NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
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The Missing Profits of Nations

Thomas R. Tørsløv, Ludvig S. Wier, Gabriel Zucman

NBER Working Paper No. 24701
Issued in June 2018
NBER Program(s):Corporate Finance, International Finance and Macroeconomics, International Trade and Investment, Public Economics

By combining new macroeconomic statistics on the activities of multinational companies with the national accounts of tax havens and the world's other countries, we estimate that close to 40% of multinational profits are shifted to low-tax countries each year. Profit shifting is highest among U.S. multinationals; the tax revenue losses are highest for the European Union and developing countries. We show theoretically and empirically that in the current international tax system, tax authorities of high-tax countries do not have incentives to combat profit shifting to tax havens. They instead focus their enforcement effort on relocating profits booked in other high-tax countries—in effect stealing revenue from each other. This policy failure can explain the persistence of profit shifting to low-tax countries despite the high costs involved for high-tax countries. We provide a new cross-country database of GDP, corporate profits, trade balances, and factor shares corrected for profit shifting, showing that the global rise of the corporate capital share is significantly under-estimated.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w24701

 
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