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Apple Pays Only 2% Corporate Tax Outside US 432

Posted by timothy
from the villagers-with-pitchforks dept.
New submitter dryriver writes with this snippet from the BBC: "Apple paid only $713m (£445m) Tax in the year to 29 September on foreign pre-tax profits of $36.8bn (£23.0bn), a remarkably low rate of 1.9%. Apple channels much of its business in Europe through a subsidiary in the Republic of Ireland, which has lower corporation tax than Britain. But even Ireland charges 12.5%, compared with Britain's 24%. Apple is the latest company to be identified as paying low rates of overseas tax, following Starbucks, Facebook and Google in recent weeks. It has not been suggested that any of their tax avoidance schemes are illegal. Many multinational companies manage to pay substantially below the official corporation tax rates by using tax havens such as the Caribbean islands."
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Apple Pays Only 2% Corporate Tax Outside US

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  • by Kittenman (971447) on Sunday November 04, 2012 @06:29PM (#41875079)
    As long as it's tax avoidance, rather than tax evasion, nothing illegal in this. Everyone (corporations included) want to pay as little tax as possible. It's the governments job to close the loopholes. It's the beancounters and lawyars jobs to find the new ones.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by skegg (666571)

      You're being ridiculous. These are complex tax issues that cross national borders and therefore require difficult multi-government cooperation.

      What next?
      You'll expect national governments to conjure up ways to hinder / stop their citizens from downloading copyright material.

      Oh wait ...

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward
        The Fair Tax [fairtax.org] would be an interesting way to handle these issues and it wouldn't require foreign cooperation.
        • by TheLink (130905) on Sunday November 04, 2012 @11:53PM (#41877165) Journal
          If I understand it correctly it would mean that Apple (as a company) won't pay any taxes at all.

          And the rich could probably avoid being taxed on some stuff by attending more company promotional and marketing events. You'll still get them on private dinners at expensive restaurants etc, but not on the big ticket items - yachts, planes, maybe even property (Disney won't have to pay tax on Disneyland, the tax is just on the people buying the tickets right?).
    • by Nemyst (1383049) on Sunday November 04, 2012 @06:39PM (#41875151) Homepage

      And yet, if everyone respect the spirit of the law instead of finding holes in the letter of it, we as a society would most likely be a whole lot better off.

      Then again, this would require such things as integrity and honesty.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 04, 2012 @06:45PM (#41875193)

        The problem with this is that the more people who play the game honestly, the greater the marginal reward for playing dishonestly.

        • by AK Marc (707885) on Sunday November 04, 2012 @07:36PM (#41875607)
          Yes, that's the definition of "tragedy of the commons".
        • by vivian (156520) on Sunday November 04, 2012 @10:26PM (#41876685)

          I disagree - if more corporations were playing the game honestly, and actually shouldering their share of the tax burden, the overall tax rates could be lower, and regular citizens who can't escape tax as easily, could pay less. Therefore, with lower tax rates, there would be a lower marginal reward per tax payer for dodging the system.

          The problem is, right now, the biggest and richest corporations and individuals can escape a large chunk of the tax that they are supposed to be paying, so more has to be paid by middle and lower level tax payers to make up the shortfall.

          • Another part of the problem is tax avoidance presumably leaves money in Bahamas, or Ireland or whatever. So say you think of Apple stock as a honest to God piece of a company. How good is it for you for them to say "buy our company we make lots of money, except we'll never bring it to the US because the tax would be too high". It is almost an Enron with borders used to make real profits disappear rather than profits disappearing because they weren't real in the first place.

          • by Solandri (704621) on Monday November 05, 2012 @01:45AM (#41877635)

            I disagree - if more corporations were playing the game honestly, and actually shouldering their share of the tax burden, the overall tax rates could be lower, and regular citizens who can't escape tax as easily, could pay less.

            No they wouldn't pay less. Money is just a representation of productivity. The only source of productivity is people. Consequently, if the government wishes to take 30% of the country's productivity (GDP) via taxes, that means the income which goes into people's pockets represents only 70% of the productivity they generated regardless of where you extract the taxes. Unless there's an increase in productivity, if the government is taking 30%, then the amount the people have to spend for themselves is 70%. Where there 30% comes from is irrelevant.

            Say there are just two types of taxes - corporate taxes and personal income taxes. First consider a case where there are no corporate taxes and the government gets all its revenue from personal income taxes. The guy who makes $50k/yr pays $15k/yr in taxes, and has $35k/yr to spend by himself.

            Now say the people get upset that corporations "aren't paying their fair share," and government reallocates taxes so that its 30% of GDP comes entirely from corporate taxes. That is, there are no personal income taxes. Do you think the guy who used to make $50k and paid $15k in taxes now suddenly has $50k to spend? Nope. To pay for the corporate taxes, the guy's employer has to drop his salary to $35k/yr. Or they have to raise their prices, meaning that the $50k the guy takes home can now only buy as much as $35k used to buy when he was paying $15k in personal income taxes. Or some combination of the two. (A third alternative - fix wages and prices while increasing corporate taxes - would result in widespread bankruptcies and a dead economy.)

            There's no free lunch. If the government takes 30%, that leaves 70% for the people regardless of whether the government takes the 30% directly from the people, or indirectly via the corporations the people work at and buy from.

            "But what about the rich guys who own the corporations!?!?" you ask? Having wealth in the corporation gets them nothing (unless they're breaking laws and secretly embezzling, or using corporate assets as if they were personal property). For the corporate wealth to benefit them personally, they have to take an income from the company. And that income will be taxed via the personal income tax. If you think rich corporate executives and owners are making too much money, simply raise the tax rate on higher incomes and eliminate the many tax breaks (e.g. capital gains tax rate), deductions, and loopholes they enjoy.

            Shifting taxes to corporations doesn't increase the purchasing power of the people. You can justify corporate taxes as a means to discourage certain behaviors (e.g. middlemen are discouraged by a 10% VAT because instead of a 1% arbitrage being sufficient justification for a flip, suddenly you now need an 11% arbitrage to justify it). Or because the paperwork for a corporate tax is easier and it allows you to collect the tax revenue at less cost. But you can't justify them as a way of giving people more spending power - it just doesn't work that way.

            Having so many taxes (income, corporate, sales, property, excise, etc) is a really inefficient way to collect government revenue. It just creates excess bureaucracy and paperwork. Except for a few cases where taxes are used to discourage certain behaviors (e.g. fuel and property taxes), we'd really be better served by having just one tax. I think making it just one big personal income tax would make the most sense since that's the only way to implement a progressive tax system. And it would let everyone see exactly how big government is relative to the economy instead of hiding it in taxes they never see. But if you want to count corporations as "legal persons" and foist a personal income tax on them, I d

            • by ExploHD (888637)

              Do you think the guy who used to make $50k and paid $15k in taxes now suddenly has $50k to spend? Nope. To pay for the corporate taxes, the guy's employer has to drop his salary to $35k/yr. Or they have to raise their prices, meaning that the $50k the guy takes home can now only buy as much as $35k used to buy when he was paying $15k in personal income taxes.

              Nope! If they were bringing in $1,000,000 before his salary of $50k, they would end up paying taxes on the $950,000. Any money spent that is essential for the operation of a business, is not taxed. That is why stock dividends are paid out after taxes; they are not essential for the running a of business.

      • by hairyfeet (841228) <bassbeast1968@gma i l . com> on Sunday November 04, 2012 @07:00PM (#41875303) Journal

        The problem is it has become like the days of the old west, remember the old westerns how the bandits would head for the Mexican border and once they were across not worry about shit because all the border mess kept the rangers from giving chase?

        Well now with electronic banking you can do that on a planetary scale in seconds. NO country can "close the loopholes" as another suggested because we are not talking about the laws of ONE country, we are talking about the laws of ALL countries as they can bounce a billion dollars through a dozen nation s in less than a second.

        Never forget the words of Thomas Jefferson, who tried to warn us of the dangers of mercantilism: "Merchants have no country. The mere spot they stand on does not constitute so strong an attachment as that from which they draw their gains." In the end they don't care if the economy of their "home" country collapses, they can have their funds moved in seconds and have offices in dozens of countries. There is no loyalty or patriotism to country, just profits.

        • by jbolden (176878) on Sunday November 04, 2012 @07:20PM (#41875457) Homepage

          Of course there is something they can do. Its even in the constitution a Letter of Marque. We simply indicate a list of countries that follow a multi national tax treaty. Money kept anywhere else is considered fair game. That is we will not enforce property rights from that countries banks, so anyone working for a Cayman islands bank can rip off their customers, legally deposit the money in the US, pay about 1/3rd in taxes and keep the rest forever.

          Companies will find it mighty uncomfortable once the people who work in the tax havens have such lucrative options.

          • by jcr (53032) <jcr@@@mac...com> on Sunday November 04, 2012 @07:54PM (#41875747) Journal

            There is no precedent for using a Letter of Marque for tax enforcement. It's a legal instrument to authorize armed force against armed aggressors.

            -jcr

            • by Rich0 (548339) on Monday November 05, 2012 @07:28AM (#41878949) Homepage

              Letters of Marque were almost never used directly against ARMED aggressors. They were simply authorization for privately owned warships to engage in piracy against weakly armed merchant shipping. It isn't like the pirates would go looking for other warships to tangle with. Sure, the nations the targeted ships belong to might have been armed, but piracy was essentially what we would today call terrorism - avoiding regular combat and attacking civilian shipping.

              Whether you call them Letters of Marque or something else, this measure probably would be pretty effective at discouraging the use of tax havens.

        • by Nutria (679911)

          Except how to stop mercantilism? Revert to an agrarian feudal society? Dictatorship of the proletariat? A one world government?

          • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

            by khallow (566160)

            Except how to stop mercantilism?

            Free trade (here, trade with low regulation and zero tariffs and trade barriers) is the obvious way. If someone sets up trade barriers, respond in kind. That's how it's commonly done today though there are obvious counterexamples (agriculture subsidies, employment subsidies, etc).

            • by Muros (1167213) on Sunday November 04, 2012 @10:17PM (#41876641)

              Free trade (here, trade with low regulation and zero tariffs and trade barriers) is the obvious way

              Your plan to fix an obvious lack of regulation is deregulation?

        • by arkhan_jg (618674) on Monday November 05, 2012 @04:09AM (#41878197)

          NO country can "close the loopholes" as another suggested because we are not talking about the laws of ONE country, we are talking about the laws of ALL countries as they can bounce a billion dollars through a dozen nation s in less than a second.

          Alas yes. What Apple (and google, and many other companies) are using is the 'dutch sandwich' or 'double irish'.

          The end goal is to get the money to a 'parent' company in say, bermuda or the cayman islands - the carribbean islands generally have very low tax rates - often zero - and more importantly, special tax status in Europe because of their colonial history.

          But you can't transfer money tax free from most european nations to the carribbean any more, because that loophole has been closed in the last few years in most places. So you first transfer it to a 'parent company' in the netherlands, as transfers within the EU are generally allowed and tax free. Then, since the netherlands DOES allow you to transfer it to the carribbean tax free, you transfer it to the 'parent company' in say, Bermuda. So now you have almost all your profits being channeled to the netherlands, and then the carribbean tax free. Corporation taxes are only applied in the final destination, and surprise, they're zero rated. So now you have billions of pounds/euros slowly accumulating in offshore accounts, pretty much tax free and entirely legal. The 'parent companies' in the netherlands and carribbean are merely holding shells with a lawyers office - one building in Grand Cayman has 18,000 US companies registered at it.

          Then all you need to do is wait for a tax amnesty*, and you can 'inshore' the money in huge quantities. Or since pretty much everyone is doing it, you transfer the money from one company to another without ever leaving the carribbean. Hell, half the time you don't even have to leave the building. The bank of course is all electronic, and many of them are only available for outside companies. There are entire legions of legal firms and accounting firms and banks all set up to use this 'dutch sandwich' route it's so popular.

          * the US has regular tax amnesties, which allow companies to bring money back on-shore legally for a special one-off low tax rate - the government's argument is it's better to collect some tax than no tax if it continues to live in Grand Cayman.

          The starting point is often Ireland; since they have low taxes compared to the rest of the EU, they're a good place to put the actual company and what few people you actually employ inside the EU. So what few taxes that are unavoidable they do pay are at a lower rate of about 10%, instead of the 20% or higher elsewhere in the EU.

          Luxembourg is popular for other reasons - they have a VAT rate of 15%, but many things are zero or low rated at 3%. In the EU, you only pay VAT once, in the originating country. So if you order something from France or Germany in the UK, you pay local VAT; and because of the EU free trade laws, you don't pay any import duty or UK VAT (if you import from outside the EU, you pay VAT plus any import duties at the border) so that means if you're selling 'things' inside the EU instead of services, you can pay the Luxembourg VAT rate. Amazon, for example, is based in Luxembourg for all their EU operations. They actually pay 3% VAT for ebooks, but charge the same price as other UK based sellers (which have to pay 20% VAT) - Amazon just get to keep the 17% difference. Or use it to undercut prices on a few headline books, to hook people into buying Kindles. They then pull a dutch sandwich on the corporate profits; what little they do pay goes to luxembourg. The UK sees virtually no taxes at all, as the physical warehouses are counted as merely a 'distribution network' - in effect, an extension of the postal system. The actual goods in them belong to the holding company in luxembourg on paper, and that's who you buy from on the website. So It doesn't actually matter if you buy from Amazon UK, or DE, or FR - they're all just local language versions of the

      • by TFAFalcon (1839122) on Sunday November 04, 2012 @07:14PM (#41875401)

        The problem with corporations is that respecting the spirit of the law goes against the corporations main purpose - making as much money as possible. And they don't have a conscience.

      • Yes, nobody should be allowed to shop around and find the best deal. If there's a K-Mart next door, it's dishonest to shop elsewhere! They opened up that store by you because they're going to be selling to your neighborhood! How DARE you drive down the street to get a better deal elsewhere?!

      • by Hentes (2461350)

        Doing business in the country with the lowest taxes is exactly in the spirit of capitalism.

      • Race to the bottom (Score:5, Insightful)

        by catchblue22 (1004569) on Sunday November 04, 2012 @07:47PM (#41875691) Homepage

        And yet, if everyone respect the spirit of the law instead of finding holes in the letter of it, we as a society would most likely be a whole lot better off.

        Then again, this would require such things as integrity and honesty.

        The simple fact is that once barriers to capital flow across national borders were torn down, the modern social state was doomed. When money flows across borders with little restriction, organizations whose implicit purpose is to maximize profit will shift their resources to countries with the lowest possible tax rates. This creates a race to the bottom in terms of tax rates, especially when large organizations that are capable of physically or financially moving from country to country move large percentages of their wealth away from countries like the US.

        I have begun to realize that right wing countries seem to do well economically largely because they have reduced their tax rates below that of other less right wing countries. This brings a temporary influx wealth and a temporary economic boost. However if the tax rates do not continue to decline, large organizations will again begin to leave, bringing large deficits and economic decline.

        Let me emphasize this: I believe right wing economic policies work (temporarily) because lower tax rates bring an influx of capital, and NOT primarily because of the inherent efficiency of the private sector in managing resources. I believe that the claimed "efficiencies" of private corporations, and the claimed "inefficiencies" of government organizations are highly overstated.

        The implication of this is that if we as a society wish to have the amenities of a great civilization, then we will have to find a way to restrict the flow of capital across borders. Otherwise, we will be doomed to an asymptotic descent towards a minimum level of civilization. The gap between rich and poor will continue to increase, and, seemingly paradoxically, the economy will slowly grind towards a halt, as the pool of middle class consumers evaporates.

      • by whisper_jeff (680366) on Sunday November 04, 2012 @10:02PM (#41876551)

        When you file your taxes at the end of each year, do you take advantage of the tax deductions available to you to reduce your tax burden or do you pay the maximum amount?

        For the sake of moving this conversation along a little faster, rather than wait for your reply, I'll make the assumption that you do take advantage of the tax deductions that are available to you to reduce your tax burden (because, well, anyone who doesn't is simply an idiot). Why is it ok for you to reduce your tax burden and not ok for Apple (*)? Or are you just ticked off that they are better at it than you/your accountant? I mean, really - if you could legally pay 2% taxes, are you trying to tell anyone here that you wouldn't? Are you seriously trying to tell anyone that your sense of honesty and integrity would stop you from taking advantage of legal tax deductions?

        *I love how this is a story about Apple yet EVERY SINGLE COMPANY does this - it's just a question of how good the company's accountants are at finding all available tax deductions to maximize the payments but EVERY SINGLE COMPANY does this to one degree or another. But let's rage against Apple because that's cool and hip and that generates page views...

      • by paiute (550198)

        And yet, if everyone respect the spirit of the law instead of finding holes in the letter of it....

        If a corporation chooses not to take advantage of a legal way to increase its profits, then it leaves itself open to legal action by shareholders. The corporation has a fiduciary responsibility to find the holes.

        There's no such thing as the spirit of a law. There is only the words which define the law.

    • by ozmanjusri (601766) <aussie_bob@NospAm.hotmail.com> on Sunday November 04, 2012 @06:48PM (#41875217) Journal

      As long as it's tax avoidance, rather than tax evasion, nothing illegal in this. Everyone (corporations included) want to pay as little tax as possible. It's the governments job to close the loopholes.

      Yet Apple is a heavy user of the government-provided resources in my country that my taxes pay for, and is one of the organisations with far more frequent access to the very politicians you're suggesting should fix the problem.

      Are you suggesting I should be happy about their ability to manipulate the situation so I get to pay for their infrastructure?

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Are you suggesting I should be happy about their ability to manipulate the situation so I get to pay for their infrastructure?

        Certainly. There's no greater joy than helping Apple's growth. It's Jobs' will. You must now head to the nearest Apple Store to be cleansed of your sins. Two new iPads should do it.

      • by Poorcku (831174)

        Steve Jobs also paid those taxes as he grounded his company. He also paid taxes like you do, in order "to buy civilization", like it is always quite fondly quoted around here.

        So he "bought" his civilization: infrastructure, laws etc. and he did something with it.

        You should not be happy with the Apples ability to manipulate the situation, but that is the point: the real power is the power invested BY YOU to YOUR GOVERNMENT. So, yeah. The Gov. should fix those holes.

      • Are you suggesting I should be happy about their ability to manipulate the situation so I get to pay for their infrastructure?

        Given that they probably pay vast sums of VAT (which in turn was paid by their customers), it's fairly likely that it's actually those Apple customers who were paying for your infrastructure.

        Plus there's employer's NI contributions, local business and property taxation rules, tax on the fuel that goes in their vehicles, and so on.

        There's obviously something to consider in terms of Corporation Tax for international businesses that can shift where profits are recorded, but arguing as if these huge companies w

    • by Znork (31774)

      I doubt any governments are going to fix this. They've been bitching about Ireland's corporate tax rate for years now which is utterly irrelevant as the companies in question arent even paying Irelands corporate taxes.

      The details of the Double Irish/Dutch sandwich scheme is even on Wikipedia and has been for years. And it will come to no surprise to anyone here, but fantasy pricing of 'intellectual property' finds yet another use as a great way to transfer profits to a shell corporation set up in a place wh

    • by Yvanhoe (564877) on Sunday November 04, 2012 @07:04PM (#41875337) Journal
      In France we call it "fiscal optimization", which I find kind of cute : it makes it clear that corporations have an interest in being bad citizens.

      The problem is that the solution is seen by many as the enemy of free-trade : it requires to put commercial barriers on tax-havens. As long as international transactions between countries are not taxed to take into account the different weight of different tax rates, you will have tax avoidance.

      I don't understand why there is so much resistance to this idea : we are seeing huge border tax when we import anything physical, why couldn't money transfers be taxed similarily? Why is it an idea that only far-left or anti-globalization hippies are heralding?
    • by Andy Prough (2730467) on Sunday November 04, 2012 @07:17PM (#41875435)
      As an accountant myself, I think it's important to point out that a number of countries (and US states - including my home state of Texas) offer significant tax incentives for businesses that will move more of their operations to their location and create jobs. TFA does not say whether or not this was the case, but an article from Forbes this past March pointed out that Ireland lured significant Apple business to the country through creative tax reduction incentives: http://www.forbes.com/sites/kellyphillipserb/2012/03/18/ireland-continues-to-flex-tax-haven-muscles-will-their-luck-run-out/ [forbes.com]

      The article points out that Microsoft, Dell, Pfizer, and Wyeth have also taken advantage of Irish corporate tax incentives. So, a lot of this isn't "beancounter magic" at all - its a carefully negotiated corporate strategy that benefits the company as well as the host country.
    • by artor3 (1344997) on Sunday November 04, 2012 @07:51PM (#41875719)

      It's legal because they pay for it to be.

      1. Bribe (sorry, contribute to the campaigns of) legislators.
      2. Have them pass laws giving you big tax loopholes at the expense of schools and healthcare and whatnot.
      3. Save enough money on you tax bills that it exceeds the cost of the brib...er, campaign contributions.
      4. Profit!

      No missing step necessary.

  • by magarity (164372) on Sunday November 04, 2012 @06:30PM (#41875083)

    Rule 1 of corporate income taxes: taxes are an expense built into the price of products. No company pays a penny of their own in taxes, they just collect it from customers and pass it on.

    • by sheetsda (230887)

      No company pays a penny of their own in taxes, they just collect it from customers and pass it on.

      Not true. My company pays all of my taxes because I pass on the expense in the form of my salary.

    • by MtHuurne (602934)

      The article says this is tax paid on their profits; if that is not considered the company's own money then what is?

    • by sedmonds (94908)
      Taxes on corporations are shared by the purchaser of its products, and by its equity holders. The equity holders are "the company". To say that it's only passed on to consumers is simplistic and misleading.
  • It would be nice to get all public companies, making above a certain yearly amount, having the amount of declared tax presented in a chart. The fiscal 100?

    It's nice to scream shit about companies and they probably should be paying a bigger tax amount, but we should also be putting this in perspective.

    IANAA (I am not an accountant), so more information needs to be provided.

    • One thing mentioned elsewhere is that there already taxes that make part of salaries and of services or products sold. How much income tax should be paid in top of that?

  • Why not simply re-balance the tax-take. Over 3 years, ramp corporation tax down to 0, and ramp VAT up to 30% (while perhaps increasing the scope of some of the exemptions). Problem solved.

    • by PCK (4192)

      The problem is VAT is n't a tax on companies, it is a tax on consumers with the companies being able to claim back their VAT expenses due to them acting as tax collectors for the government. An increase in VAT would immediately be passed on to the consumer.

      • true... but if corporation tax were abolished, companies could keep their profit margins constant, while cutting pre-tax prices.

        • by PCK (4192)

          There is no way the goverrnment could enforce that kind of behaviour, if they could they would have used that ability to collect the correct amount of corporation tax in the first place.

    • by pr0nbot (313417)

      Because VAT is a regressive tax, i.e. the poor pay more in VAT as a proportion of their income than the better off.

      • That's not true... many essentials (eg non-restaurant food) are zero-rated, or less-rated for VAT.
        (Though I would agree that if VAT were made to replace corp. tax, then we might want to look at increasing the list of essentials, or have a half-rate for certain things).

  • I would have expected them to pay MORE taxes than they had to.

    • by Osgeld (1900440)

      I never agree with the more taxes than they have to argument. Due to their edge of illegal money laundering, they never have that fear.

  • by cvtan (752695) on Sunday November 04, 2012 @07:09PM (#41875369)
    Since corporations are considered to be people in the US, this means we can all do the same thing and pay only 2% tax!
  • by gelfling (6534) on Sunday November 04, 2012 @08:23PM (#41875979) Homepage Journal

    An insurance company keeps two sets of books, one on insurance operations and one on investments. most of their tax liability comes out of operations which is why they typically show a loss on paper on their operations and then use that credit as a carry across to the investment side of the house. when I worked for Equitable we paid ZERO tax for many years.

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