Apple CEO Tim Cook presses for U.S. corporate tax reform, says no repatriation without fair rate

The Washington Post‘s Jena McGregor sat down with Apple CEO Tim Cook in a wide-ranging interview that touched on the issue of corporate taxes:

WP: Does either a Trump or a Clinton campaign give you or the company any hope that there could be corporate tax reform anytime soon?

Cook: I think it’s in the best interest of the U.S. to have corporate tax reform, regardless of which political party is in charge of the White House. Because if you look at it, the U.S. rules today are that international companies like us and many others can keep their earnings that they earn overseas overseas, and then when they bring them back it triggers the tax liability.

What I’ve always felt should happen is that every dollar should be taxed immediately with no deferral. But as a consequence of doing that, you should have free flow of capital. What would happen is if a system like that were put in place, it should have more investment going into the United States. We’re the only major country in the world that has a system like this. It’s not good for the U.S., it’s not good for the economy, it’s not good for jobs, it’s not good for investments.

I think there’s wide agreement to that in both parties, by the way. There’s a difference of view with different people about how to fix it, but I think everybody agrees the current system isn’t working. So I’m optimistic that, in 2017, there will be some sort of corporate tax reform. The U.S. needs to invest more in infrastructure — so what would be great is, if they take the tax proceeds of a corporate tax reform and invest it in infrastructure and roads and bridges and airports.

… Let me explain what goes on with our international taxes. The money that’s in Ireland that he’s probably referring to is money that is subject to U.S. taxes. The tax law right now says we can keep that in Ireland or we can bring it back. And when we bring it back, we will pay 35 percent federal tax and then a weighted average across the states that we’re in, which is about 5 percent, so think of it as 40 percent. We’ve said at 40 percent, we’re not going to bring it back until there’s a fair rate. There’s no debate about it. Is that legal to do or not legal to do? It is legal to do. It is the current tax law. It’s not a matter of being patriotic or not patriotic. It doesn’t go that the more you pay, the more patriotic you are.

And so what we’ve said — we think it’s fine for us to pay more, because right now we’re paying nothing on that and we leave it over there. But we — like many, many other companies do — wait for the money to come back.

In the meantime, it’s important to look at what we do pay. Our marginal rate, our effective rate in the U.S. is over 30 percent. We are the largest taxpayer in the United States. And so we’re not a tax dodger. We pay our share and then some. We don’t have these big loopholes that other people talk about. The only kind of major tax credit that we get is the R&D tax credit, which is available to all companies in the United States. That’s important to know. The second thing I would point out is we have money internationally because we have two-thirds of our business there. So we earn money internationally.

…I believe the legislature and the administration will agree that it’s in the best interest of the country and the economy to have tax reform… I’m optimistic that it will take place next year.

Tons more, on a wide variety of subjects, in the full interview – recommendedhere.

MacDailyNews Take: As we’ve stated many times: Obviously, U.S. corporate taxes are too high.

Under the current U.S. corporate tax system, it would be very expensive to repatriate that cash. Unfortunately, the tax code has not kept up with the digital age. The tax system handicaps American corporations in relation to our foreign competitors who don’t have such constraints on the free flow of capital… Apple has always believed in the simple, not the complex. You can see it in our products and the way we conduct ourselves. It is in this spirit that we recommend a dramatic simplification of the corporate tax code. This reform should be revenue neutral, eliminate all corporate tax expenditures, lower corporate income tax rates and implement a reasonable tax on foreign earnings that allows the free flow of capital back to the U.S. We make this recommendation with our eyes wide open, realizing this would likely increase Apple’s U.S. taxes. But we strongly believe such comprehensive reform would be fair to all taxpayers, would keep America globally competitive and would promote U.S. economic growth.Apple CEO Tim Cook, May 21, 2013

SEE ALSO:
Donald Trump plan calls for cuts in corporate taxes, personal income tax rates – August 9, 2016
Barring a tax holiday, Apple will need to raise over $50 billion in debt the next 2 years – July 15, 2016
Cramer: Apple’s Tim Cook is ‘patriotic’ on taxes – December 21, 2015
Apple CEO Tim Cook is absolutely right – and wrong – on U.S. corporate tax policy – December 20, 2015
Apple CEO calls corporate tax rap ‘total political crap’ – December 18, 2015
Apple avoids $59.2 billion U.S. tax bill – October 7, 2015
U.S. companies now have $2.1 trillion overseas to avoid corporate taxes – March 4, 2015
Intel CFO: Obama repatriation tax proposal ‘lipstick on a pig’ – February 4, 2015
U.S. Congress, Obama take Apple CEO Cook’s advice, eye corporate tax changes – February 3, 2015
Obama targets foreign profits with tax proposal, Republicans skeptical – February 2, 2015
Senator Rand Paul finds Democratic partner for tax repatriation holiday – January 30, 2015
Businesses hopeful Republican control of U.S. Congress will break tax-reform gridlock – November 5, 2014

40 Comments

  1. Keep the money with the free and civilized world Tim. The article has a lot more than just the topics of tax reform, and it shows how Tim really shines, notably in the privacy and security section of the article, which discusses the conflict between Apple and the FBI:

    – “We knew it was going to be very, very difficult. And that the cards were stacked against us. But we spent a lot of time on “what is right here?””

    – “Could we create a tool to unlock the phone? After a few days, we had determined yes, we could. Then the question was, ethically, should we?”

    – “The risk of what happens if it got out, we felt, could be incredibly terrible for public safety.”

    – “So with that responsibility comes an obligation to stand up. And, in this case, it was unbelievably uncomfortable and not something that we wished for, wanted — we didn’t even think it was right. Honestly? I was shocked that they would even ask for this. That was the thing that was so disappointing that I think everybody lost in the whole thing. There are 200-plus other countries in the world. Zero of them had ever asked this.”

    Just look at the enlightened thought processes here, asking what is right, questioning ethics, evaluating risks for public safety and when he says that I get the impression he is talking about the public safety of the entire world. The responsibility to stand up to the bully, and we all know who the bully is, not the 200+ plus countries that play by the rules, the one country that thinks they are above the rules.

    I also enjoyed a quote about the maps debacle:

    -“Today we have a product we’re proud of. But we had the self-honesty to admit this wasn’t our finest hour and the courage to choose another way of doing it. The classic big-company mistake is to not admit their mistake. They double down on them. Their pride or ego is so large that they can’t say we did something wrong. ”

    It takes a lot of integrity to admit a mistake and rectify it. There is substance here, a profound depth and a sense of leadership that the entire world needs right now.

    Go Apple.

    1. I admire anyone who:

      – gives someone a hand up when they’ve stumbled
      – holds his tongue when someone makes a social gaffe
      – expresses himself plainly, without resort to crude insult
      – allows credit where it’s due, regardless of affiliation
      – is unforgiving of calumny yet open to repentance
      – exhibits grace under fire
      – brings an olive branch to the table, but rests a hand on his rapier
      – is steadfast in his adherence to universal humanitarian principles
      – is a man who is gracious and personally compelling
      – knows a lot but actively learns from others and admits it
      – has imagination and wit that are largely wasted on the milling crowd
      – is, in a certain sense, dangerous

      I think that’s you, Road Warrior, or at least my naïve verison of you. 😶

      1. You honor me Herself, I am humbled by your remarks. So few see what I am trying to convey, but they are a few attuned that do.

        I recently wrote an Olympic challenge piece elsewhere, wondering about the possibility of gender equality in certain sports. Now my previous top level posts there have been of course hijacked by “you have to make all topics about a particular country, and it’s a banana’s fault.” quite ferociously I may add. I don’t think they were expecting the reaction I’ve been giving them so this time there was no reply, zip, nada for about 24 hours. Finally someone did point out that that the equestrian competition are male and female and that their team won bronze for the Grand Prix Special Dressage, without a mention of course who won the silver (Great Britain) or gold (Germany) followed up by someone else who said no way cause there is a difference between riding a gelding mare or stallion. Is there really?

        So I checked out the details of the German team. The team consisted of one male and three females riding two geldings, a mare and a stallion. It was interesting to learn that.

        That’s the only Olympic sport where males and females compete against each other, yet sports like archery, shooting and table tennis could allow, in my view equal competition between males and females, a level playing field so to speak. Of course there is the historical and cultural situation of keeping the males and females apart during Olympic competition and a lot less medals if one were to do so, but these are the sorts of scenarios that Apple has to deal with in their own realm.

        I come back to the quote in the article by Tim Cook, regarding privacy, “The risk of what happens if it got out, we felt, could be incredibly terrible for public safety.” I’m pretty sure that they were talking about the global public whereas the FBI was only concerned about the public of one particular nation. When your focus is on a singular nation your approach is for that nation and that nation only. When your focus is on the world you have a wider approach.

        There you go, a little bonus just to cover up the fact that I’m smitten by you but shhhh it’s a secret.

  2. May I also add this:
    When you earn money in another country you pay taxes to that country. So far so good. Now you want to move that money to the USA and our government wants to tax it. Why? It was earned and taxed in another country already.
    So the USA tax law is written badly for international companies. The politicians want to double tax them when money is moved here.

    Imagine you were living and working in the EU for three years. Paid your income taxes to the country you were in and all is good. Now you move back to the USA. You transfer your bank money from an EU bank to a US bank. The IRS steps in and says we need 30% of all of that.

    1. Actually, it is worse than that. US citizens who live & work overseas are taxed in their host country AND they are subject to US Federal — and State — income taxes.

      An American banker from NYC living & working in, say, London, would pay British taxes AND would also have to prepare US Federal and NY State and City tax returns and make appropriate payments. In contrast, a London banker working in NYC would simply pay appropriate US and NY taxes — the British Government does not also charge them on their income earned outside of Great Britain.

      Most civilized countries in the world do not tax their ex-pats on income earned when they live & work elsewhere; they count it as, essentially, a “wash”. Yes, the US tax code allows deductions for taxes paid to other tax entities. But US citizens working overseas still end up with a huge tax preparation hassle, and they also end up paying the most possible in joint foreign and domestic (US Federal, and any State and local City) taxes possible.

      It is really pretty crazy. The US tax code is overdue for a sanity check, and for revision to be more consistent with other civilized countries in the world.

      1. There is SUPPOSED to be no Double Jeopardy – meaning paying taxes to the country you are in as well as your native country (for me the U.S.). But I found that wasn’t the case when it was obvious a combined 60% of my income total was to be taxed by two different countries! How can it be worth it to work under such draconian & ridiculous tax liabilities? I opted simply not to report in the other country still resulting in paying about 40% instead of about 27% in taxes (I would normally pay just working in the U.S.) that year. The reassurances I had gotten weren’t worth the breath they were wasted on.

        1. I agree completely. I lived overseas and had to file US taxes every year. I paid 40% tax rate in that country (very socialist ideals there. Government “paid for” everything) and then I paid 30% to American government with some BS reduction for foreign government taxes paid except they would not let me see my tax forms there to keep me from claiming any refunds. It was shocking. I made $40k and kept maybe $15 after all was said and done.

  3. It’s bs (that’s bullshite, by the way) that US corporate taxes are too high. For a start, there are too many ways around them, so it matters little if the actual tax rate is 30 percent, since apparently many companies don’t pay half that (or in some instances, any tax at all).

    The tax rate for corporations has been significantly higher in the past, and it didn’t spell armageddon (nor where there the loopholes that companies could get out from under paying their fair share).

    Though that’s not to imply that I blame Apple because our government has created policies that make it easy for companies to squirrel away money in subsidiaries that are such in name only, so why is anyone shocked that they choose to take advantage?

    1. Maybe dodgy companies like GE pay not corporate taxes. But that is not true for companies like Apple.

      But the issue is more fundamental. Most economists recognize that taxing corporate profits is a form of double-taxation. The reason is simple: the taxes should are already taxed as personal income when corporations pass the profits along to its owners/shareholders. So the profits are taxed twice: once at the corporate level, again when distributed to its shareholder owners.

      If the US personal income tax code were not such a mess, it would not be necessary to look to corporations for tax revenue. A better solution would be to close all the loopholes in the personal income tax code. (I am referring to the “carried interest” loophole, among many others, that have profited the 1% for decades.)

      1. Bingo! It’s such a simple concept but, damn, it’s difficult to explain to so many who only see evil companies not willing to pay their “fair share.” It’s a grand failure of critical thinking and logic.

        If only people paid income taxes directly then everyone could see the true tax burden. No corporate taxes, no sales taxes or VAT. These are regressive taxes that disproportionally hit the poor the hardest. Why they are supported by labor movements and the left is beyond me. The current system is insane and borderline evil. As it is now, it’s damn near impossible to figure out what the true tax burden is, and politicians seem to like it that way. It’s hidden everywhere in different types of taxes in different industries with different loopholes. We pay an army to process, monitor compliance, and audit all this crap. It’s crazy.

      2. I was willing to agree with what your were saying till you got to the government “shouldn’t have to look to corporations” for taxes?

        Why the heck not? Corporations are the beneficiaries of government–whether it functions well or not. Roads are paved by government–be it state or national. Millions of people are educated at public schools and colleges.

        Corporations directly benefit from government in literally hundreds of ways. That they shouldn’t pay–just like the rest of us–is nuts.

        1. Corporations are made up of people, not buildings. If you create a fair income tax and reduce all other taxes to nil, it becomes simpler. That was his point. Corporations are not secret societies, groups of aliens, robots, leprechauns or mythical beasts. Just groups of people that get paid personal income that they get taxed on and then then the group as a whole pays tax again. This the double tax. Just split up the corporate tax and spread it across the individuals to simplify it and remove loopholes.

          1. When corporations were initially created in this country they served their purpose, and were disbanded.

            And while I am not saying that we can go back to that–the genie is out of the bottle–what we can do is make them accountable, which means no tax havens, and since they are as your said essentially groups of people then can afford to pay a greater share of taxes–which as I stated before, they benefit from as much, if not more, than an individual–than an individual.

            So some CEO can get only one or two Ferraris. I think they’ll be okay.

  4. We do need to reform our tax system for corporations and for individuals but the arguement that US taxes are high is not necessarily the truth.

    While the US has a high quoted rate it also has an fairly average to low effective rate thanks to our Byzantine tax code full of exemtions and favors bought from politicians for campaign contrubutions and other considerations. The biggest source of cash for politicians is getting changes in the tax code. Do you really think the reptiles in D.C. want to give up their biggest cash cow and source of power?

    What puzzles me is how we endlessly hear the woes of multi-billion Dollar corporations and their taxes and nothing about the royal screwing American citizens get from our code- especially expatriates. The IRS wants your money no matter where you earned it and has no qualms about burning your house down to get it.

    1. The other fault in the argument that US taxes are unusually high is that America relies overwhelmingly on income taxes, rather than Value Added Taxes or other forms of revenue. As a result, total US tax collections as a percentage of GDP rank 32d out of the 34 leading industrial nations.

      Given the decaying state of our infrastructure (streets, bridges, sewers, etc), it could be argued that the existing tax system isn’t raising enough revenue to sustain the country. As Tim Cook and Warren Buffett say, the problem isn’t the total tax burden, but the bizarrely unfair system that forces individual and corporate taxpayers to make convoluted decisions on tax grounds, rather than for ordinary business reasons.

      As for the argument that corporations should not be taxed at all because their profits will eventually be taxed to the individual stockholders: that is only true if the corporation distributes 100% of its profits as dividends and does not retain anything for expansion, research, development, or simply as a reserve fund like Apple’s. A company that paid no dividends would pay nothing towards the public services and infrastructure that made their business possible. That burden would fall on individual taxpayers.

      Any appreciation in stock value is taxed as capital gains, not income, and only if the stock is sold and the proceeds are not rolled over to another capital investment. If the stock is not sold prior to the owner’s death, its valuation for estate taxes is the original basis, not its current market value. Of course there is a lot of current pressure to eliminate estate taxes (“The Death Tax”) entirely so that inherited family property (whether stock or other assets) can remain untaxed for as long as it remains unsold. There are tracts of land in America that have been in the same family for a century or two (and for a millennium in a few cases in Europe). I suspect there are large blocks of ExxonMobile stock that are still owned by heirs to John D. Rockefeller.

      One interesting feature of Mr. Trump’s tax plan is to not only eliminate corporate taxes, but also to cap the highest rate for “business income” at 15%, less than half the maximum rate for wages. For example, a staff writer at a magazine would be taxed more heavily than a freelancer on the same income for the same work. Most American workers cannot rearrange their affairs to take advantage of this loophole that would act to shift the burden of taxation even more strongly to working people, including Mr. Trump’s own blue collar supporters, and away from people like the candidate himself.

          1. Yes, I read the plan. Have you? I was going to rhetorically ask where you learned to read until I realized that you haven’t.

            The wages that an employee receives from an employer will taxed at the regular rates (Trump would lower the brackets to some degree, although the impact on individual workers would depend on how much they could take advantage of exemptions, deductions, credits, and such). An individual employee is NOT a business, so he would not qualify for the 15% business rate. In simple terms, anything reported on a W-2 will still be taxed as individual income at the higher rates and anything listed on Schedule C will be taxed as business income. In addition, of course, business-related personal expenses are fully deductible from income, while employment-related expenses are sharply capped.

            To use my example, a writer can avoid the higher rates by quitting his job and working as a freelancer. That is not really an option for an executive assistant, coalminer, or industrial machine operator. Even the writer cannot qualify as a “business” for the lower rate and continue to enjoy employee benefits like insurance, 401k, paid leave, and such. As a “business,” he cannot rely on protection under the state or federal Wage and Hour Acts. If he chooses the lesser of two evils and remains an employee, he and his fellow workers will be contributing an even higher proportion of national tax revenues, while their employers will be paying less.

      1. Really good post. I enjoy reading your posts as you appear to be very knowledgable on a range of issues. I can’t fault you for most of your comments on this one. But I take issue where you say, “A company that paid no dividends would pay nothing towards the public services and infrastructure that made their business possible. That burden would fall on individual taxpayers.” I would add, that burden would fall on individual taxpayers who are direct employees of said company.

        Example: An employee of a company that pays corporate taxes earns $60K and pays $15K in taxes. An employee of a company that does not pay corporate taxes earns $75K and pays $30K in taxes. Overall tax receipts should not change. Overall take home pay should not change. The benefits would be enormous as you touched upon above. This system of relying exclusively on personal income taxes in no way precludes an escalation of the tax rate based upon higher income.

        I am curious where you found the percentage of US tax collections. One would have to capture all federal, state, and local income taxes – no mean feat – and divide by the population to arrive at a number.

        1. JWSC: That would certainly be true if it were likely that the company would take its savings on income taxes in a particular jurisdiction and use the money to give raises to its employees who live in the jurisdiction. However, why would a company do that if its existing wage structure was already adequate for employee hiring and retention?

          I find it more likely that most of the savings would be plowed back into expanding the business and therefore never be taxed. That would be a benefit to the local economy only if the increased expenditures occurred locally and were not used for expansion into new markets or diversification overseas. Money placed in a reserve fund like Apple’s would not benefit the local community at all. The “Trickle Down” theory only works if companies plow their domestic tax savings back into the domestic economy; experience shows that they usually don’t.

          The remainder of the tax savings would likely be put either into dividends for stockholders who do not necessarily live in the jurisdiction (and who will also likely be also be taxed on their investment income at a lower rate), or into increased executive compensation—which is generally structured to avoid taxation at earned income rates and is likewise often paid to individuals who live at a corporate headquarters outside the jurisdiction where the plant is located. Either way, the bosses get richer but the workers do not benefit from it.

          To illustrate the problem: imagine that a large factory is located in a community that taxes corporate income. Those taxes pay for building and repairing the highways that lead to the plant, for fire and police protection, for judges in the courts that hear lawsuits involving the company, and so forth. Now imagine that the corporate income is untaxed (or taxed at a very low rate as in Trump’s plan). The government still has to pay for all that infrastructure (indeed, may have to spend more if the plant uses its savings to expand), but now the only available revenue source will be the non-business taxpayers who live in the jurisdiction. Their proportion of the total tax burden will rise substantially.

          The only way to avoid to avoid an absolute increase in individual taxes would be to cover the shortfall by borrowing, which would just kick the can down the road by increasing budget deficits and public debt. In practice, the poor will eventually pay a higher proportion of their income in taxes while elites pay a smaller proportion.

          I’m a small-government Republican, which is why I don’t trust the state or large companies to act in the public interest. Eliminating corporate taxes is simply a form of robbery.

          For the list, you can Google or look at “List of countries by tax revenue as percentage of GDP” in Wikipedia.

          1. Interesting thoughts. But I think you’ve over analyzed this. To answer your question about why a company would increase employee compensation should corporate taxes be abolished: I’ll simply say that if that company wants to retain its current employees, who are now suddenly responsible for making up the collections deficit from abolition of corporate taxes with their personal income taxes, the company better shell out. You can’t have one without the other.

            Now, am I naive enough to think this will ever happen? No. But I truly believe this is the right approach to better tax transparency and governance.

          2. I want to add that I don’t avoid an absolute increase in individual taxes. I want all taxes to be paid by individuals so that we can all see and feel the true tax burden. When that happens it will be a revolution as people start to understand, maybe for the first time, that Government services have a huge cost. Then we can have meaningful debates about Government spending priorities.

  5. Repatriate is the wrong term. Patriate is better. Forget Cook. He is about to be a crazy as trump. If this guy cared about shareholders why does he not argue for paying shareholders from an overseas bank.(from an overseas holding company) If the money is in the bank shareholders can cash the check.

    Even better pay shareholder 80% of the profits. Then shareholder may join in the argument for corporation not to pay taxes at all. It’s shareholders’ money.

    Apple can always go private. Dell did. That’s what it looks like cook is trying to do by incurring all this debt on a company that should have no debt, and buying back shares.
    (buying back enough to a point where it is manageable for Apple to be bought. the more shares bought back the less apple pays out in dividends to shareholders.)

    Or perhaps we are to fane blindness.

    1. I’m going to say this just once, and I apologize to others for the vulgarity, but I want to drive this point home.

      FUCK SHAREHOLDERS!

      If that’s your main beef with Apple then get out of AAPL. Sell the stock. This is not your company.

      1. Overheard variously at Riki’s Surf Bar, McClure’s, and Le Monde (hipsteresque hangouts): Timmy felt hurt that Donald threatened to kick his head around like a soccer ball for standing up to Jimmy, so no fundraiser for Donald. So there… At least Jimmy’s predecessor J. Edgar didn’t wheedle and whiffle and had better taste in dresses… Donald’s predecessor Mitt’s I.OWN.YOU power ties and Reaganesque coiffure were infinitely less throw-up-a-little-in-the-mouth… The Donald leads all candidates, past and present, in sound bites, but even the faithful are having trouble swallowing them… The next U.S. President will be good for business, no matter who she is… Three-dot journalism is decidedly not dead, but undead is the latest trope, which suits both candidates…

          1. I have a sense that, if Hillary is elected, people know exactly what she would do; but if Donald is elected, they aren’t quite sure what he would do.

            Thus, people who are inclined to gamble on improving their lives would go with Trump, and those who prefer to preserve the lives (however sorry) they have now would go with Clinton.

            This is so very funny and ironic: Donald Trump is the 2016 candidate of Hope and Change. But maybe it will work this time; after all, he isn’t black!

  6. All nonsense. Youy are in no position to know what a fair tax rate is. Corporations do not pay %35 in taxes. That’s the rate. Apple, like other mega corporations has a feduciary obligation to pay as little as possible.

    tim cook is full of shit.

    1. The phrase “fiduciary duty to shareholders” gets thrown around a lot. Federal laws, state laws and company governing documents greatly influence what fiduciary duty means for each company. CEOs do have some fiduciary duties to shareholders. But they also have a primary fiduciary duty to the long term growth and survival of the company, which may be in conflict with the interests of the short term investor.

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