Hoisted from the Archives: "95"

Should-Read: Heather Boushey: Equitable Growth in Conversation: Kimberly A. Clausing: "Boushey: One of the arguments that you hear time and time again for why Congress needs to reduce the corporate tax rate is that doing so will boost investment in overall economic growth...

...Tell us a little bit about how strongly investment would react to a reduction in the tax rate at the corporate side?

Clausing: On the corporate side, there are a couple of considerations to keep in mind. One is that the distribution of corporate income within the tax base is highly skewed, with about three-quarters of it due to excess profits or rents. What are excess profits or rents? Well, there’s a normal return of capital, which enables a company to pay the interest costs or the equity costs of raising capital, but any income earned above that normal return is an excess profit.

For those firms that have a lot of excess profits—the Googles and Apples and General Electrics of the world—they are earning more than we normally expect for business activity. It’s not clear that giving them a windfall is going to lead to new investments. They already have more than enough after-tax profits from which to make investments.

If policymakers believe more after-tax profits are the way to suddenly spur investment, we might ask why it hasn’t already happened, since these kinds of firms are sitting on piles of cash. It’s unclear that giving them a bigger pile of cash is going to spur investment. We need companies to have desirable investments. And often what’s stopping them is not the absence of funds, but the absence of viable investments they want to make. If policymakers really think after-tax profits are what’s needed to drive investment, then we should already be in an investment nirvana, since lately we’ve had much higher profits than we’ve ever had in the past 50 years of our history.

Boushey: And yet our investment rate is quite low right now.

Clausing: Right. That’s why I don’t think after-tax profits are the answer...