Stiglitz: pay up rich people
January 18, 2017 1 Comment
Enjoyed this piece from Joseph Stiglitz at CNN.com
At session after session at Davos, executives have been grappling with the question: Is there anything that the world’s corporations can do about this scourge that threatens the political, social, and economic sustainability of our democratic market economies? The answer is yes.
It begins with a simple idea: pay your taxes. This is the first element of corporate responsibility. Don’t resort to shifting taxes to lower tax jurisdictions. Apple may feel that it has been unfairly singled out on this score; it only did a slightly better job at tax avoidance than others.Don’t make use of the secrecy and tax havens, onshore or offshore, whether it’s Panama or the Cayman Islands in the Western hemisphere or Ireland or Luxembourg in Europe. Don’t encourage the countries in which you operate to engage in tax competition, a vicious race to the bottom where the real losers are the poor people and ordinary citizens around the world.It’s shameful when the president-elect of a country appears to boast that he hasn’t paid certain taxes for nearly two decades — suggesting that smart people don’t — or when a company pays .005% of its profits in taxes, as Apple did. It’s not smart: it’s immoral…A second idea is equally simple: Treat your workers decently. A full-time worker shouldn’t be living in poverty. In Scotland, 31% of households where one adult works full time are still in poverty.Top executives in large US corporations now take home around 300 times what the same corporation’s median worker receives. That’s far more than in other countries or at other times — and the disparity can’t be explained simply by productivity differentials. In many cases, corporate CEOs take home so much simply because they can — doing so at the expense not only of their workers but of the long-term growth of the company. Henry Ford understood the idea about good pay, but his wisdom seems to have been lost on some of today’s corporate executives.A third idea is equally simple but seems increasingly radical: Invest in the future of the company, in your employees, in your technology and in capital. Without such investment, there won’t be jobs in the future and inequality will only grow. Yet today, rather than investing profits back into the company, an ever-greater proportion is siphoned off to shareholders. In the UK, for example, 10% of profits were returned to shareholders in 1970; this figure is now 70%…Around the world, there are many corporations, led by enlightened leaders, who have long understood these maxims. They have understood that it is in their enlightened self-interest for there to be shared prosperity.Rather than lobbying for policies that increase rent seeking — with their corporate gains coming at the expense of others — they have realized that the only sustainable prosperity is shared prosperity, and that in those countries afflicted with ever growing inequality, the rules will have to be rewritten to encourage long-term investment, faster growth and shared prosperity.