Taxes: Only for Little People & Little Companies?

General Electric, the nation’s largest corporation, had a very good year in 2010.

Articles in this series will examine efforts by businesses to lower their taxes and the debate over how to improve the tax system.

The company reported worldwide profits of $14.2 billion, and said $5.1 billion of the total came from its operations in the United States.

Its American tax bill? None. In fact, G.E. claimed a tax benefit of $3.2 billion.

In January, President Obama named Jeffrey R. Immelt, General Electric’s chief executive, to head the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. “He understands what it takes for America to compete in the global economy,” Mr. Obama said.

(G.E.’s Strategies Let It Avoid Taxes Altogether –, 3/25/20110)

I guess “what it takes” is buying off Congress, avoid investing in the United States, treating your tax department as another profit center, and “looking to exploit opportunities to reduce tax.”

There has been a big movement lately to publish the names and pensions of former public employees earning more that $100,00 a year. I’d like to see this movement for transparency taken a bit further. Let’s publish the income taxes paid by all public companies. While we’re at it, let’s publish everyone’s tax returns. Maybe the only way to solve our deficit problems is to shame those that live on the edge of the law.

Far too many seem to have no shame when it comes to taking all they can get without regard to society. Transparency might just prompt citizens to create a society that rewards companies and individuals for paying their fair share of taxes and making a substantial contribution to the larger society.

I’m eager to see where the NYTimes takes their series. Don’t forget to read at least some of the comments. They provide at least some hint of growing outrage that has yet to be harnessed politically. Whereas Tea Party activists are typically driven by a strong anti-tax position, I think an even larger movement could be formed around transparency and fairness when it comes to paying taxes. Much of the anti-tax rhetoric is really a gut reaction to unfairness. If GE doesn’t need to pay any taxes, why should I? Unfortunately, it is a strategy of mutually assured destruction.

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