HERE’S an idea: why not tax corporations as if they were natural persons, in accordance with their newly discovered rights of free speech? That move would solve any impending fiscal crisis.
Indeed, we used to do just that. For most of the 1950s, corporate income at large companies was taxed at 52 percent, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. The federal government, meanwhile, collected about a third of its revenues from this source. Today, thanks largely to the “reforms” ushered in by President Ronald Reagan, the ostensible tax rate on corporate income is no higher than 35 percent — and the corporate-tax share of federal revenue has fallen to about 9 percent
So, by slashing corporate income taxes and forcing a new reliance on payroll taxes to finance government spending, we have redistributed income to the already wealthy and powerful. Our tax system has actually fostered inequality.
The fiscal problem we face is not, then, a lack of revenue sources. We can finance any amount of transfer payments and “entitlements” by taxing corporations’ profits in the same way we tax personal income, using a progressive formula. If necessary, give them a mortgage deduction — they already get something like it in the form of accelerated depreciation allowances on their purchases of capital equipment — but make them pay higher taxes on their income. Do that, and the federal deficit goes away.