Positively Un-American Tax Dodges
Yes, leaving the country-a process that tax techies call inversion-is perfectly legal. A company does this by reincorporating in a place like Ireland, where the corporate tax rate is 12.5%, compared with 35% in the U.S. Inversion also makes it easier to divert what would normally be U.S. earnings to foreign, lower-tax locales. But being legal isn’t the same as being right. If a few companies invert, it’s irritating but no big deal for our society. But mass inversion is a whole other thing, and that’s where we’re heading.
We’ve also got a second, related problem, which I call the “never-heres.” They include formerly private companies like Accenture ACN , a consulting firm that was spun off from Arthur Andersen, and disc-drive maker Seagate STX , which began as a U.S. company, went private in a 2000 buyout and was moved to the Cayman Islands, went public in 2002, then moved to Ireland from the Caymans in 2010. Firms like these can duck lots of U.S. taxes without being accused of having deserted our country because technically they were never here. So far, by Fortune’s count, some 60 U.S. companies have chosen the never-here or the inversion route, and others are lining up to leave.
All of this threatens to undermine our tax base, with projected losses in the billions. It also threatens to undermine the American public’s already shrinking respect for big corporations.