What is morally outrageous about Apple’s highly publicized tax avoidance is not that Apple (legally) avoided paying taxes—for that, Apple should be praised. Rather, what is outrageous is that the government is harassing Apple for legally avoiding taxes—and that various commentators are smearing Apple for it.
The root injustice is the government’s confiscation of corporations’ hard-earned wealth. As the Wall Street Journal points out, the United States sets the corporate tax rate at 35 percent (although, fortunately, many corporations manage to pay less than that through various tax breaks). In 2012, the federal government confiscated $6 billion of Apple’s earnings and distributed the vast majority of it to illegitimate government programs.
Apple and all producers have a moral right to keep and use the product of their thought and effort as they judge best. As a practical matter, had Apple been able to invest that $6 billion in its business operations, the company could have provided even more and better goods and services to its customers and even more and better jobs to prospective employees.
Of course no one argues that Apple did anything illegal. The Wall Street Journal summarizes: “Apple used technicalities in Irish and American tax law to pay little or no corporate taxes on at least $74 billion over the past four years,” according to the U.S. Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. Yet the Denver Post (among others) slammed Apple despite the fact that the company complied with the law, complaining that Apple “legally [!] dodged taxes.” Not only is it perfectly moral to legally “dodge” taxes, but every corporation does so to whatever extent its accountants and attorneys can manage.
Americans who want to advance a rights-respecting government should praise Apple for attempting to legally minimize the government’s confiscation of the company’s wealth—and they should demand that the government begin reducing its unjust wealth confiscations by radically lowering corporate tax rates across the board.
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Image: Wikimedia Commons