The folly of corporate taxes

What about raising taxes on corporations as a means to get them to pay their "rightful share of government"? If a tax is levied on a corporation and if it is to survive, it will have one of several responses or some combination thereof. One response is to raise the price of its product, so customers share part of the burden. Another response is to lower dividends, so shareholders share a part of the burden. And a considerable portion of reduced dividend burden falls on ordinary non-rich people. According to the Tax Foundation, 19 percent of federal tax returns report dividend income but 42 percent of taxpayers older than 65 report dividend income. Therefore, it is people, not some legal fiction called a corporation, who bear the burden of the tax. Because corporations have these responses to the imposition of a tax, they are merely government tax collectors.

The largest burden of corporate taxes is borne by workers. We discover that by asking a simple question, such as: Which workers on a road construction project earn the higher pay, those employed moving dirt with shovels and wheelbarrows or those doing the same atop giant earthmovers? You'd guess the guys operating the earthmovers, but why? It's not because they're unionized or because construction contractors have a fondness for earthmover operators. It's because those workers have more capital (tools) to work with and are thereby more productive. Higher productivity translates into higher wages.

Tax policies that raise the cost of capital formation -- such as capital gains taxes, low depreciation allowances and corporate taxes -- reduce capital formation. As a result, workers have less capital, lower productivity and lower wage growth. In 1980, Joseph Stiglitz, now a Nobel laureate, said that workers share the highest corporate tax burden in the form of lower wages. A number of economic studies, including that of the Congressional Budget Office, show that workers bear anywhere from 45 to 75 percent of the corporate tax burden.


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