Corporate tax policy says more about power than anything else. Corporations seek to minimise the tax they pay – and, while governments ordinarily try to maximise their revenues, in the case of transnational corporations (TNCs) they also understand that they have to tread carefully. Governments have come to accept that they hold fewer and fewer cards as capital has become more mobile.
They’ve worked on their electorates in order to drive this message home. During the early period of the 2010-2015 coalition, George Osborne and David Cameron set out their own views by stating that they needed to ensure: “that the way the tax system operates for UK headquartered multinationals does not inhibit commercial business practices or make them unattractive to international investment.”
Trade and competition rules mean that some of the traditional methods of protecting businesses – the imposition of tariffs and the allocation of business subsidies – have been challenged. In such an environment, governments have looked for new inducements to maintain existing, or capture new, business investment and corporate taxation has offered new opportunities in this regard.
The key developments in national tax policies begin to make a lot of sense against this background, especially when we factor into the mix higher public debt levels and large national deficits. Governments have seldom been as desperate to capture the revenues owed to them and close the various tax avoidance schemes that prevail. International interest in corporation tax peaked in the aftermath of the post-2008 economic crisis. And the manner in which the UK Parliament’s Public Account’s Committee, chastised some of the largest and most successful companies for tax avoidance caught many, including the companies involved, by surprise. Parliament wasn’t supposed to talk to major corporations in this way.