As both a capitalist and a taxpayer, news of recent antics by General Electric (G.E.) made me wince.
That's because G.E.'s actions are practically begging the usual suspects to ramp up their protests against "evil corporations."
According to The New York Times, G.E. -- despite making a $5.1 billion profit in the United States in 2010 -- paid no federal income tax and actually received a $3.2 billion TAX CREDIT to apply to future indebtedness.
The nearly 1,000 employees in G.E.'s tax department achieved this through a series of deductions, shelters, adjustments, "green" energy subsidies, offshore profit centers, generous depreciation schedules, brownie points, Early Bird specials and a Sunday newspaper coupon that actually expired last Friday but received an "Aw, what the heck, man" pass from a particularly mellow agent at the IRS.
The multinational was just carrying out its fiduciary responsibility to its shareholders (okay, fiduciary responsibility on STEROIDS), but the tax burden does seem troubling in light of recent Supreme Court decisions. With much effort, corporate entities won the same First Amendment rights as individual HUMANS, but apparently want to be TAXED at the same effective rate as disabled THREE-TOED SLOTHS.
Granted, millions of low-income taxpayers pay no federal income tax at all, and I understand that G.E. let the government off pretty lightly. Some of the tax lawyers had been holding out for the keys to Yellowstone, Fort Knox and the Lincoln Memorial. And only a shortage of active volcanoes saved that sacrificial virgin.
The usual gang of business-bashers can hardly be blamed for salivating over the money that could hypothetically be squeezed out of G.E. ("The money could go for Pell Grants and infant wellness programs -- albeit in an ALTERNATE UNIVERSE where we wouldn't blow $5 billion on a sack of magic beans in a heartbeat.")
And G.E. understandably mounts a defense that reminds me of Jimmy Stewart trying to prevent a run on the Bailey Building & Loan in "It's A Wonderful Life." ("You're thinking about this all wrong. The money isn't in a safe. It's in 36 vice presidents' bonuses...and in the consulting firm's marble fountain...and in Sen. Claghorne's reelection chest...and in Rep. Phogbound's pocket and...") Ah, it brings back fond memories of the old ad slogan: "G.E.: We Bring Good Things To Living, We Bring Good Things To Your District. Wink, Wink."
G.E. makes an impassioned case for needing Uncle Sam's help to compete in the global market. After all, it's a mean ol' world out there. And surely we've all shown the same largesse in family matters. ("Well, mom, I'm off to college. But I'm competing with lots of other students with daunting advantages, so to make sure, I was sort of thinking that for old time's sake you could let me -- what do you mean you're no longer lactating????")
If both sides will be reasonable, perhaps we can achieve real tax reform. Perhaps the U.S. can boast firm but fair tax rates that make us a magnet for foreign investors and create a vibrant economy. Toward that end, President Obama has appointed G.E. chief executive Jeffrey R. Immell as chairman of the President's Council On Jobs And Competitiveness. How convenient! He can provide wholesale G.E. light bulbs so the fox can better see how to guard the henhouse. Synergy: you gotta love it!
©2011 Danny Tyree. Danny, a former columnist for Comics Buyer's Guide magazine, welcomes reader e-mail responses at firstname.lastname@example.org and visits to his Facebook fan page "Tyree's Tyrades." Danny's' weekly column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc. newspaper syndicate.