Are Taxes on Corporations Taxes on People?
Last week, Mitt Romney, in a rare moment of passion, said that “corporations are people.” Of course, they’re not. But if you watch the 20-second YouTube, you’ll see from context that he wasn’t really saying that. He was really saying that taxes on corporations are taxes on people. He says, “Everything corporations earn ultimately goes to people.” Then someone guffaws loudly and Romney asks him, “Where do you think it goes?” The guffawer or others in the audience answer, “In their pockets.” Romney has him. “Whose pockets?”, he asks. In other words, he’s saying that in the phrase, “their pockets,” “their” must be referring to people. That’s why Romney then emphasizes “human beings.”
Romney is absolutely right. And this means that taxes on corporations are taxes on people. I’m not getting at the subtle point–and I don’t think Romney was either–that if capital is highly mobile internationally, a national government can’t make capital bear much of the burden of taxes and so the incidence is on laborers and consumers.
No, I’m making the simple point that a tax on corporations is a tax on people. I remember that in addressing the issue in the 1980s, the late Herb Stein said that it’s as if people think that if the government imposed a tax on cows, the tax would be paid by the cows.
Romney’s passion and clarity on this are admirable. And until now, I’ve found little to admire in Romney. Now, the next step for him–which a patient in a wheel chair tried to help him see but he couldn’t see–is to see that just as taxes on corporations are taxes on people, the war on drugs is not really a war on drugs: it’s a war on people.