If I refused to pay any taxes until the US government lowered my taxes to a so-called "fair rate," I'd almost certainly be arrested for tax evasion. But when The Washington Post asked Apple CEO Tim Cook about the billions that his company has stashed in tax havens around the world, Cook declared: "We're not going to bring it back until there's a fair rate. There's no debate about it."
And nothing happened, either to Cook or to Apple. Because when it comes to taxes, it's truer today than ever that only the little people pay.
Apparently though, that's not enough for the CEOs of multinational corporations, like Tim Cook. He doesn't just want to avoid taxes, he wants Americans to know that Congress isn't writing the rules; Apple is.
Dave Johnson from Campaign for America's Future wrote a great article about this titled, "CEO Of Giant Corporation Tells US Government He's the Boss of Them." In it, Johnson writes:
[T]hese days huge multinational corporations are the boss of our Congress. So, CEO Cook gets away with it, and with keeping $181 billion in tax havens to dodge paying $59 billion in taxes. Cook knows he can just come out and say they are not going to pay their taxes until there is a "fair rate."
And he's right.
But Apple is by no means the only corporation doing this.
In March, Citizens for Tax Justice reported that US Fortune 500 corporations are avoiding up to $695 billion in US federal income taxes by holding $2.4 trillion of "permanently reinvested" profits offshore. That's nearly $700 billion that the largest US corporations -- corporations like Netflix, Nike and Citigroup -- are stashing in offshore tax havens.
And now Tim Cook is setting an outrageous precedent by flagrantly declaring that Apple won't pay a dime of what's owed unless the US government does what he says.
It's not that these corporations don't rely on tax dollars from the government; they use our interstates, they use our municipal water systems, our court systems protect their patents and copyrights, and their products rely on government-developed technologies like GPS. They just don't want to pay for it.
Corporate executives like Tim Cook are plainly putting profits and the well-being of their investors ahead of the well-being of the country. Average Americans can't decide to refuse to pay taxes for any reason.
But a CEO like Tim Cook can simply say that his corporation won't bring its money home until he gets what he wants -- "no debate about it."
In his piece, Johnson translates exactly what a "fair rate" means:
[H]uge multinational corporations will tell you a 'fair rate' would be zero. Or better yet, how about We the People just bow down and pay taxes to them. The corporate tax rate used to be 50%. CEOs complained it was "unfair" so it was lowered to 35%.
In reality, though, the Government Accountability Office estimated in 2013 that the average effective corporate tax rate is only about 17 percent, including state and local taxes -- about the same as an individual who earned $37,000 a year. And right now we are basically paying taxes to them: We buy Apple's products, they stash the revenue overseas, and then we pay for the roads, water and technologies that their business depends on. It's average working Americans who are most hurt by this type of corporate tax evasion.
In 1952, about 32 percent of federal revenues came from corporate taxes, and only 8.7 percent came from payroll taxes. In 2016 though, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reported that the corporate income tax only accounted for about 11 percent of federal revenues, while the payroll tax accounted for closer to 33 percent of total federal revenue.
Think about that: Multinational corporations have nearly $700 billion in unpaid taxes stashed overseas while average working Americans paid for a third of the federal government's revenues -- over $1 trillion!
Conservatives are intentionally lying when they declare that it's impossible to raise enough revenue to accomplish big goals like rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, building a completely renewable energy grid and guaranteeing tuition-free college.
We just need to rein in companies that put their company's profits ahead of the well-being of the United States and act like paying taxes is a negotiation.
This type of greed that puts corporate profits and investor dividends ahead of our nation would have been unthinkable for the generation that fought World War II, but it's become textbook behavior for big businesses ever since Ronald Reagan changed the game and ushered in the "shareholder revolution" of the 1980s.
Our tax code needs to be fixed to encourage companies to come home and pay their taxes, and to block companies from doing business in the US without paying their fair share.