Phantom FDI - Companies Aren't Investing, They're Hiding Money


Economists Brad Setser, John Hussman, and Paul Krugman discuss tax avoidance disguised as corporate investments.

Phantom FDI

Profit Shifting

Low Tax Countries

Mind You, This Takes a Hell of a Lot of Work

But Stunning Results


Mish Asks Where's Da Money?

Hussman Reply


It would be a hell of a lot simpler to slash the US corporate tax rate to 10% with no loopholes and put a minimum tax rate of 12% on FDI and profits held overseas.

100% of that money "held" overseas would return in about 15 seconds because it really isn't there in the first place as Hussman explained some time ago.

Hussman's only mistake was failure to come up with a catchy phrase like "Phantom FDI".

Mike "Mish" Shedlock

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The tax plan was supposed to be reduce the rate and get rid of the loop-holes(credits and deductions). They did the former but not the latter. This result was so predictable.


Theoretically it should not be that easy. The IRS is supposed to review transfer pricing to ensure assets and entities are properly valued to limit fraudulent transactions. Perhaps the IRS is outgunned, but they do take this seriously

Tony Bennett
Tony Bennett

"It would be a hell of a lot simpler to slash the US corporate tax rate to 10% with no loopholes and put a minimum tax rate of 12% on FDI and profits held overseas."


Agree, but it will NEVER happen.

Accounting one of the BIG lobby groups. You would have a million (very well paid) accountant march on DC to protect byzantine tax code.

Many corporations pay less than advertised tax rate. Legislation (often written by lobbyists) protect certain companies / industries at the expense of others. Congress shakes down these beneficiaries to fill their campaign coffers. No loopholes takes away the grease. Will not happen.


When any economist discovers transfer pricing and begins waxing eloquent about tax fairness, I instinctively feel for my wallet. No politician anywhere ever taxed a corporation for anything. It's the customer who's the mark and the customer is just too dumb/disinterested to stand and fight it by insisting the politician speak in total spend and total tax terms to the total citizenry.

However, Hussman is right on that the only way to have actually moved the R&D needle with foreign profit repatriations was to have restricted any tax credit to Future R&D spend rates above actuals. Otherwise, a huge chunk of repatriated profits would simply be fed into the stock buyback furnace, which is exactly what happened.

The really worrisome thing to me is corporate America's blatant admission that they'd rather drive their own capital stock down with buybacks, enhancing their own comp plans, than blaze new trails with innovation...the only thing that actually drives human living standards.


There's a hierarchy of employment for accounting and financial types in terms of skill level and remuneration.

The smartest, most cunning, most creative and most greedy rise to the top of corporate industry and run the show. Some even get to run companies like Enron and RBS or turn dodgy governmental tricks for the vampire squid or float unicorn IPOs.

The next layer down is the senior people at big accountancy firms and auditors, who know which side their bread is buttered on and how to keep the pipeline of base fees plus additional consultancy work flowing freely. Or they are the lobbyists who for the price of a few good meals and a game of golf can persuade politicians to write ever more convoluted, exemption riddled and ineffective tax codes.

Somewhere below that comes the shysters who are driven to come up with tax avoidance schemes, smoke and mirror investment schemes and too good to be true get rich quick schemes. An over-endowment of greed outweighs any intellectual weakness.

Way down near the bottom of the pile are the ones who end up working for tax authorities. Predominantly honest and hard working but hopelessly outclassed and outgunned.