Would Trump's 'tax holiday' create jobs?
Under Trump's plan, companies will be given the opportunity to repatriate profits stashed abroad at a one-time rate of 10 percent
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President-elect Donald Trump's proposed "tax holiday" for American companies is supposed to be all about creating jobs. "But corporate boards and executives may have different ideas," said Leslie Picker at The New York Times. U.S. firms have stashed some $2 trillion overseas from profits they've earned abroad; they've kept this money outside the U.S. in order to avoid paying up to 35 percent in corporate taxes. Under Trump's plan, companies will be given the opportunity to repatriate such profits at a one-time rate of 10 percent. "If they were to bring that capital back, those companies could use it to invest in their businesses, which may in turn create jobs." But that's not the only option. Indeed, many analysts think it's more likely that companies will use the money to pay down debt or reward shareholders by buying back their own stock. Companies may also devote the money to acquiring rival firms. That would be excellent news for investment bankers. "It would be less so for American workers who might get laid off as a result of cost cuts derived from combining two companies."
It's no surprise the prospect of a tax holiday has investors giddy, said John Cassidy at The New Yorker. "For everyone else, a large dose of skepticism is in order." Trump's proposal "was put to the test, not very long ago, and it failed." The Bush administration introduced a similar tax holiday in 2004. Instead of creating jobs, businesses poured money into stock buybacks and generous executive pay packages. Goldman Sachs is already predicting that as much as three-quarters of the money that companies bring back will be spent on buying stock, instead of investments in new hires, equipment, or technology. The Bush tax holiday may even have destroyed jobs, said Matthew Rozsa at Salon. In 2011, a Senate investigation found that "the 15 companies that most profited from it actually cut almost 21,000 jobs between 2004 and 2007." The bottom line is this: "Repatriation didn't work in 2004, and it won't work in 2017."
"Well, it really does depend upon what our definition of 'works' is, doesn't it?" said Tim Worstall at Forbes. It doesn't matter if the companies bringing home overseas cash reinvest the profits in their own company or dole it out to shareholders. Money doesn't simply vanish. If it goes to investors, they can spend that money or invest it elsewhere. Either way, it grows the economy. There's no reason to think Trump's plan won't have a similar positive effect. But these one-off tax breaks don't solve our longer-term problem, said Jeffrey Goldfarb at Reuters. Occasional tax holidays ultimately create "perverse incentives to move income overseas and wait for another amnesty." It'd be much better to permanently reform the corporate tax code by switching, for example, to the kind of territorial system favored by most other countries. If that were to happen, firms would only pay U.S. tax on income earned in the U.S. Then all this "cross-border sleight of hand" would hopefully become a thing of the past.