2019/04: Hager and Baines, 'Jurisdictional Tax Rates: How the Corporate Tax System Fuels Concentration and Inequality'
November 14, 2019
Corporate concentration in the United States has been on the rise in recent years, sparking a heated debate about its causes, consequences, and potential remedies. In this study, we examine a facet of public policy that has been largely neglected in current debates about concentration: corporate tax policy. As part of our analysis we develop the first empirical mapping of the effective tax rates (ETRs) of nonfinancial corporations disaggregated by size and broken down by jurisdiction. Our findings reveal a striking and persistent tax advantage for big business in recent decades. Since the mid-1980s, large corporations have faced lower worldwide ETRs relative to their smaller counterparts. The regressive worldwide ETR is driven by persistent regressivity in the domestic ETR and a marked drop in the progressivity of the foreign ETR over the past decade. We go on to show how persistent regressivity in the worldwide tax structure is bound up with the increasing relative power of large corporations within the corporate universe, as well as a shift in firm-level power relations. As large corporations become less disposed to investments that may indirectly benefit ordinary workers, they become more disposed to shareholder value enhancement that directly benefits the asset-rich. What this means is that the corporate tax structure is connected not only to rising corporate concentration, but also to widening household inequality.
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