Archive for the ‘Ireland’ Category
It is no secret that our public sector is in trouble. Our roads and bridges desperately need upgrading. Our schools and libraries are being forced to slash staff and activities. Our social services and program are being cut. And the reason: not enough money.
Yet at the same time, it is also no secret that our most powerful and profitable corporations are merrily finding countless ways to avoid paying taxes. It might seem like this situation would produce a serious discussion about societal aims and values—but it hasn’t. Our political and business leaders appear quite content that business as usual should not be inconvenienced for the sake of the economy.
The New York Times recently provided an excellent study of, in its words, “How Apple Sidesteps Billions in Taxes.” How does the company do it? The answer is tax loopholes and a number of subsidiaries in low tax places like Ireland, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and the British Virgin Islands. Why does it do it? We are talking real money here. According to the New York Times, Apple “paid cash taxes of $3.3 billion around the world on its reported profits of $34.2 billion last year, a tax rate of 9.8 percent.” By comparison, Wal-Mart was downright patriotic—paying a tax rate of 24 percent.
Get your passports ready. If a U.S. consumer buys an Apple product like a song from iTunes or an iPhone the royalties earned are routed to an Irish subsidiary. That is because Apple assigned the rights to royalties on patents developed in its California operations to the subsidiary. The royalities gathered in Ireland are then transferred, with few tax obligations thanks to Irish law, to another Apple subsidiary in the British Virgin Islands, where tax rates are extremely low. Thus, not only does the U.S. lose out on tax revenue, so does Ireland. And in case you have forgotten, Ireland is suffering massive cuts in public spending because of a lack of revenue.
If a product is purchased by someone residing outside the U.S., the patent royalties are routed to a different Irish subsidiary. Apple then transfers those royalties through the Netherlands, tax free thanks to European laws, back to its primary Irish subsidiary and then on to its Caribbean subsidiary.
If this is confusing check out this graphic. How important is Ireland to Apple? In 2004, the country received more than one-third of Apple’s world wide revenue. The U.S. corporate tax rate is 35 percent. The Irish corporate tax rate is 12.5 percent. And the British Virgin Island tax rate is even lower.
Of course Apple’s profits are not limited to patent royalties. That is where its Luxembourg subsidiary comes into play. As the New York Times explains:
when customers across Europe, Africa or the Middle East — and potentially elsewhere — download a song, television show or app, the sale is recorded in this small country . . . In 2011 [the revenue of this Luxembourg subsidiary] exceeded $1 billion, according to an Apple executive, representing roughly 20 percent of iTunes’s worldwide sales.
The advantages of Luxembourg are simple, say Apple executives. The country has promised to tax the payments collected by Apple and numerous other tech corporations at low rates if they route transactions through Luxembourg. Taxes that would have otherwise gone to the governments of Britain, France, the United States and dozens of other nations go to Luxembourg instead, at discounted rates.
“We set up in Luxembourg because of the favorable taxes,” said Robert Hatta, who helped oversee Apple’s iTunes retail marketing and sales for European markets until 2007. “Downloads are different from tractors or steel because there’s nothing you can touch, so it doesn’t matter if your computer is in France or England. If you’re buying from Luxembourg, it’s a relationship with Luxembourg.”
Back Home In The U.S.
Of course Apple also makes money from sales in the United States. But it has a way of handling that “problem” as well. The company’s headquarters is in Cupertino, California but it has a Reno subsidiary, Braeburn Capital, collect and manage its profits. According to the New York Times:
When someone in the United States buys an iPhone, iPad or other Apple product, a portion of the profits from that sale is often deposited into accounts controlled by Braeburn, and then invested in stocks, bonds or other financial instruments, say company executives. Then, when those investments turn a profit, some of it is shielded from tax authorities in California by virtue of Braeburn’s Nevada address.
Since founding Braeburn, Apple has earned more than $2.5 billion in interest and dividend income on its cash reserves and investments around the globe. If Braeburn were located in Cupertino, where Apple’s top executives work, a portion of the domestic income would be taxed at California’s 8.84 percent corporate income tax rate.
But in Nevada there is no state corporate income tax and no capital gains tax. What’s more, Braeburn allows Apple to lower its taxes in other states — including Florida, New Jersey and New Mexico — because many of those jurisdictions use formulas that reduce what is owed when a company’s financial management occurs elsewhere.
California has lost billions of dollars in tax revenue—oh yes and is deep in a budget crisis.
In fairness to Apple it is far from alone in using these tricks of the trade. Almost all technology companies do it. So, here is the thing—if we really care about our public infrastructure and programs we have to start getting tough on these companies. Their success was aided by past public investment–there should be payback. But then again perhaps there is no such thing as society–only the corporation counts.
Paul Krugman, a leading proponent of the deficit spending side, puts it like this:
For the past two years most policy makers in Europe and many politicians and pundits in America have been in thrall to a destructive economic doctrine. According to this doctrine, governments should respond to a severely depressed economy not the way the textbooks say they should — by spending more to offset falling private demand — but with fiscal austerity, slashing spending in an effort to balance their budgets.
Critics warned from the beginning that austerity in the face of depression would only make that depression worse. But the “austerians” insisted that the reverse would happen. Why? Confidence! “Confidence-inspiring policies will foster and not hamper economic recovery,” declared Jean-Claude Trichet, the former president of the European Central Bank — a claim echoed by Republicans in Congress here. . . .
The good news is that many influential people are finally admitting that the confidence fairy was a myth. The bad news is that despite this admission there seems to be little prospect of a near-term course change either in Europe or here in America, where we never fully embraced the doctrine, but have, nonetheless, had de facto austerity in the form of huge spending and employment cuts at the state and local level.
There is no doubt that the European experience has put those supporting austerity on the defensive. As the New York Times explains:
Britain has fallen into its first double-dip recession since the 1970s, according to official figures released Wednesday, a development that raised more questions about whether government belt-tightening in Europe has gone too far. Britain is now in its second recession in three years. . . .
In a packed British Parliament, Prime Minister David Cameron had to defend his austerity drive against critics like Ed Miliband, head of the opposition Labour Party, who called the economic numbers “catastrophic.”
The raucous scene was the latest manifestation of growing popular frustration with the strict fiscal diet that has been prescribed by the European Central Bank and German leaders in response to the euro zone’s sovereign debt crisis. While Britain is not a member of the euro zone, its economic fortunes are closely linked with those of the currency union.
The discontent was on view in French elections last weekend and played a role in the collapse of the Dutch government on Monday. Greece, Spain and Italy have been the scene of mass demonstrations for months, but the turmoil now seems to be spreading to countries that were not seen as being at the heart of the crisis. Britain joined Belgium, the Czech Republic, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain in recession.
Of course, as Krugman notes, that doesn’t mean that the austerity defenders have given up. Here is the solution to the crisis put forward by Mr. Draghi, head of the European Central Bank, as reported by the New York Times:
He urged national leaders to take steps to promote long-term growth even when it is politically difficult. Some leaders have raised taxes or cut infrastructure projects, when instead they should be reducing government operating expenses, Mr. Draghi said.
Tragically, those in Mr. Draghi’s camp continue to blame Europe’s crisis on too much government spending when its roots lie far more in the collapse of speculative bubbles driven by private financial interests and German austerity policies. Of course, this understanding would require taking a critical stance against dominant capitalist interests; far easier to make the working class pay.
However, we should also be careful about assuming that the bankruptcy of the austerity strategy proves the wisdom of relying on deficit spending to solve our economic problems. The fact of the matter is that spending to stimulate growth will not solve our problems. The reason is that existing economic structures operate to generate what the United Nations Development Program has called “savage growth.” Savage growth refers to a growth process that enriches the few at the expense of the many. In other words, a process that is neither desirable nor sustainable. Therefore, unless we change the nature of our economy, deficit spending will just temporarily postpone the start of a new crisis.
Here are two charts from an Economic Policy Institute report that highlight the workings of savage growth in the United States. The first shows a sharp divergence, beginning in the mid-1970s, between productivity and hourly compensation for private-sector production/nonsupervisory workers (a group comprising over 80 percent of payroll employment). In other words, the owners of the means of production have basically stopped sharing gains in output with their workers. This wedge between productivity and compensation helps explain both the growth in inequality and the need for debt to sustain consumption.
The second provides a closer look at post-1973 trends. A key point: median hourly compensation basically stopped growing starting early in the 2000s, even though the economy continued to expand for several more years, and it continues to fall despite the end of the recession.
In sum, if we are serious about improving economic conditions we need to move past the austerity-deficit financing debate and begin pressing for adoption of trade, finance, production, and labor policies that strengthen the position of workers relative to those who own the means of production. Anything short of that just won’t do.
Growing numbers of European countries are running large national budget deficits which their governments are finding increasingly difficult to cover through borrowing. According to the New York Times, “Euro zone governments have to repay more than 1.1 trillion euros, nearly $1.5 trillion, of long- and short-term debt in 2012, with about 519 billion euros, or $695 billion, of Italian, French and German debt maturing in the first half alone.” The Wall Street Journal provides the following national breakdown:
The danger is that some European governments will be unable to secure the funds required to pay their debts. Such defaults would threaten the financial stability of a number of large European banks, which are major holders of government bonds, and eventually the U.S. financial system because of the close ties between many large European and U.S. financial institutions.
At the Brussels meeting, government leaders agreed to raise some $270 billion and give it to the IMF which is supposed to use it provide loans to those governments in need, with its usual austerity conditions attached, of course. The leaders also agreed to speed up the introduction of a new European rescue fund that would do much the same. This determination to impose austerity on European workers stands in sharp contrast to another agreement. According to the New York Times, “The leaders sent an important signal to the bond markets by scrapping a pledge to make private investors absorb losses in any future bailout for a euro nation.”
The leaders rejected what would have been the most useful action—empowering the European Central Bank to directly buy government bonds, much like the Federal Reserve does for the U.S. government.
The leaders did approve two major long term policy initiatives. As the Wall Street Journal explains:
After a marathon session of negotiating that started Thursday and ran until early Friday morning, the leaders emerged with two principal achievements: Euro-zone members who run outsize government deficits will face automatic penalties, and all governments will put balanced-budget procedures of some form in their national laws.
Germany had wanted this limit on government borrowing made part of the EU constitution, thereby giving EU institutions the authority to enforce it. It was unsuccessful in achieving its goal only because of UK opposition; such major changes require unanimous approval on the part of all 27 member countries. As a result, the other 26 leaders have agreed to implement this “fiscal stability compact” by winning approval for it in each of their respective national parliaments.
This fiscal stability compact reflects the continuing belief of European political leaders that the current crisis was caused by runaway government debts and can only be contained through adoption of a balanced budget amendment. This is precisely the argument being made by conservatives in the United States. And it is just as wrong headed in Europe as it is in the United States.
Paul Mason, the economic editor of Newsday put it well, saying:
I can only add at this stage that, by enshrining in national and international law the need for balanced budgets and near-zero structural deficits, the eurozone has outlawed expansionary fiscal policy. . . .
It has done what the US Republicans would like to do – and if you think about it, it has made what Gordon Brown did, and what Barack Obama (and indeed Wen Jia-bao) is doing illegal.
The result, if it works will be stability. It is hard to see how it promotes long-term growth.
Mason is probably overoptimistic that such a policy will even prove able to ensure stability. As for the claim that the current crisis is the result of out-of-control deficits, take a look at the chart below:
As you can see, Spain and Ireland, two of the countries with the biggest debt problems, were actually running strong surpluses before the crisis. On the other hand, Germany was in violation of the Euro zone agreement to keep yearly budget deficits below 3% of GDP from 2001 to 2005. Not surprisingly, once the crisis hit, almost every country was forced into running large deficits. Said differently, in almost all cases, large budget deficits are the result of the crisis not the cause.
In short, pushing austerity will produce a deeper economic downturn, resulting in bigger government deficits and a worsening debt problem. As the economist Kevin O’Rourke explains:
One lesson that the world has learned since the financial crisis of 2008 is that a contractionary fiscal policy means what it says: contraction. Since 2010, a Europe-wide experiment has conclusively falsified the idea that fiscal contractions are expansionary. August 2011 saw the largest monthly decrease in eurozone industrial production since September 2009, German exports fell sharply in October, and now-casting.comis predicting declines in eurozone GDP for late 2011 and early 2012. . . .
What is needed to save the eurozone in the medium term is a central bank mandated to target more than just inflation – for example, unemployment, financial stability, and the survival of the single currency. . . . This will require a minimal fiscal union; a full-scale fiscal union would be better still. Yet none of this was on the summit’s agenda.
Europe’s current approach to its crisis is crazy, and one can only hope that few if any national parliaments will endorse it. I suppose there is some reason to be optimistic. As the Wall Street Journal reports:
One particular complication is the bid to make sanctions automatic. It recycles an idea that the euro zone rejected in October 2010. At that time, the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, proposed that penalties for violating the fiscal rules be automatically imposed; unless the countries voted affirmatively to block them, they’d stand.
The longstanding rules work the other way around. Penalties are imposed only if countries vote for them. That led to the ignominious spectacle, in 2003, of France and Germany each breaking the deficit ceiling and each voting against condemning the other, killing enforcement efforts.
In the meantime, governments in Europe, much like in the United States, continue to defend the very economic structures and patterns of economic activity that led to the current economic mess while demanding that working people pay the costs. What a nightmare.
Good old Ireland—according to the leaders of France and Germany, things would be a lot better in Europe if all the countries were like Ireland. Their reason: the Irish have generally accepted their austerity “medicine” quietly while workers in other countries (like Greece and Spain) have been in the streets protesting.
The problem with being the “good” country is that while austerity helps ensure that the Irish government is able to make payments to the country’s international investors (especially French and German banks), the Irish people are suffering and their economy is close to sinking back into a new recession. Some deal.
Not so long ago Ireland was known as the Celtic Tiger. Ireland’s recent economic rise, which began in the 1990s, was fueled by multinational corporate investment, much of it from US high-tech firms. As Andy Storey explains:
Ireland, accounting for a mere 1% of Europe’s population, managed to attract 25% of all US greenfield investment into the EU in the early 1990s. US investment in Ireland, at $165 billion, is greater than US investment in Brazil, Russia, India and China combined. Multinationals, the majority of them from the US, account for 70% of Irish exports.
The attraction: Ireland’s extremely low tax rates and tariff-free access to the EU.
Unfortunately for Ireland, the 2001 collapse of the US high-tech bubble meant the end of US investment in the country. Ireland was “saved,” however, by a debt-driven housing boom. Sound familiar?
Irish banks were able to borrow cheaply thanks to the country’s 1999 adoption of the Euro. And with manufacturing in a slump, they aggressively and profitably pushed loans to Irish home buyers and builders. Storey highlights the importance of real estate activity to the Irish economy as follows:
Investment in buildings accounted for 5% of output in 1995 but for over 14% in 2008. By 2006/07, the construction industry was contributing 24% to Irish income (compared to the Western European average of 12%), accounting (directly and indirectly) for 19% of employment (including high levels of migrant labor) and for 18% of tax revenues (property transaction taxes have now collapsed as construction activity has nosedived).
Just like in the United States, this housing boom temporarily masked the fact that the country’s industrial base and public infrastructure was decaying, overall job growth was slowing, and household debt was soaring. When the global crisis hit in 2008, triggered by the collapse of the US housing market, it was the end for Irish growth as well. Irish banks lost access to foreign credit at the same time as their own real estate loans went bad. The Irish financial sector was on the ropes and unable to repay its creditors.
So, what did the Irish government do? In September 2008 it announced that it would guarantee all deposits and payments to foreign creditors. Thus, the people of Ireland found themselves taking on all the debts of the Irish financial sector. Not surprisingly, government debt as a share of GDP greatly increased.
The main beneficiaries of this policy were the country’s foreign lenders, including French and German banks. No wonder the French and German governments view Ireland as a good nation and role model for Europe. This history challenges the notion, widely pushed by the leaders of France and Germany, that the region’s crisis was caused by out-of-control government spending.
Of course, with low tax rates and an economy in recession the Irish government was in no position to pay the private debts it had taken over. The answer, supported by European elites, was austerity. The Irish government slashed spending on public sector projects and workers as well as social programs to free up funds. But even that was not enough. The Irish government had to borrow as well, an action that further increased the country’s national debt.
The foreign creditors got paid, all right. But the austerity only made things worse for Ireland. The cuts drove the economy deeper into recession, again driving down revenue, and forcing the government to seek new loans. However, foreign lenders could see the handwriting on the wall and were unwilling to substantially increase their lending to Ireland. Instead of renouncing or renegotiating the debts, the Irish government went to the IMF and EU for help. It was ”rewarded” with a major loan of approximately $90 billion in December 2010, at the cost of yet more austerity involving higher sales taxes and sharply reduced spending on social programs.
And the consequences of this strategy for the Irish people? As the New York Times reports:
“This is still an insolvent economy,” said Constantin Gurdgiev, an economist and lecturer at Trinity College in Dublin. “Just because we’re playing a good-boy role and not making noises like the Greeks doesn’t mean Ireland is healthy.”
Ireland’s GDP fell by 3.5 percent in 2008, another 7 percent in 2009, and a further 0.4 percent in 2010. The economy grew 1.2 percent the first half of this year but even this weak expansion will likely be short-lived. According to the New York Times:
The Economic and Social Research Institute, based in Dublin, recently cut its 2012 growth forecasts for Ireland in half, to under 1 percent. It cited an expected recession in the wider euro zone, in part because the austerity being pressed on much of Europe by Germany and the European Central Bank is seen as worsening the prospects for recovery rather than improving them.
In fact, the Irish government announced in November that it will be forced to raise taxes and cut spending again in 2012. The reason: despite all its efforts the size of the national debt continues to growth. The budget deficit is projected to hit 10 percent of GDP this year, still sizeable even though down from 32 percent of GDP in 2010. The government fears that without drastic action it will be unable to continue paying its debts.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the Irish people are beginning to say “enough is enough.” The New York Times highlights one indicator of the change:
On a recent frosty night in Dublin, David Johnson, 38, an I.T. consultant, stepped outside a makeshift camp set up by the Occupy Dame Street movement in front of the Irish Central Bank. “This is all new to Ireland,” he said, pointing to tarpaulins and protest signs that urged the government to boot out the International Monetary Fund and require bondholders to share Irish banks’ losses that have largely been assumed by taxpayers. “The feeling is that the people who can least afford it are the ones shouldering the burden of this crisis.”
The December 3rd Spectacle of Defiance and Hope in Dublin, captured in the video below from Trade Union TV, is another.
The following charts published in the New York Times highlight some of the trends discussed above.
Ireland’s road to debt and austerity is illustrative of the general situation in Europe. Working people are being squeezed to protect profits and ensure the stability of existing economic relations. Significantly, the leaders of France and Germany have just announced their long term plan for ending Europe’s crisis: adoption of tough new limits on government borrowing. Clearly this is a desperate attempt to head off any meaningful challenge to the existing system. At some point, and one hopes sooner rather than later, working people throughout Europe will see through this game, recognize their common interests, and take up the difficult but necessary job of economic restructuring.