Opinion

Manhattan Moment: America is losing the Tax Olympics

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America is performing well in the Sochi Olympics, but how would the medal count differ if countries competed on taxes rather than winter sports?

In a competition based on corporate tax rates, the United States would come in last out of the 34 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development countries. Taking state and federal taxes into account, the U.S. top rate is 39 percent -- 50 percent higher than the OECD average and triple Ireland's gold medal-winning rate of 12.5 percent.

Thankfully, the United States is playing Canada in the men's hockey semifinals Friday and not competing over corporate tax rates. If this were the case, America would not bring home the gold. Canada's combined state and federal corporate tax rate is just 26 percent. So much for writing off our “socialist” neighbors to the north.

The United States would have been far more competitive in the late 1980s, when its rate was slightly lower than it is today. While the U.S. rate has increased over time, the OECD average has declined more than 40 percent since 1988. Apparently America missed the memo to drastically lower corporate tax rates in order to attract businesses.

Even the Nordic countries of Finland and Denmark, which are known for for their welfare state programs rather than their friendliness to business, all have rates of 25 percent or lower. Switzerland falls into the same category.

Skipping out on this global trend has had major economic consequences. Business competition is international, and technological advances have made it less of a necessity for businesses to invest in the United States. Capital is mobile and talent is found worldwide.

High corporate tax rates lead to U.S. multinational companies expanding abroad, not at home. Foreign employees of these companies increased 50 percent from the late 1990s, while domestic employment actually declined.

U.S. multinationals are not only choosing to stay overseas — they are also holding $1.7 trillion in cash abroad. If this money were brought back to the United States, these companies would face heavy repatriation tax burdens. It makes no sense to punish companies for investing profits they earned abroad back in America.

Both political parties understand that lowering the corporate tax rate would boost the economy and the international competitiveness of the United States. Bringing the U.S. rate down to the OECD average (25 percent) would be a feasible starting point which would attract investment back to America. President Obama has expressed support for dropping the rate to 25 percent.

Lowering corporate tax rates would help balance the budget. Lower taxes can lead to higher tax revenue in the long term as more companies expand their operations in the United States. The long-term fiscal benefits of a fair, across-the-board, tax cut show themselves years down the road with increased revenue. If the goal is for the tax cuts to be revenue-neutral, the rate could be designed to gradually fall as collections rise.

Lower corporate tax rates can also weaken the connection between Big Business and Washington. When everyone -- not just the companies that can afford the legal and accounting fees to navigate the current system -- is paying a lower rate, competition would move to the marketplace instead of Capitol Hill. Decreasing spending on lobbying and inefficient tax planning also leaves more resources available for improving products and cutting prices -- both of which directly benefit consumers.

Lowering the U.S. corporate tax rate is a commonsense, bipartisan way to increase international competitiveness. If lawmakers work half as hard as U.S. Olympic athletes, four years from now the United States could be a winner in the Tax Olympics.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article referred to Switzerland as a Nordic country. It has been corrected.

Jared Meyer is a policy analyst at Economics21, a center of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. You can follow him on Twitter here.

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