GE and the Broken American Tax Code

The second largest company in the world – multinational, profitable GE – will not pay any U.S. taxes for 2010.
“[GE] reported worldwide profits of $14.2 billion, and said $5.1 billion of the total came from its operations in the United States.” (New York Times)
Of course, this is insane. Americans pay taxes to pay for essential and universal government services like national defense and infrastructure. Even corporations have a responsibility to compensate the government for the services they receive.
“Americans, I’m sure, who read that story and heard about it, are wondering how this could be,” [White House spokesperson] Jay Carney said. “And one of the reasons why it could be … is part of the problem of the corporate tax structure.”  (Politico)
Boy, I’ll say. I don’t even blame GE or Jeffrey Immelt, in particular; I suppose they’d be irresponsible in their duty to their shareholders* not to maximize opportunities for profit. 

Our tax code is apparently so riddled with problems that families barely above the poverty line pay taxes while legal and accounting wizards have a field day with the loopholes.

I don’t want to make this a political discussion – but no wonder Americans are angry. We’re unemployed, we’re poor and yet we see many examples of extravagance, wealth and greed in our day to day lives.

The real problem is not the fact of our anger. We have a right to be angry.

The problem is that we don’t know who to be angry with. We don’t know who’s keeping us poor and unemployed and creating change we don’t want. So we’re angry at the “other” – Muslims, immigrants, China – when we should be angry at ourselves. Angry at ourselves for failing to force our elected officials to focus on our country’s real problems: The growing and insane wage gap, lack of access to health care, inequitable taxes and misjudged priorities throughout the legislative, executive and judicial branches.

We are failing. Failing to fulfill the American dream within ourselves and failing to provide for the tired, the poor, the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free”.  We aren’t talking about these failures, though. We’re talking about illegal immigrants taking our jobs, gay people ruining our marriages, greedy teachers, city people taking our guns, country people taking our farm subsidies.

We are distracted from our failures by our racism, our sexism, our xenophobia, our homophobia, our obsession with celebrity and status and our need to distance ourselves from the natural world and our effects on it.

As Americans, our foundational values are fairness and the unfettered, unrestricted pursuit of happiness. That pursuit is the magic part. When we’re pursuing happiness for ourselves and our communities, we’re creating a better world through innovation, creation and belief. All certainly best accomplished with a minimum of government interference.

But our government is interfering with my pursuit of happiness by taxing me and not the richest among us – that includes GE, no matter how many jobs they may create. I don’t mind paying my taxes. I mind that not everyone is paying their fair share.

I want our elected officials to fix this recession not only by reducing spending but by reforming the tax code. Forget what you know, Congresspeople, and start from scratch. Do it new and do it better.

*I own some GE stock – not a lot – but I’m thinking of selling. Or of donating an extra pot of money to charity this year. What do you think I should do?


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