Fixing a quirk in the U.S. tax code would let businesses add new jobs and increase economic growth immediately. The remedy, known to economists as “expensing,” lets businesses deduct from their taxable income the full value of all capital expenses incurred that year.
Take a local business that wants to expand by hiring 20 new employees. They know they can pay the new employee salaries, but can they afford to expand their office space and buy the new equipment? The current tax code artificially makes the investment in new office space more expensive by not letting the business deduct the full cost of the expansion.
When the U.S. tax code unnecessarily raises the cost of investment, businesses invest less than they would otherwise. This anti-investment bias is inefficient and hurts the U.S. economy and American workers. Expensing restores the full deduction and makes investment in the U.S. more attractive.
Investment in buildings, equipment and technology lets people be far more efficient in their work. This added productivity is the lifeblood of economic growth; ultimately, it leads to higher wages and better products and services.
Removing any source of bias against investment in the U.S. will increase the level of domestic investment, permanently increasing the demand for labor, boosting job creation and wage growth. More Americans could get a raise.
Like the local business above, additional investments in things like new warehouses and factories are especially needed to create entry-level and middle-class jobs. The benefits of expensing would be shared by Americans at all income levels, especially those who need it the most.
Expensing’s detractors have called the proposal “little more than a sugar high.” Far short of a onetime stimulus, business tax reform — and expensing, in particular — will permanently increase the size of the nation’s capital stock, which will have lasting benefits for all Americans, now and in the future.
Expensing can also significantly cut tax code compliance costs. Estimates place the cost of complying with investment deduction rules at over $23 billion annually, or 448 million hours each year. Expensing would greatly simplify matters — a tremendous boon for small- and medium-size firms, those most damaged by the current tax impediment to investing.
Allowing a full investment deduction provides a large economic gain because it is forward-looking. Compared dollar-for-dollar in reduced tax revenue, expensing lowers the cost of investment more than a simple corporate rate cut, which makes it more effective at stimulating growth and helping American workers.
Some have attempted to pit expensing against corporate rate cuts, a narrative that congressional leaders must reject. Expensing and rate cuts are what the economy needs; making just one reform may not be enough to generate the economic benefits that have been promised to the American people.
Currently topping out at almost 40 percent, America’s corporate income tax rate is the highest in the developed world. This puts U.S. businesses at a tremendous competitive disadvantage, harming U.S. workers, investors and the economy as a whole. A lower corporate tax rate benefits all businesses — even those not actively investing — and reduces the incentive for American businesses to leave the U.S. for more favorable tax environments.
The current corporate tax code slows investment and harms every American by artificially depressing wages and slowing economic growth. Congress must include both full expensing and a lower corporate tax rate as permanent changes to the tax code.
• A policy analyst in The Heritage Foundation’s Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies, Adam N. Michel specializes in tax policy and federal budget issues.