China’s social security system: the rapidly declining ratio of active to retired workers. The ratio is falling from over 6:1 in 2000 to under 2:1 in 2050.
However, the new two-child policy is not likely to have a big impact on the worker-retiree ratio, so China’s retirement system will remain under stress. To sustain social security, China needs to implement other reforms — moving from a local to a national system and expanding the permissible investments for Chinese pensions.
The one-child policy always had exceptions, such as for rural and ethnic communities. These exceptions were broadened in 2013 to cover couples where both were only children. Yet the birth rate did not take off.