I was having a discussion yesterday with an unabashed liberal, who is also a tax novice, about the possible tax inversion proposed by Burger King and the Canadian restaurant chain Tim Horton. I will not go into the mechanics of a tax inversion but it is essentially a mechanism to move the tax venue of a company to a more friendly tax jurisdiction to lower the overall corporate tax burden. It is also the tax topic dejure at the Treasury Department and in Congress.
Using such schemes to lower the taxes of a company I was told was unpatriotic and un-American. Big corporations have plenty of money and it is their obligation and duty to pay more. Furthermore, it is an ungrateful act as this great country provided the foundation to allow these companies to prosper. Good point on that one. The question was put to me; did I support this obvious form of shirking responsibility? Good question.
I relied; I thought it was an unfortunate result of a broken tax system that has not adapted to the new rules of international business.
I made the following points:
- These big companies are no longer American but are international in scope and management;
- There is no constitutional duty to pay more taxes than required by law. Tax avoidance is a legal right, as opposed to tax evasion;
- The companies are in business. They work for their shareholders. It is their duty to maximize value, whether thought innovation, productivity, marketing, or paying less taxes;
- These companies pursue opportunities outside the U.S. because the American government at all level has created non-competitive environment through careless, over zealous regulation (although not all regulations are bad, of course)
- The worldwide system of taxation employed here is out of date and is incredibly complicated. Our marginal tax rates are also out of line with other countries.
None of my points made a difference. I got a repeat of the unpatriotic mantra and the point that more taxes are needed to spend on more social programs. (Which I think means more redistribution to those that do not pay taxes at all) Neither one of us changed our opinion as usual.
Then today, a gift from heaven. Hard to make this up. It is the kind of stuff I pray for, the kind of stuff that is so entertaining because it exposes the hypocritical nature of people.
The deal between Burger King and Tim Horton was announced today. Help financing the transaction will be best-known tax raiser advocate of all—Mr. Warren Buffet and his company Berkshire Hathaway. They will buy $3 billion worth of preferred shares in the new company paying an annual dividend of about 9 percent, according to a version of a story I read. Nice, 9 percent is a good return given current low interest rates.
The deal frees up Burger King to move its domicile to Canada from Miami. I do not know what will be the eventual tax saving, but is bound to be significant once it is accomplished. And here is one more interesting fact, a Brazil-based investment firm controls Burger King and will retain majority control of the combined company. So much for American.
The decision of Mr. Buffet is based on business and I do not blame him for that. But, to embrace the inversion benefits in light of his tax raising posture is hypocritical. Mr. Buffett is an Obama favorite but the White House has targeted raising more taxes as a centerpiece of its policies and lately particularly inversions. However, I doubt the White House will diss their tax raising champion, a White House that named a tax-raising proposal (“the Buffett Rule”) after him.
My friend did not want to discuss this issue this morning. Did not want to be horrified Mr. Buffet could be un-American.
These trends to move companies out of the country and tax policies that lock out investment from reentering the economy are troublesome. I do not moan for these corporate giants. They are so big, they cannot be hurt. However, this trend will continue until the corporate tax system is completely revamped.
In the meantime, as I said, hard to make this stuff up but it is entertaining to see real hypocrites in action.