Who Pays the Corporate Income Tax?

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Who pays the corporate income tax? Corporations, obviously. That’s like asking who’s buried in Grant’s tomb. One way or another, though, actual people have to ultimately pay the tax. Consumers pay it if companies respond to corporate taxes by raising the price of their products. Workers pay the tax if corporations respond by lowering wages. Shareholders pay the tax if it simply eats into profits and lowers share prices.

But which is it? Bruce Bartlett reports today that the March issue of the National Tax Journal has four articles that address this question. Here are the answers:

  • Article #1: Shareholders pay 100 percent.
  • Article #2: Shareholders pay 100 percent.
  • Article #3: Shareholders pay 40 percent, workers pay 60 percent.
  • Article #4: Shareholders pay 82 percent, workers pay 18 percent.

The old saw says that if you ask ten economists about something, you’ll get 11 answers. By simple arithmetic, this suggests that if you ask four economists, you’ll get 4.4 answers. But in this case we only got three. Not bad!

So what’s the real answer? By using the blogger’s expedient of simply averaging all the responses, it looks like shareholders end up paying 80 percent of the corporate income tax. That’s probably close enough for water cooler arguments, anyway.

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