Monday, May 27, 2013


That's $1.73 Trillion with a "T".

That is the amount of profits that American companies have accumulated from their offshore operations and tax havens, that they are unwilling to repatriate to the US, because they don't want to pay the corporate income taxes on it.

This is not a post about tax policy.

This is a post about the wealth of the country, who creates it, who owns it and who decides where it will be invested to create more wealth.

That $1.73T is not sitting in piles in some foreign storage shed.  American corporations are not stupid; they have given that money to banking entities to hold.  According to the accounting, it is still owned by Corporation X, but it is part of the capital holdings of a financial institution, and it is being re-invested in any operation that the financial institution sees as profitable in the short-term.  Financial institutions these days prefer to invest in financial instruments of every sort, more than investing in productive capacity of any sort.

Therein lies the central problem of the age.  The surplus wealth of the country, the money that should be being invested to grow the economy and create more wealth, is now being controlled by financial institutions, and is being invested in short-term financial speculative transactions.

None of that was inevitable.  If the money had been effectively taxed, that wealth could have been invested in infrastructure in the United States, creating more permanent improvements that would have made the US economy more efficient and productive. Better bridges rather than financial paper.  If there had been more effective banking regulation, that wealth could have been directed toward private productive investments by  companies that made things.  Factories rather than financial paper.  It could have been invested in the public health system of the US, resulting in longterm health care savings, and a healthier population.  In fact, if you simply divided up the $1.73T among every man, woman and child in the USA to spend on whatever they wanted, including cigarettes and beer, it would have lifted the US economy out of its recession long ago.

What is the core problem that holds back the world's economy?  Believe or not, it is not poverty, over-population, or even climate change.  It is that the wealth of the world, the wealth created by human beings all over the world, is controlled by the owners of the financial institutions.  It is controlled by finance capital, and it invested and deployed by them for their short term economic advantage.  This is not a conspiracy.  This is the way the world works.  They are proud of their work, because by the only standard that they use to measure, it is working very well.  After all, they put money here or there and they get back more at the end of the day.  They have a mystical and religious faith that somehow profits at their level translate into a better life for the many.

The priests of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem gathered the animals, grain, and oil brought by the people to the Temple as a sacrifice to God.  The priests ate well, and they sold the surplus in the market for the benefit of the Temple.  They believed that by buying and selling at their level, they were somehow gaining God's favor and that the lives of the people would be protected and improved.

What is going on now is no less strange.


JAVS said...

Wow! I had not considered our current financial dysfunction from this point of view. The system of short-term, short-sighted money manipulation makes tragic sense, but it is not sustainable. So we'll either have another financial meltdown or, eventually, a revolution and social collapse. Sigh...

Tim Bartik said...

I'd be curious what $1.73 trillion you're referring to.

The recent news stories I see by Bloomberg refer to U.S. companies having $1.73 trillion in cash that they are not investing, not simply cash overseas.

I'm not sure this fits simply into a political view of the left or the right. Part of the issue is that for a variety of reasons, including the sequester, there may be some companies that perceive U.S. demand as inadequate. Other issues include high nominal U.S. corporate tax rates coupled with low effective rates.