Wouldn’t it be great if you could refuse to pay your taxes until you decided your tax rate was “fair”?
That is, of course, not the way it works. Unless you’re Apple.
Apple is currently holding $181 billion overseas, largely thanks to arbitrarily deciding that its most valuable intellectual property seems to live exclusively in low tax countries. For instance, at one time Apple’s subsidiaries in Ireland — a country with 4.6 million people — “earned” over one-third of all Apple’s worldwide revenue.
And due to a very business-friendly quirk in U.S. tax law, Apple doesn’t have to pay any U.S. taxes on its overseas profits until it “brings them back” to America.
Here’s what Apple CEO Tim Cook had to say about it in a long interview published this weekend in the Washington Post:
We’ve said at 40 percent, we’re not going to bring it back until there’s a fair rate. There’s no debate about it. Is that legal to do or not legal to do? It is legal to do. It is the current tax law. It’s not a matter of being patriotic or not patriotic. It doesn’t go that the more you pay, the more patriotic you are.
Cook simultaneously wants us to know he is not a bad “traditional CEO” who just cares about money. No, to the contrary, he feels an “incredible responsibility” to “the communities and the countries that the company operates in” and “the whole ecosystem of the company.”
Therefore, because Cook cares so little about money and so much about communities, Apple won’t be paying its taxes. That’s just fair.
And more fairness is just around the corner, Cook thinks. “I’m optimistic that, in 2017, there will be some sort of corporate tax reform,” he said. “The U.S. needs to invest more in infrastructure — so what would be great is if they take the tax proceeds of a corporate tax reform and invest it in infrastructure and roads and bridges and airports.”
Translated into plainer English, this means Cook believes that Corporate America’s longterm plan to hold the U.S. for ransom will in fact come to fruition next year.
U.S. corporations have by now stashed over $2.1 trillion in profits overseas (including Apple’s $181 billion), thereby starving the U.S. of revenue we could use to repair our collapsing infrastructure. What they want is for Americans to get so desperate that Congress is willing to deeply slash the corporate tax rate for “repatriated” money.
This will deliver a one-time jolt of tax revenue, at the cost of sending the message that everyone who possibly can should use tax avoidance schemes like Apple’s in the future.
Cook is right to be optimistic: Hillary Clinton has hinted that she’ll push for exactly this in her first 100 days in office, while Donald Trump has said explicitly that he wants to make it happen. Moreover, in the interview Cook also notes he’s gotten advice on how to handle this issue from both Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein and Bill Clinton.
So get ready for a tsunami of fairness, headed your way next year.
(“It doesn’t go that the more you pay, the more patriotic you are” has a nice ring to it. You should definitely tell that to the IRS.)