By Amitabh Pal on March 05, 2014

The term "corporate social responsibility" is fast becoming an oxymoron. A new report on how little big companies pay in taxes is further proof.

"A comprehensive, five-year study of 288 profitable Fortune 500 companies finds that twenty-six paid no federal corporate income tax over the five-year period; 111 paid no federal corporate income tax in at least one of the last five years, and one-third paid a U.S. tax rate less than 10 percent over the same period," says a recent study by Citizens for Tax Justice, a Washington, D.C.-based group.

Among the companies that paid not a single penny over five years, despite making huge profits, are household names such as Boeing, General Electric, Priceline.com, and Verizon.

"It's a sorry situation when most Americans can rightly say, 'I pay more in federal income taxes than General Electric, Boeing, Verizon, Pepco, Priceline, Duke Energy and twenty other big corporations, all put together!' '' said the head of Citizens for Tax Justice, Robert McIntyre, riffing off a bumper sticker the organization had when I interned there in the 1990s.

Overall, the 288 companies in the study paid a mere 19.4 percent of their profits in corporate income taxes -- far below the 35 percent rate on the books that Republican politicians use to incessantly complain that U.S. corporations are overtaxed.

The unwillingness of companies to fork over their fair share has consequences for all of us -- especially in these hard times of fiscal cliffs and sequestrations. The 288 profitable corporations studied by Citizens for Tax Justice enjoyed tax subsidies to the tune of a whopping $362 billion from 2008 to 2012. This is $362 billion that could have been instead spent on education, health care, and social services for the betterment of all of us.

And with all this tax-dodging, the burden of running the federal treasury has shifted to you and me.

"Corporate taxes paid for more than a quarter of federal outlays in the 1950s and a fifth in the 1960s," says the report. "In fiscal 2012, corporate taxes paid for a mere 7 percent of the federal government's expenses."

One of the more interesting revelations in the report is how corporations are masters at using arcane breaks to avoid paying any taxes at all. Take the deduction that companies get on stock options, in which they're able to subtract from their taxes the difference between the amount employees pay for a company's shares and the face value. Facebook used this one deduction to avoid paying any federal income tax at all in 2012 on a billion dollars of profit.

Even more brazen is the use of offshore tax havens, where companies engage in the legal fiction of registering in no-tax jurisdictions such as the Cayman Islands. Citizens for Tax Justice estimates that U.S. corporations end up not paying at least tens of billions of tax dollars using this charade.

What can be done to counter this outrage? Citizens for Tax Justice has good proposals: overseas profits need to be taxed to limit the use of tax havens; the use of stock options for tax avoidance needs to be curbed; and a strong alternative minimum corporate tax needs to be put into place to make sure that corporations are paying their fair share.

These are all great suggestions. The question is whether the current corporate-run, Republican-controlled Congress has the will to act on any of these.

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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