- Pass a constitutional amendment that bans subsidies to any for-profit corporation.
- Repeal the corporate income tax. It gets passed on to consumers anyway, so it’s just a way of pretending we’re making corporations pay their fair share, rather than substantively doing so. And it would reduce accounting costs and diminish the incentive to engage in rent-seeking in looking for special exemptions to it.
Here are my reservations about a constitutional amendment to ban subsidies to for-profit corporations:
- I'm unsure about the effect of an actual amendment. What would the amendment look like? How would it define "for profit" corporation, as opposed to some other entity?
- What would count as a subsidy? Would it be a simple transfer of money to a corporation? Would it be a tariff designed to protect a certain industry?
- Such an amendment would seem to run counter to the original mechanism used to create corporations. Now, it is probably open for debate whether corporations themselves are creatures of the state--it is possible that there is an organizing tendency among people to participate in joint enterprises and that such enterprises tend to act as a "body" in a way we might vaguely call "corporate"--but in practice, what we call corporations are indeed entities created by the state, either as a tool for people in business to use or, in their older form, as a special organization granted certain special rights to achieve a desired public end (I'm thinking of corporations created in the early 1800s to promote internal improvements). These types of corporations, and the privileges they enjoy, have had a long and evolving history. (Limited liability for shareholders was not necessarily an attribute of the corporation as it was originally conceived, for example.) Either way, it seems unclear to me how the creation of a corporation is not in some way a "subsidy" of those who choose to incorporate. How would an amendment take this into account?
- Would such an amendment apply only to state governments, or only to the federal government? If the restriction would be only on the federal government, would that prevent the federal government from issuing incentives to encourage overseas corporations to open up shop in the U.S.? (If so, maybe preventing such incentives is not a bad thing in itself, and therefore it might be a good thing altogether to have such a restriction.) If the restriction apply to the states, I imagine it would make illegal the disgusting spectacle we see in Illinois, wherein the governor and the legislature are falling over themselves to give various tax breaks to companies that threaten to leave the state. But I imagine that such a restriction would reduce the flexibility of state governments to act in such matters. Again, maybe that's not a bad thing, or at least not necessarily, but I wonder what the practical effects would be.