Books Financial Politics

Tax Time, General Electric, and Me

So, it’s tax time again, and I’m getting ready to add up what I paid in taxes and then evaluate the return on my investment in my country. I always get excited about doing that. I know it’s not all about me—I’m a Democrat by nature—but I like to list the pros and cons on paper to make sure I don’t want to move to Monte Carlo, where you pay no taxes and your country doesn’t enter into wars that bog down good humor and take the lives of your countrymen and reduce your stature abroad. But that’s another blog.

So, there I was, getting ready to do my annual review of my investment in the US, when I found myself reading about the fabulous General Electric Corporation, which we all know brings good things to life. (Great slogan, don’t you think?) So GE made a profit of 14.1 billion dollars. Good job, GE. Well done. Then I read the next line. GE paid no taxes. Huh? I read on, and come to find that $5.1 billion of their profits came from US operations—and they had a tax bill of $0.

Listen, I would like to state for the record that after all my expenses, and a total income substantially less than GE’s, I paid almost 50% of my GROSS revenue to the United States. And, judging from what I read, GE had a lot more to say about how my money was spent than I did. After all, the CEO of GE is Obama’s representative to the business community. Yep, he advises the business community on our government. Please tell me he is not advising them on how not to pay any taxes? That would just be the final straw.

I have Republican friends who read my blog, and whenever I write something like this they bombard me with how I’m really a Republican but just don’t know it. Well, I’m really just someone who would like to take five minutes of the precious time of GE’s accountants to ask a few pointed questions about what I’m doing wrong. Here is what the New York Times wrote about their tax department:

Its extraordinary success is based on an aggressive strategy that mixes fierce lobbying for tax breaks and innovative accounting that enables it to concentrate its profits offshore. G.E.’s giant tax department, led by a bow-tied former Treasury official named John Samuels, is often referred to as the world’s best tax law firm. Indeed, the company’s slogan “Imagination at Work” fits this department well. The team includes former officials not just from the Treasury, but also from the I.R.S. and virtually all the tax-writing committees in Congress.

I don’t wish to become one of those bitter Americans who feels that the government is out to get them, or worse, that the government is corrupt beyond repair. I don’t wish to believe that GE has connections because they hire former IRS agents to work in their tax department. For Lent this year I decided to give up saying mean things about anyone, so I am crimped a bit in what I can write here, but I will say that GE needs to start re-evaluating its investment participation in our country. Otherwise I will stop buying their light bulbs, and then where will they be?

As I write this, I’m doing research to find a tax firm made up of former IRS agents. Why didn’t I think of that a long time ago?