Our competitive edge? Who’s us?
Most American corporations – especially big ones that would get most of the planned corporate tax cuts – have no particular allegiance to America. Their only allegiance is to their shareholders.
For years they’ve been cutting the jobs and wages of American workers in order to generate larger profits and higher share prices.
Some of these jobs have gone abroad or been outsourced to lower-paid contractors in America. Others have been automated. Most of the remaining jobs pay no more than they did four decades ago, adjusted for inflation.
When GM went public again in 2010 after being bailed out by American taxpayers, it boasted of making 43 percent of its cars in places where labor is less than $15 an hour – often outside the United States. And it got its American unions to agree that new hires would be paid half the wages and benefits of its old workers.
Capital is global. Big American corporations are “American” only because they’re headquartered and legally incorporated in the United States. But they could (and sometimes do) leave at a moment’s notice. They also employ or contract with workers all over the world.
And they’re owned by shareholders all over the world.
According to research by the Tax Policy Center’s Steven Rosenthal, about 35 percent of stock in U.S. corporations is now held by foreign investors.
So when taxes of “American” corporations are cut, foreign investors get a windfall.
The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy estimates that the Senate majority’s tax bill would give foreign investors a tax cut of $31 billion in 2019. The House bill would give them $50.4 billion.
That’s money that foreign investors would otherwise be paying into the U.S. Treasury.
By way of comparison, the combined tax cuts for families in the bottom 80 percent of the income distribution in the 30 states won by President Donald Trump comes to $39.4 billion, far less than the House bill gives away to foreign investors.
I’m not blaming American corporations. They’re in business to make profits and maximize their share prices, not to serve America.
I’m blaming politicians who are trying to persuade Americans that tax cuts on American corporations will be good for Americans.
Big corporations headquartered in other rich nations are far more responsible for the well-being of the people living in those nations. That’s mainly because labor unions there are typically stronger than they are here – able to exert pressure both at the company level and nationally.
So it shouldn’t be surprising that American corporations distribute a smaller share of their earnings to their workers than do European or Canadian-based corporations. And top American executives make far more money than their counterparts in other wealthy countries.
Governments in other rich nations often devise laws through bargains involving big corporations and organized labor. This process further binds their corporations to their nations.
But in America, lawmakers respond almost exclusively to the demands of big corporations and of wealthy individuals (typically corporate executives and Wall Street moguls) with the most lobbying prowess and deepest pockets to bankroll campaigns. Meanwhile, unions are weak, and “the preferences of the average American appear to have only a miniscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy,” according to researchers.
Which is one reason why most Europeans and Canadians receive essentially free health care, generous unemployment benefits, paid medical leave, and an average of five weeks paid vacation.
So it shouldn’t be surprising that even though U.S. economy is doing well by most measures, the benefits are not trickling down to most Americans.
Given the overwhelming dominance of American corporations on American politics, combined with their singular concern for share prices rather than the well-being of Americans, it’s folly to think they’ll turn tax cuts into good American jobs.
The tax bills big corporations are pushing through Congress are designed to boost their share prices, not boost most Americans.
ROBERT B. REICH is Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies. He served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. He has written fourteen books, including the best sellers “Aftershock”, “The Work of Nations,” and”Beyond Outrage,” and, his most recent, “Saving Capitalism.” He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and co-creator of the award-winning documentary, INEQUALITY FOR ALL.