The Congressional Response to Corporate Expatriations: The Tension between Symbols and Substance in the Taxation of Multinational Corporations
96 Pages Posted: 12 Jan 2005
During the past few years, several high-profile U.S.-based multinational corporations have changed their tax residence from the United States to Bermuda or some other tax haven. They have accomplished these expatriations, and the resulting millions of dollars of annual tax savings, merely by changing the place of incorporation of their corporate parent, without the need to make any substantive changes to their business operations or their U.S.-based management structure. Congress and the media have focused significant attention on this phenomenon. Despite this attention, Congress initially enacted only a non-tax provision targeting corporate expatriations - a purported ban on expatriated companies entering into contracts with the Department of Homeland Security. This Article addresses this alternative sanction, concluding that it is prototypical symbolic legislation, with no instrumental effect. The Article also discusses the extent to which the initial Congressional debate over expatriations may have had indirect instrumental effects by furthering the informal enforcement of social norms. Ultimately, after almost three years of debate, Congress enacted a tax provision intended to deny the desired tax benefits to expatriating corporations.
The Article also addresses the substantive tax policy implications of this response, concluding that it illustrates the tenuous normative underpinnings of the place-of-incorporation rule for determining corporate residence and the need for Congress to reconsider what makes a corporation American in an increasingly globalized world.
Keywords: Tax, international tax, inversions, expatriation, symbolic legislation, social norms, multinational corporations
JEL Classification: K34, K33, K22
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation