The counterproductive U.S. corporate tax code was a major incentive for Burger King’s prospective merger with the Canadian doughnut chain Tim Hortons. The merger will allow BK to change its domicile to Canada, thereby reducing its tax bill. This is known as a corporate “tax inversion.” Canada’s tax system is less punishing because its corporate tax rate is lower than in the U.S., and Canadian taxes are based on territorial earnings, rather than global earnings as in the U.S. Megan McArdle explains that the latter is the more important consideration: “If we’re worried about inversion, then the U.S. government should follow the lead of other developed countries, and move to territorial taxation.”
The corporate income tax represents double taxation of income paid out as dividends and imposes, at least partly, a double tax burden on shareholders even when earnings are retained. Greg Mankiw believes that the corporate income tax should be abolished.
“The burden of the corporate tax is ultimately borne by people — some combination of the companies’ employees, customers and shareholders. After recognizing that corporations are mere conduits, we can focus more directly on the people.”
On the topic of “economic patriotism” and so-called “corporate desertion,” Mankiw quotes Learned Hand:
“Anyone may arrange his affairs so that his taxes shall be as low as possible; he is not bound to choose that pattern which best pays the treasury. There is not even a patriotic duty to increase one’s taxes.”
Mankiw also proposes a consumption tax as a replacement for federal income taxation, which has great merit, but it is a very ambitious plan and probably at odds with current political realities.