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The Zero Tax Club


It’s an old story.

You have heard all this before.

The same stuff is still going on.

And it has the same bad consequences in 2021 that it had in 2011, 2001, 1991, 1981, 1971, etc. etc. etc.

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Matthew Gardner and Steve Wamhoff of the Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy have published the most recent tabulation of large profitable American companies that paid no taxes in 2020. They not only know what companies paid no taxes last year … but they know what companies paid no taxes for any of the three years that have passed since the Trump Tax Cut.

55 companies paid no federal income tax at all in 2020. 26 companies paid no federal income tax at all for the entire 2018-2020 period. Among the big winners of the pay-no-tax competition for all three years are the chip maker Advanced Micro Devices, agribusiness giant Archer Daniels Midland, Duke Energy, FedEx, the pipeline giant Kinder Morgan, Nike, and All of the companies that paid no tax for the last three years, including the ones listed here, actually were paid money by the federal government. Note that I am not saying they prepaid taxes and got a tax refund to get some of their tax payments back. I am saying that the Internal Revenue Service paid them more than all of their withholdings and all of their pre-payments. This allowed them to make an objective profit on filing their taxes.

Why should anyone care?

Two reasons.

I. The taxes that don’t get paid by megacorporations get paid by you.

Actually, the previous statement is only partially true. If you are too poor to pay income tax, then you are off the hook. (You still have a bunch of other problems because you don’t have very much money). The people who pay the taxes that the Fortune 500 don’t pay are small businesses, and rich and middle class individuals. Small business, rich individuals and middle class individuals have to pay vastly more because the large companies are not paying their fair share.

II. The absence of tax revenues limits what the government can do.

Want to fix America’s rotting roads and bridges?

People ask where are we going to get the money.

Want to subsidize higher education so students don’t have to pay a ton of tuition and graduate with crushing debt loads?

People ask where are we going to get the money.

Want to provide better mental health services so distressed people don’t run amok firing automatic weapons into shopping centers and schools?

People ask where are we going to get the money.

Do you see a pattern here?

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Having corporations pay their share solves two problems.

It gives American the money it needs to solve some of the critical social and economic problems it faces. Not to mention foreign policy problems and ecological problems.

Secondly, it takes the financial heat off the American middle class and American small business. They are the good folks who have been paying America’s bills for a long time – without a lot of help from those corporations that are in an excellent position to chip in. If America’s middle class and small business owners hate taxation and resent the federal government – there is a good reason for this. They are paying for all the federal goods and services enjoyed by monopoly capital and by the poor. Paying 100% and only getting 30% back is never a good deal.

A huge amount of the tension between liberals and conservatives in this country, between red states and blue states comes from the resentment of middle class people and small business for being continually stuck with picking up America’s check.

Tax equity is not only about paying for vital economic and social needs. It is about eliminating some of the very real grievances that are dividing half of our nation from the other half. Imagine a generous tax cut for the middle class and small business that was paid for by large monopoly corporations picking up their fair share of America’s expenses.

Just the improvement in national unity alone would make tax reform worth it.

For More Information

The Garner and Wamhoff report can be found on the Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy website:

For a more extended discussion of tax equity issues, see my own All Societies Die: How To Keep Hope Alive (Cornell, 2021) – especially Chapters 29 and 30.

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