The Missing Profits of Nations

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

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

By exploiting new macroeconomic data known as foreign affiliates statistics, we show that foreign firms are an order of magnitude more profitable than local firms in tax havens, but less profitable than local firms in other countries. Leveraging this differential profitability, we estimate that close to 40% of multinational profits are shifted to tax havens globally each year. The non-haven European Union countries appear to be the main losers from this shifting. 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 places. This policy failure can explain the persistence of profit shifting to tax havens despite the sizable costs involved for high-tax countries. We provide a new international database of GDP, trade balances, and factor shares corrected for profit shifting, showing that the rise of the global corporate capital share is significantly underestimated.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w24701

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