When Donald Trump screams his mantra, telling us he will “make America great again,” he’s right that we’re no longer great, he’s just clueless as to why. America’s decline is not because we embrace immigrants; participate in NATO, elect inept politicians or because of our willingness to extend funds to wealthy foreign companies. The real reason we’re no longer great is that we’ve lost our moral compass as a nation. American business has transformed itself from the engine of hope, prosperity and opportunity to a vehicle for avoiding taxes, exerting undue influence over public policy, and concentrating wealth.
Let’s start with avoiding taxes. A recent Oxfam report analyzing the financial maneuvers of 50 of the biggest US companies, including Pfizer, Goldman Sachs, Dow Chemical, Chevron, Walmart, IBM, and Procter & Gamble uncovered that these companies have stashed more than a trillion dollars offshore and used more than 1,600 subsidiaries in tax havens to avoid billions of dollars in tax each year. Oxfam outlines how corporate tax dodging costs the US an estimated $100 billion each year, a gap that the average American taxpayer would have to shell out an extra $760 a year to cover.
The report also revealed that these same companies are huge beneficiaries of US taxpayer funded support, “receiving a staggering $11 trillion in federal loans, loan guarantees and bailout assistance from 2008-2014 even as they avoided hundreds of billions of dollars in taxes over the same period of time. Oxfam calculated that during this period, these 50 companies collectively received approximately $27 in loan support for every $1 they paid in federal taxes.”
To add insult to injury, among the 500 corporations in the S.&P. 500-stock index 27 were both profitable in 2015, and paid no net income tax globally according to an analysis by USA Today.
Nicholas Kristof wrote in an APRIL 14, 2016 editorial that over all the share of corporate taxation in federal revenue has declined since 1952 from 32 percent to 11 percent. In that same period the portion coming from payroll taxes, which hit the working poor, has climbed.
Let’s look at undue influence over public policy. The Oxfam report says that for each $1 the biggest companies spent on lobbying they received $130 in tax breaks and more than $4,000 in federal loans, loan guarantees and bailouts. This totals up to huge sums of money. From 1998 to 2016, The Center for Responsive Politics calculated that the biggest spenders spent hundreds of millions of dollars, not the sort of pocket change that the average Joe can afford to spend to get his voice heard in Washington.
Outrage at being dealt a deck of cards in a crooked game of poker has fuelled support for both Trump and Sanders. Political analysts, including Chris Hedges, are warning that this outrageously unfair game that creates greater levels of economic inequity than we’ve seen in over 40 years is pushing America to a breaking point where widespread social unrest is just around the corner.
Shame on these companies, their management and Boards of Directors.
The Oxfam report analyzed the tax practices of the 50 largest public companies in the US according to the Forbes 2000 list: Alphabet (Google), American Express, American International Group (AIG), Amgen, Apple, AT&T, Bank of America, Berkshire Hathaway, Boeing, Capital One Financial, Caterpillar, Chevron, Cisco Systems, Citigroup, Coca-Cola, Comcast, ConocoPhillips, CVS Health, Dow Chemical, Exxon Mobil, Ford Motor, General Electric, General Motors, Goldman Sachs, Hewlett-Packard, Home Depot, Honeywell International, IBM, Intel, Johnson & Johnson, JPMorgan Chase, Merck, MetLife, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley, Oracle, PepsiCo, Pfizer, Phillips 66, Procter & Gamble, Prudential Financial, Qualcomm, Twenty-First Century Fox, Inc., United Technologies, UnitedHealth Group, US Bancorp, Verizon Communications, Wal-Mart Stores, Walt Disney, and Wells Fargo.