April 29, 2012
The Difficulty of Taxing Digital Products: Case Study Apple
The New York Times examines Apple's tax avoidance practices. There's no suggestion that there is anything illegal in these activities.
Apple serves as a window on how technology giants have taken advantage of tax codes written for an industrial age and ill suited to today’s digital economy. Some profits at companies like Apple, Google, Amazon, Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft derive not from physical goods but from royalties on intellectual property, like the patents on software that makes devices work. Other times, the products themselves are digital, like downloaded songs. It is much easier for businesses with royalties and digital products to move profits to low-tax countries than it is, say, for grocery stores or automakers. A downloaded application, unlike a car, can be sold from anywhere.
... Apple was a pioneer of an accounting technique known as the “Double Irish With a Dutch Sandwich,” which reduces taxes by routing profits through Irish subsidiaries and the Netherlands and then to the Caribbean. Today, that tactic is used by hundreds of other corporations — some of which directly imitated Apple’s methods, say accountants at those companies.
...For instance, one of Apple’s subsidiaries in Luxembourg, named iTunes S.à r.l., has just a few dozen employees, according to corporate documents filed in that nation and a current executive. The only indication of the subsidiary’s presence outside is a letterbox with a lopsided slip of paper reading “ITUNES SARL.”
...Luxembourg has just half a million residents. But when customers across Europe, Africa or the Middle East — and potentially elsewhere — download a song, television show or app, the sale is recorded in this small country, according to current and former executives. In 2011, iTunes S.à r.l.’s revenue exceeded $1 billion, according to an Apple executive, representing roughly 20 percent of iTunes’s worldwide sales.
tax experts say that strategies like the Double Irish help explain how Apple has managed to keep its international taxes to 3.2 percent of foreign profits last year, to 2.2 percent in 2010, and in the single digits for the last half-decade, according to the company’s corporate filings.
... Apple reported in its last annual disclosures that $24 billion — or 70 percent — of its total $34.2 billion in pretax profits were earned abroad, and 30 percent were earned in the United States
Important reporting by Charles Duhigg and David Kocieniewski, which will hopefully spark a conversation about these practices.
April 24, 2012
BBC Reports on Diaspora Bonds
He intervies the World Bank economist Dilip Ratha, who has done tremendous work advancing the concept.
April 17, 2012
K'Naan and Nelly Furtado Collaborate
April 05, 2012
Why Third Party Audits Are Necessary
Nick Kristoo of the New York Times reports on a new study:
It turns out that arsenic has routinely been fed to poultry (and sometimes hogs) because it reduces infections and makes flesh an appetizing shade of pink. There’s no evidence that such low levels of arsenic harm either chickens or the people eating them, but still...
Big Ag doesn’t advertise the chemicals it stuffs into animals, so the scientists conducting these studies figured out a clever way to detect them. Bird feathers, like human fingernails, accumulate chemicals and drugs that an animal is exposed to. So scientists from Johns Hopkins University and Arizona State University examined feather meal — a poultry byproduct made of feathers.
Consumers had little opportunity to learn that arsenic was used in the chicken we eat, and thus third party auditing proves useful once again.
April 03, 2012
Fairer Airport Screening
Senator Ben Nelson strikes a blow for passenger equity--a surprising and especially praiseworthy move because one would have expected that Senators might be the likely beneficiaries of the inequity that current prevails. The LA Times reports:
Bothered by select air travelers who get to move faster through airport security checkpoints?
Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) is.
He has introduced legislation that would bar airlines and airports from giving passengers, often first class and elite frequent fliers, preferential treatment on security lines.
“This bill is about fairness,’’ Nelson said. "Regardless of whether you have a first-class ticket or have reached a certain frequent flier status, the purpose of the airport security screening line is to ensure traveler safety. Allowing a select few to cut in front of those who are waiting patiently, just in order to provide a perk, has nothing to do with safety.’’
All passengers pay the same fee in their airline tickets to cover the cost of the TSA screenings regardless of ticket class, according to a news release from Nelson announcing the legislation.
It's fine for airlines to discriminate in favor of certain groups of passengers who pay more, but it is not fine for the government's Transportation Security Administration to favor wealthy passengers with shorter lines, especially when the wealthy passenger is paying the screening fee as the economy-class passenger.