Just send the tax bill to my personal Irish subsidiary
Tax inversion works well for corporations, but what if an individual were to try it?
The drug giant Pfizer has announced that it would merge with Allergan, a company in the same business that operates in New Jersey but made Ireland its home through an earlier inversion merger. And last month, Johnson Controls, an industrial and auto parts supplier, agreed to combine with Tyco. Johnson Controls’ headquarters will move to Cork, saving about $150 million a year.
I want to lower my taxes. It’s one of my dreams, along with becoming taller. And younger. And much, much richer.
I can’t do anything about most of that list. I do know one way to pay less to Uncle Sam, but the only surefire method I have ever come up with is to make less money. I’ve been there. Didn’t like it. So I’ve decided to try something more sophisticated. I’ll invert myself.
I won’t actually stand on my head. That would only cause me to lose money, because the change would fall out of my pockets. I’d like to borrow a nifty trick from the business world, where it is called a corporate tax inversion. It works like this: Using merger magic, American companies move their headquarters to a country with lower rates. They escape the high US corporate tax rate, and also our taxation of a company’s worldwide income. (Many other countries tax just profits within their borders.)
The beauty is that a corporation doesn’t actually have to move much of anything, except its supposed tax headquarters: Top executives can stay stateside. That appeals to the homebody in me. I could stay where I am and pay much less. What’s not to like?
Consider that last fall, the drug giant Pfizer announced that it would merge with Allergan, a company in the same business that operates in New Jersey but made Ireland its home through an earlier inversion merger. And last month, Johnson Controls, an industrial and auto parts supplier, agreed to combine with Tyco. Johnson Controls’ headquarters will move to Cork, saving about $150 million a year. Tyco, by the way, used to be an American company, too, before it inverted itself to Bermuda, and then Switzerland, and then Ireland.
Inversion sounds like huge fun! This part appeals to my wanderlust. I can travel the world – or, at least, my letterhead can – and save tons of money besides.
The treasury department has tried to make inversions harder to pull off, but without much effect. Some of the candidates for president have called for restricting inversions. Hillary Clinton called the practice a “perversion.” That, frankly, makes it sound like even more fun. Must be my New York values.
But while corporations are getting away with these moves, the IRS is discriminating against the little guy. Real human beings don’t stand a chance. The agency has even cracked down on hiding money offshore.
The corporations are getting the better part of this whole being-a-person deal. The Supreme Court has already ruled that corporations have free speech rights that allow them to spend like drunken hedge fund managers on elections, and they can successfully challenge laws that they say violate their religious views.
Chodorow has expertise in many areas of tax law, with respected scholarship in his field. He also wrote a law review article, “Death and Taxes and Zombies,” which examined how estate and income tax laws might apply to the undead. This, my friends, is the kind of out-of-the-box thinking I was seeking.
“I need you to help me invert myself,” I said, by way of hello. “You want,” he responded warily, “to ... invert yourself?” and waited for a fuller explanation. I realized that might not have come out right.
“You understand that I’m not saying something dirty?” “Yes,” he responded. “It took me a second.” He suggested I would be going to a lot of trouble, since I had a way to stop paying US taxes already. “It’s simple,” he said. “You just renounce your US citizenship.”
Well, my friends, that rubbed me the wrong way. I love America! But, as is the case with so many of my freedom-loving countrymen, that doesn’t mean I want to pay taxes. Besides, as Chodorow explained, to enjoy the tax advantages of giving up my national birthright, I’d have to leave the United States for good, which did not seem fair. Why should I have to leave if corporations like Tyco, Pfizer and Allergan can stick around but call themselves Irish? Allergan stayed in New Jersey, so why can’t I?
Chodorow summed it up for me. “The idea of citizenship for a corporation makes no sense,” he said. Definitions of corporate citizenship vary from country to country: “You can create companies we think are Irish, the Irish think are American, and therefore are subject to taxation nowhere.”
This is the kind of mystifying existential limbo that would suit me fine. In fact, it reminds me of high school. Chodorow went down a list of possible ways I could act like a corporation – clearly, I’d have to merge with someone in, say, Ireland. That’s not so easy, either, however.
Marriage might look like a merger, but marrying someone in Ireland does not make you a citizen of Ireland, he noted. Congress would have to pass a law saying that marrying someone in Ireland would make you a “stateless citizen.”
This sounded pretty unlikely. Congress isn’t passing a lot of laws in this election year. And there’s also the problem that I am already happily married. I mentioned this to him, and he acknowledged, “That would be bad for the marriage.” I think it would also be bad for my health. My wife would not approve of bigamy. And she’s got good aim.
What about getting adopted by someone in Ireland? Isn’t that closer to what an inversion looks like? But Chodorow was unenthusiastic about that, too. He said I’d really need to “create a brand-new entity and become a subsidiary of it.” That’s not the same as being adopted, he told me.
“Technically,” he concluded, “they have to buy you. And that doesn’t really translate well into individuals.”
The whole idea of selling myself is a no-no because of the 13th Amendment to the constitution, he said. That’s the one that outlawed slavery. We just couldn’t figure out how to get somebody in Ireland to purchase me legally – especially if, as in corporate inversions, I provided the money for the sale.
Finally, he mentioned, companies that use inversions to move overseas still have to pay taxes to the IRS on income earned in the United States. That’s no problem for them. The rules allow them to sell lots of goods and services in the United States, yet claim they have relatively little income here. But not me. I get a paycheck from a company based in New York. That’s the only kind of income I have.
I’m a little discouraged. Inverting myself for tax purposes isn’t going to be possible or profitable right now. There seems to be no legal way to sell myself to the highest bidder. Someday, I’ll have to ask the politicians how they do it.
– New York Times Service