Before his committee sat, unapologetic and uncontrite, Apple CEO Tim Cook, whose company had paid no U.S. corporate income taxes on the $74 billion it had earned abroad in recent years.
"Apple has sought the Holy Grail of tax avoidance," said Levin. "Apple has exploited an absurdity."
Actually, Apple had done nothing wrong, except hire some crack accountants who chose Ireland's County Cork as the headquarters of their international division. Thus Apple paid on profits earned outside the U.S.A. nothing but a 2 percent tax imposed by the Irish government.
Far from being condemned, Apple's CPAs ought to be inducted into the Accountants Hall of Fame.
It is no more immoral for Apple to move its headquarters for foreign sales to Ireland than for Big Apple residents to move to Florida to escape the 12 percent combined state and city income tax.
Among the reasons the Sun Belt is booming at the expense of the Rust Belt is not just the weather. Southern states strive to keep income and estate taxes low or nonexistent. They want companies and families to relocate and live there, and to spend their money there.
The problem here is not with Apple, it is with Sen. Levin & Co.
In a press release, "Avoiding Their Fair Share of Taxes," the AFL-CIO hails Levin and bewails the fact that though the U.S. corporate tax rate is 35 percent, highest in the world, corporate income tax revenue has fallen to well below 10 percent of federal tax revenue.
"Cash tax payments by non-financial companies in the S&P 500 Index fell ... to $222 billion in 2010," moaned the AFL-CIO.
"Another corporate tax avoidance strategy is to move overseas to a corporate tax haven like Bermuda. By reincorporating offshore, companies avoid paying federal income taxes on profits earned outside the United States."
Yes, they do. But instead of bewailing this, perhaps we should start thinking and acting as our forebears did. In the same Wall Street Journal that reported on Cook's defense of Apple, former Sen. Phil Gramm described that earlier America:
"Over the late 19th century, real GDP and employment doubled, annual average real earnings rose by over 60 percent and wholesale prices fell by 75 percent, thanks to marked improvement in productivity."
Astonishing. And what is the difference between that age and ours? A 35 percent income tax rate on individuals and corporations that did not exist then, and would have been regarded by Americans of the Gilded Age as the satanic work of Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx.