by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
This brings us to the IRS and Congress, which have been trying to stem this exodus, which began in the 1990s. It’s a competition that tax avoiders have been winning.
Initially, companies like Helen of Troy HELE 0.87% , a Texas-based beauty-supply firm that was an inversion pioneer in 1994, would move offshore by forming a new company based in a tax haven like Bermuda. The Bermuda company would then swap its shares for all the shares of the U.S. company. These inverted firms continued to call themselves American, but paid lower taxes than if they were based in the U.S.
Congress put a stop to that game — or so it thought — by sticking a provision into the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004 requiring that companies moving offshore do deals in which foreign shareholders own at least 20% of the combined company, and that the combined company do substantial business in its new country. That stopped the exodus cold.
But in the past few years, as the world has become more global and other countries have cut their corporate rates, a new exodus wave has started. “For the past 20 years, there’s been an arms race between the companies on the one hand and the IRS and Congress on the other, and the companies always seem to come up with better weapons,” says tax expert Bob Willens.
The print version of the column features a concluding paragraph that starts with the following three sentences:
The real fix is to do something about our corporate tax code. Also, to hope that other countries don’t cut rates again. Good luck with all that.
Left unmentioned is an even better scenario: Corporate tax rate cuts continues around the world, forcing big-government advocates in this country and others to recognize some limits on the amount of money they’re able to remove from the private sector to pay for their costly redistributionist schemes.