As usual, the left is wondering whether corporations pay their “fair share.” This time, it seems they may have a point. As Time magazine reported yesterday, a recent Wall Street Journal study of Congressional Budget Office statistics showed that American corporations paid an effective tax rate of 12.1% last year. That’s the lowest number in four decades, despite a nominal tax rate that runs 35%, second only to Japan’s 39.5%; if you include state corporate taxes, America is now number one in the world.

So why the low effective tax rate? According to both the Journal and Time, it’s due to a corporate tax break set into the stimulus package, which allowed corporations to use an accounting trick: they could take write-offs on capital investments all at once rather than over time. Typically, you take a tax write-off as the value of a good depreciates – if you buy a computer, it loses value over time, and you write that in your tax returns. Under the stimulus package, you were allowed to basically write off the whole purchase. The result was huge write-offs for corporations.

Now, normally, this wouldn’t be a bad thing.

We’d expect corporations to take that money and dump it back into the economy by hiring and producing new products. But that hasn’t happened – largely because this is a tax break rather than a permanent tax situation. In other words, at some point, we’re going to go back to the old system, taxes are going to hike, and the corporations are saving up for a rainy day.

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