To which a skeptical Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., responded, "Let's assume that we simplify our tax code ... What keeps another country in one of these emerging markets from undercutting us once again like Ireland did back in '80?" Apple has a deal with Ireland that allows it to pay a tax rate of 2 percent or less.
At the end of the day, however, Apple has the more compelling argument -- thanks to Washington. No U.S. senator could accuse Apple of breaking U.S. law. Apple could accuse America of having a corporate tax rate that is too high; at a combined federal/state rate of 39 percent, the Wall Street Journal pegs it as the highest in the developed world.
No other nation in the world, noted Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, has such a high tax rate for repatriating money. In 2004, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., sponsored a bill that lowered that rate temporarily. Economists might differ on how much growth her legislation prompted, but at least it brought $300 billion into the country and put $18 billion in the U.S. Treasury.
What is more, the issue before the committee concerned profits made abroad -- if with the help of shell corporations enabled by U.S. tax law. When Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., complained that Apple exploited holes in the tax code, those were holes of Washington's own making.
Cook boasted that Cupertino's ZIP code, 95014, is the home of "the brightest, most creative people on the planet." Levin should know that people who think they're really smart usually think they're too smart to pay retail taxes.
By the end of the exchange, it was clear that Congress and Apple have so much in common. Both are very expensive. Both are intrusive. Each insinuates itself into your life in ways you would not have imagined. They're always making you approve things, as if you have choice. They think they're smarter than they are, they think they're smarter than you are, and they don't really like competition.
I am terrified of the awesome power of the federal government, and I lose sleep over what Apple knows about me.
But I can leave Apple.