Taxing Offshore Corporate Profits

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Recent investigations have revealed that multinational corporations are stockpiling trillions of dollars in “offshore” income, purportedly trapped overseas because of U.S. corporate taxes. This has created the illusion that there is a large stock of cash somewhere offshore, just waiting to be invested in our struggling economy, if only we could somehow unlock it. For example, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) asserted that “encouraging businesses to bring overseas earnings back home to America will spur investment, economic growth and job creation,” while Cisco Chairman and CEO John Chambers and Oracle President and CFO Safra Catz wrote that “by permitting companies to repatriate foreign earnings at a low tax rate—say, 5%—Congress and the president could create a privately funded stimulus of up to a trillion dollars.”

These arguments are wrong. They are based on a faulty premise; these “trapped overseas” profits are neither overseas nor trapped. It is true that for accounting purposes, multinational corporations keep these dollars off of their U.S. books. But in the real world, the money is often deposited in U.S. banks, circulating in the U.S. economy, and available for a wide variety of domestic investments. For nearly all practical purposes, that money is already here, being put to work in the U.S. economy.

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