Gabriel Zucman's latest very interesting paper


There's much huffing and puffing about the information in that above chart. The capitalist bastards are taking an ever growing share of the economy and something must be done! And then along comes Gabriel Zucman (he's the third of the Parisian economic trio, along with Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty) to try and tell us that this really is a problem and something must be done! Except the evidence that he shows us tells us that it's not the problem that it is usually identified as. Here's his latest paper:

Measuring the costs of tax havens to foreign governments is fraught with difficulties. However, balance of payments data and corporate filings show that US companies are shifting profits to Bermuda, Luxembourg, and similar countries on a large and growing scale. About 20 percent of all US corporate profits are now booked in such havens, a tenfold increase since the 1980s. This profit-shifting is typically done within the letter of the law and thus would be best described as tax avoidance rather than fraud.

There's certainly profit shifting going on but it's not profits being shifted out of the US and into those tax havens, not to any great degree at least. The IRS isn't dumb enough to allow that at any great scale. What is happening is that US based corporations are making larger profits from their foreign activities and then parking them in those tax havens.

Yes, really: the way that US profits as a share of GDP is calculated is that all profits made by US domiciled firms are counted as part of US GDP. So, Glaxo's profits in the US (and the associated underlying economic activity that generates them) are part of US GDP. Apple's profits in the US, and the associated underlying economic activity in the US, are part of US GDP. But, crucially, Apple's profits in Europe, but not the underlying associated economic activity in Europe that generates them, are also part of US GDP. So, if Apple's European profits rise then US GDP rises by the amount of those profits and the capital share, or the associated profit share, of US GDP also rises by the same amount. But, of course, that means that the profit share of US GDP rises: but that's purely an effect of the way that we calculate the numbers. Nothing has flowed from labour to capital in the US economy. The workers aren't getting any less of the portion of their labours.

Simply, foreign profits of US corporations have risen. This means absolutely nothing at all to the US domestic economy in the sense that while, because of the way we measure it, the capital (or profit) shares are rising, there's simply no effect at all on the division of spoils inside the American economy.

Zucman is also showing that this is a significant effect. At least two whole percentage points of GDP.

Of course, Zucman is also telling us that this is terrible and that something must be done! On examination however it seems to be largely of no import at all. So, Apple is increasing its European profits. This is bad because?