A few weeks ago, it was quite revealing -- but not surprising -- to hear Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew imply that corporate America should willingly pay the highest corporate-tax rates in the world as part of its "patriotic" duty. This kind of discourse demonstrates a profound misunderstanding of capitalism, which is an important component of American exceptionalism.
In our system, people do not go into business, in many cases risking everything they have and more, in order to support the government. They obviously take those kinds of risks to make money. Instead of chastising American businesses for making financially prudent overseas investments, a wise and understanding government would be creating a domestic environment that is conducive to investment, innovation and growth, reducing the appeal of foreign explorations. A fair tax structure and a reduction in unnecessary regulations would go a long way toward establishing this environment.
Recently, President Obama indicated displeasure with the large and very successful medical-device company Medtronic, which has made public plans to acquire the Dublin-based company Covidien. This would result in one of the largest tax-inversion deals in history. Medtronic would move its headquarters from Minnesota to Ireland, relinquishing some of its American identity but reaping massive tax benefits because they would be taxed at the Irish corporate rate rather than the American corporate rate.
In a recent West Coast speech, Obama said companies doing such things are "technically renouncing their U.S. citizenship." He added, referring to such companies, "You don't get to pick which tax rate you pay." The fact is, they do get to pick their rate, because they are mobile and not yet under the complete control of a tyrannical government.
The days of an insular business environment are long gone from America, and we must recognize that we are players on the global stage. This means successful businesses will take advantage of conditions anywhere in the world that will promote their growth and value to shareholders. Instead of patriotism being defined as unthinking devotion to governmental tax edicts, perhaps it is better described as using one's talents and resources to bring strength and prosperity to our land through the successful utilization of advantages found worldwide. Our tax and regulatory policies should be aimed at helping companies achieve this latter definition.
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