Those wondering how many zeros Amazon, which is valued at nearly $800 billion, has to pay in federal taxes might be surprised to learn that its check to the IRS will read exactly $0.00.
According to a report published by the Institute on Taxation and Economic (ITEP) policy Wednesday, the e-tail/retail/tech/entertainment/everything giant won’t have to pay a cent in federal taxes for the second year in a row.
This tax-free break comes even though Amazon almost doubled its U.S. profits from $5.6 billion to $11.2 billion between 2017 and 2018.
To top it off, Amazon actually reported a $129 million 2018 federal income tax rebate—making its tax rate -1%.
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ITEP notes that its non-existent federal tax payment is a result of the Trump Administration’s corporation-friendly tax cuts. The think tank writes that the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act not only decreased corporate tax rates from 35% to 21%, but it also didn’t close “a slew of tax loopholes that allow profitable companies to routinely avoid paying federal and state income taxes on almost half of their profits.”
Link to the rest at Fortune
PG apologizes for the annoying auto-play video with an accompanying audio track in the OP.
PG also notes that Amazon doesn’t write the federal or state tax codes and PG hasn’t seen any reports that Amazon has violated any of those laws.
As far as tax “loopholes” are concerned, one person’s loophole is another person’s reasonable provision for calculating a fair tax rate.
One of the most commonly-used deductions for individual taxpayers is the mortgage interest deduction. If an individual or couple purchased a home and borrowed money to help fund that purpose, the interest they pay on that loan is deductible from their gross income.
The rationale for this loophole is a belief by the elected representatives of the people that a great many benefits arise when citizens are able to purchase and own their homes. Community stability and the encouragement of civic virtues due to lower rates of transience within a community, encouragement for couples to have children, the benefits to those children (and future taxpayers) that arise from being able to grow up in a single home and attend neighborhood schools as compared to moving to a new location every one-two years due to rent increases on a rented residence, etc., etc., etc.
While there are counter-arguments, PG suggests the home mortgage deduction is highly-valued by a large majority of the adult population of the United States.
When dinosaurs walked the earth, PG took a couple of income tax law classes in law school and several of his classmates earned their Masters of Law in Taxation after completing regular law school.
The complexity and weirdness of the US tax laws cannot be overstated. There are tax attorneys in the United States who earn a good living for their entire careers by specializing in the application and avoidance of taxes imposed under a couple of provisions in the tax law that most people have never heard of and would have difficulty in understanding without extensive prior tutoring in the nearly impenetrable language and concepts and conflicting interpretations of such underlying those laws.
Each of the 50 states have their own individual tax laws and the potential number of unintended interactions between state and federal tax laws probably cannot be calculated.
Speaking only of the US tax laws, there are disagreements about how long they are. In 2015, the Tax Foundation said the Federal Tax Laws and Regulations total more than ten million words.
This figure includes the federal internal revenue code (2,412,000 words long) and federal tax regulations (7,655,000 words long). It does not include the substantial body of tax-related case law that is often vital to understanding the tax code.
The length of the federal tax code and regulations has grown steadily over the past sixty years. In 1955, the two documents were 1.4 million words in length. Since then, they have grown at a pace of about 144,500 words a year. Today, the federal tax code is roughly six times as long as it was in 1955, while federal tax regulations are about 2.5 times as long.
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Americans spend 6.1 billion hours and $233.8 billon complying with the tax code. Due to increasing tax complexity, over 90 percent of taxpayers now hire professional tax preparers or use tax preparation software.
Why is the federal tax code so complex? In part, it’s because politicians have used the tax code to administer dozens of areas of federal policy – from healthcare to energy to education. In part, it’s because defining income and determining tax liability are inherently difficult tasks. And, in part, it’s because politicians have not made any serious effort to simplify the federal tax code for at least thirty years, instead adding on new provisions on top of one another.
The federal tax laws are so lengthy that there are disputes about how long it actually is. Again, from The Tax Foundation in 2014:
Andrew Grossman, the legislation counsel for the Joint Committee on Taxation that helps write tax laws, attacked us in Slate yesterday for saying that the tax code runs 70,000 pages, countering that it’s “only” 2,600 pages.
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There’s the literal statutes that Congress has passed (Title 26 of the U.S. Code). The Government Printing Office sells it spread over two volumes, and according to them, book oneis 1,404 pages and book two is 1,248 pages, for a total of 2,652 pages. At perhaps 450 words per page, that puts the tax code at well over 1 million words. (By way of comparison, the King James Bible has 788,280 words; War and Peace runs 560,000 words; and the Harry Potter series is just over 1 million words.)
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However, a tax practitioner who relies just on the tax statutes will go to jail, because so much of federal tax law is in IRS regulations, revenue rulings, and other clarifications. Congress will set down a policy and leave it to the IRS to write all the rules to implement it. These regulations aren’t short: the National Taxpayer Advocate did a Microsoft Word word count of the tax statutes and IRS regulations in 2012, and came up with roughly 4 million words. Again at roughly 450 words per page, that comes out to around 9,000 pages. The National Taxpayer Advocate also noted that the tax code changed 4,680 times from 2001 to 2012, an average of once per day.
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But, a lawyer who relies just on cases and regulations isn’t a very good lawyer, because most court decisions are made on the basis of previously decided cases. The respected legal publisher Commerce Clearing House (CCH) puts out such a compilation, the Standard Federal Tax Reporterof 70,000 pages, with notations after each statute containing relevant cases and other information. CCH itself considers this volume to be representative of “the tax code,” since an expert needs to know all 70,000 pages to understand the tax code in full.
So, has Amazon paid its “fair share” of income taxes? PG is highly confident that Amazon has used well-qualified tax experts to prepare its tax returns and calculate its tax liabilities.
For a long time, Amazon had no taxable profits at all. Indeed, it had losses. One of the concepts contained in various parts of the federal income tax laws is a “tax loss carry-forward”. Investopedia describes this as follows:
A tax loss carryforward is a provision that allows a taxpayer to carry over a tax loss to future years to offset a profit. The tax loss carryforward can be claimed by an individual or a business in order to reduce any future tax payments.
Amazon operated at a loss for the first several years of its existence and very thin profits for a lengthy period of time thereafter. To the best of PG’s knowledge, Amazon received no material payments from the US government to help it survive during those years.
Absent the benefits of loss carryforwards during the first years of lean profits, it’s possible that Jeff Bezos would have given up on the possibility that Amazon was ever going to be worth the very hard work he was putting into the company and closed it down so he could spend time working in another more financially-rewarding business.
Amazon currently reports it has 613,300 employees. PG suspects Amazon pays far better wages than McDonald’s does and each of those employees pays individual federal income taxes. From the standpoint of federal government tax revenues, is it a good thing for a company to employ over half a million people who each pay taxes? Would the country be better off if Amazon paid some corporate income taxes, but only employed 50,000 people?
PG will also note that, for its US employees, the company pays a huge amount of money into Social Security and Medicare as its employer’s share of those taxes, which are based upon the wages of its employees.