The Export-Import Bank’s New ‘Made in America’ Corporate Welfare Scheme

“Dating back to its founding in 1934, the Export-Import Bank of the United States has had a pretty specific mission: subsidize the export of American-made products by extending cheap credit to foreign companies looking to buy our stuff.

Whether the bank serves any legitimate purpose is another matter entirely. These days, the Export-Import Bank mostly acts as a slush fund for politically connected American corporations like Boeing and General Electric that would have no trouble doing business abroad but are more than happy to benefit from its largesse, doled out in the form of low-interest loans to potential buyers. Sometimes it also blows American taxpayer money on propping up government-run monopolies in foreign countries.

Still, the mission has always been clear. It’s right there in Executive Order 6581, which President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed in 1934 to authorize “a banking corporation…with power to aid in financing and to facilitate exports and imports and the exchange of commodities between the United States and other Nations.” The bank’s current mission statement, too, clearly spells out a goal of “supporting American jobs by facilitating the export of U.S. goods and services.”

Now, quietly, the Ex-Im Bank is taking on a new—and entirely domestic—project.

At a meeting last week, the Ex-Im Bank’s board of directors voted unanimously to approve a so-called “Make More in America” initiative. The press release announcing the new program is a gobbledygook of crony capitalist doublespeak virtually devoid of specifics about how the program will operate or what it will cost. The new program “will create new financing opportunities that spur manufacturing in the United States, support American jobs and boost America’s ability to compete with countries like China,” Reta Jo Reyes, the bank’s president and board chair, says in the statement.

This latest development at the Ex-Im Bank is another aspect of the sprawling federal effort that began under President Donald Trump and continues under President Joe Biden to subsidize American manufacturing. The creation of a “domestic financing program” at the Ex-Im Bank was part of a series of supply chain recommendations made by the White House in June. A few days before Christmas, the Ex-Im Bank filed a vague notice in the Federal Register outlining plans to implement the program.

But there has been little clarity about what the program will aim to do, which businesses might stand to benefit from it, or how its results will be judged. In the announcement last week, the Ex-Im Bank only said that the new program will “immediately make available the agency’s existing medium- and long-term loans and loan guarantees for export-oriented domestic manufacturing projects.””

“the government will throw taxpayer dollars at investments that private capital markets have deemed too risky.

But how will the government decide which projects to fund? Toomey also asked the bank to explain what steps will be taken to “ensure that domestic transactions will not be influenced by political pressures.”

The Ex-Im Bank’s response to that query is even more worrying. There don’t appear to be any safeguards in place. “Financing is available to all qualifying applicants based on criteria established by law and agency practice,” Lewis wrote in reply.

Translation: Any company with the resources to hire the attorneys, accountants, and lawyers necessary to decipher the bank’s policies and sufficiently schmooze decision-makers can get paid.

“There is no reason that taxpayers should have to back domestic financing when we live in a highly developed market economy in which promising businesses have access to capital on competitive terms,” says Toomey.”

Elizabeth Warren’s plan to break up Big Everything

“mergers don’t just affect consumers: “The world has changed for those workers,” Warren said.”

“Studies have shown that as markets become more concentrated, wages stagnate.”

“Under Warren’s new bill, mergers over a certain size or that consolidate the market too much are forbidden. And consummated mergers that have harmed competition, workers, consumers, or competitors can be broken up.”

Corporate pricing is boosting inflation — but we’re still buying

“On recent earnings calls, massive corporations have posted huge profits and promised continued price increases, even as inflation continues to rise to rates not seen in decades.

For example, Starbucks celebrated a 31 percent increase in profits at the end of 2021 — but it still plans to hike prices this year, the New York Times reported earlier this month. Tyson Foods, the meat processing behemoth, raised its prices 19.6 percent overall, driving record stock prices for the company.

Inflation, meanwhile, hit a four-decade high in January, with the consumer price index increasing 7.5 percent over the past year, before seasonal adjustment. Although prices dropped in the energy sector for goods like gasoline and fuel oil, every other sector — including medical care, apparel, transportation, food, and shelter — saw increases, resulting in the largest overall 12-month increase since 1982.

Some of that’s to be expected: With Covid-19 still throwing kinks into the global supply chain, the challenge of getting goods and materials where they need to be translates into increased prices for both companies and consumers. Meanwhile, consumers have increased purchasing power due to wage increases and stimulus benefits like checks, child tax credits, and low interest rates — and at least in the US, they’ve proven willing to pay higher prices. At its core, those are the necessary ingredients for inflation — demand outstripping supply.

But some economists and politicians say that corporations are using inflation as an excuse to jack up prices beyond what’s necessary to account for their increased costs. More than just passing those costs onto consumers, they say, corporations are taking advantage of the unprecedented global economic circumstances to increase their profits, simply because they can.”

“there’s plenty of pushback, both political and economic, to this perspective. A survey of a number of leading economists by the Initiative on Global Markets at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business showed that a majority of those surveyed — 67 percent — disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement, “A significant factor behind today’s higher US inflation is dominant corporations in uncompetitive markets taking advantage of their market power to raise prices in order to increase their profit margins.” Only 7 percent of those surveyed agreed or strongly agreed with the statement.”

“But critics of major corporate price increases aren’t arguing that the consolidation is the only force driving inflation; rather, that because these conglomerates hold so much of the market share, they are able to raise prices out of step with the actual price increases they’re incurring and passing on to consumers — essentially, that they’re using the current inflationary environment as an excuse to raise prices more than necessary because they don’t have competitors to drive them to keep prices down, in turn contributing to the problem of inflation.”

Tariffs on Chinese Imports Have Accomplished Approximately Nothing

“At the core of former President Donald Trump’s aggressive trade policies was a relatively simple—perhaps overly simplified—promise: Tariffs on Chinese-made products would drive manufacturers out of China.

“Many tariffed companies will be leaving China for Vietnam and other such countries in Asia,” Trump claimed in May 2019, about a year after his tariffs were first imposed. “China wants to make a deal so badly. Thousands of companies are leaving because of the Tariffs,” he tweeted a few months later, suggesting that the outflow was already underway. “If you want certainty, bring your plants back to America,” Robert Lighthizer, Trump’s U.S. trade representative, lightly threatened in a New York Times op-ed in May 2020, as the trade war’s second anniversary arrived.

But the tariffs failed to achieve that primary policy aim, according to a new paper published by researchers at the University of Kansas and the University of California, Irvine. Roughly 11 percent of multinational companies exited China in 2019, the first full year in which tariffs were in place—a significant increase from previous years. But the overall number of multinational firms operating in China actually increased during that same year, as foreign investment continued to flow into China even as the trade war ratcheted up costs.

In fact, the number of U.S.-based multinationals in China actually increased from 16,141 in 2017 to 16,536 in 2019. Non-U.S. companies were more likely to exit China during 2019 despite not being subjected to Trump’s tariffs.

“We estimate that less than 1 percent of the increase in U.S. firm exits during this period was due to U.S. tariffs. And U.S. firms were no more likely to divest than firms from Europe or Asia,” researchers Jiakun Jack Zhang and Samantha Vortherms wrote in The Washington Post this week.”

“Trump is no longer running U.S. trade policy, but his failed tariffs on Chinese imports are still in force. Lighthizer’s replacement in the Biden administration, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai, has said the tariffs provide “leverage” over China.

But that perspective is no more grounded in reality than Trump’s promises that his tariffs would cause companies to flee China. American consumers are bearing nearly 93 percent of the costs of the tariffs applied to Chinese goods, according to a recent report from Moody’s Investors Service. How is this giving the White House leverage over China?”

The Misleading Push for Corporate Tax Hikes

“A corporation’s book profits are actually an unhelpful metric when it comes to assessing what its tax liability should be. While the tax code is far from perfect, many deductions and credits that reduce liabilities serve an important purpose and help make the tax code fairer. Calculating a corporation’s income before factoring these in makes as much sense as complaining that a kid with a summer job gets to avoid paying regular income taxes because of the “standard deduction loophole.”

For example, consider net operating loss (NOL) carryforwards and carrybacks, one of the most common culprits behind these sensational headlines. These are normal features of a smart policy that allows corporations to pay taxes based on a realistic view of their cash flow over time.

Imagine a start-up business that spends two years developing its feature product, only to release it in the next year. If that business ran a deficit of $2 million the previous two years, then made a $1 million profit the third year, it has not actually made a profit in the long term. Disallowing NOL deductions from being carried forward would mean that the business would face corporate income tax liability despite having, thus far, lost money.”

“NOL carryforwards were one reason Amazon had no federal tax liability when those articles appeared a couple years back. Another was the research and development (R&D) tax credit, long a bipartisan favorite. The Obama administration in 2012 identified the R&D credit as a crucial element of business tax reform, claiming that businesses undervalue R&D in the absence of the credit as the social benefit is far greater. It’s deeply disingenuous to incentivize R&D, then wag your finger when businesses respond to the incentives the R&D credit provides.

Then there’s accelerated depreciation. One of the most positive changes in the 2017 tax reform law was the introduction of full expensing of capital investments, which allowed businesses to bypass the complicated system of asset depreciation that requires them to recoup the value of capital investments over timelines as long as decades. Huffing and puffing that businesses use full expensing to zero out their tax liabilities is absurd, because it merely accelerates tax deductions businesses would receive anyway. In other words, the long-term “cost” of accelerated depreciation in terms of revenue reduction is zero. The difference is that businesses, which prefer cash on hand to cash down the line, are then able to reinvest the value of the deduction immediately rather than waiting years to receive the tax benefit.”

The Misleading Push for Corporate Tax Hikes

“A corporation’s book profits are actually an unhelpful metric when it comes to assessing what its tax liability should be. While the tax code is far from perfect, many deductions and credits that reduce liabilities serve an important purpose and help make the tax code fairer. Calculating a corporation’s income before factoring these in makes as much sense as complaining that a kid with a summer job gets to avoid paying regular income taxes because of the “standard deduction loophole.”

For example, consider net operating loss (NOL) carryforwards and carrybacks, one of the most common culprits behind these sensational headlines. These are normal features of a smart policy that allows corporations to pay taxes based on a realistic view of their cash flow over time.

Imagine a start-up business that spends two years developing its feature product, only to release it in the next year. If that business ran a deficit of $2 million the previous two years, then made a $1 million profit the third year, it has not actually made a profit in the long term. Disallowing NOL deductions from being carried forward would mean that the business would face corporate income tax liability despite having, thus far, lost money.”

“NOL carryforwards were one reason Amazon had no federal tax liability when those articles appeared a couple years back. Another was the research and development (R&D) tax credit, long a bipartisan favorite. The Obama administration in 2012 identified the R&D credit as a crucial element of business tax reform, claiming that businesses undervalue R&D in the absence of the credit as the social benefit is far greater. It’s deeply disingenuous to incentivize R&D, then wag your finger when businesses respond to the incentives the R&D credit provides.

Then there’s accelerated depreciation. One of the most positive changes in the 2017 tax reform law was the introduction of full expensing of capital investments, which allowed businesses to bypass the complicated system of asset depreciation that requires them to recoup the value of capital investments over timelines as long as decades. Huffing and puffing that businesses use full expensing to zero out their tax liabilities is absurd, because it merely accelerates tax deductions businesses would receive anyway. In other words, the long-term “cost” of accelerated depreciation in terms of revenue reduction is zero. The difference is that businesses, which prefer cash on hand to cash down the line, are then able to reinvest the value of the deduction immediately rather than waiting years to receive the tax benefit.”

One weird trick to fix climate change: Close the offshore wealth loophole

“When you have big, powerful oil and gas firms that are also backing a carbon tax, that should be a signal that the ideal conditions under which such a policy could function will likely not materialize, because these interests are very powerful, and they’re so entrenched in the governments that are trying to regulate them.”

“If you try to isolate how much emissions fell because of the EU’s Emissions Trading System, estimates have only placed it at around one to three percent per year, which is not a lot.”

The Foxconn Con

“Two years after Taiwanese tech giant Foxconn broke ground in Wisconsin, the massive LCD factory and accompanying tech campus the company promised to build in exchange for $3 billion in state subsidies does not exist and “probably never will,” The Verge reported in October. The company’s Wisconsin outpost was supposed to create 13,000 jobs; as of this year it employed no more than 281 people.”

The race to the bottom on corporate taxation starves us of the resources we need to solve our biggest problems

https://www.marketwatch.com/story/the-race-to-the-bottom-on-corporate-taxation-starves-us-of-the-resources-we-need-to-solve-our-biggest-problems-2019-10-07