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Twin Cities law professors on the US Constitution: about this series

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Twin Cities law professors on the US Constitution: about this series

Government of the people? That takes will. And a way.

We the people are responsible for the will. The U.S. Constitution helps show the way.

As Mitchell Hamline law professor Afsheen John Radsan writes here, “The Constitution is special to me as the son of two Iranian immigrants who came to the United States in 1962 to pursue their American dreams. For both citizens and newcomers, the Constitution, as much as the Statue of Liberty, stands as a monument to their faith in this country’s potential for greatness.”

But when it comes to self-governance, we are not redeemed by faith alone. Government of the people requires good work — “eternal vigilance,” even — that persists from generation to generation. Understanding our Constitution, its ideas, mechanisms and applications, strengthens the people for the work.

Hence, this series of explanatory — but not pedantic! — columns, begun today by Professor Radsan. Over the next several Sundays and in the months to come, Twin Cities law professors from diverse backgrounds and perspectives will write about timely constitutional ideas and issues. The views they express are the views of the individual authors.

The series is a result of collaboration among Mitchell Hamline School of Law professors Natalie Netzel and Marie Failinger, students from St. Paul Public Schools and the Pioneer Press. Its aim is to offer foundational knowledge of the U.S. Constitution with hope of fostering civic engagement and respectful discourse on challenging topics.

Because it’s crucial that our young adults, too, engage in the work to uphold the Constitution and advance the ideals it represents, we asked Cayden Mayer, a junior at St. Paul Central High, to assist in the editing of today’s column. Thank you, Cayden.

And thank you, dear reader, for your interest in government by the people.

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Real World Economics: Global corporate taxes are a good step

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Real World Economics: When good intentions go bad

Usually, international finagling among rich people and corporations to minimize paying taxes, legally or illegally, is not visible to the eye.

Edward Lotterman

Occasionally it is. On a trip to Switzerland, my wife and I went for lunch in the neighboring country of Liechtenstein. We started in Chur, a pleasant regional Swiss city in the Rhine Valley. An impulsive query of a hotel clerk told us that all we needed to do to visit another country was to drive 20 miles on the freeway, turn right at the big McDonald’s sign, cross the bridge, one left, one right and we would be in the business heart of Vaduz, tiny Liechtenstein’s capital.

A neat town the size of Redwood Falls, its only notable difference from a Swiss burg was a zone of six or eight blocks on two streets jammed with small, neat office buildings closely adjoining others. Each had small brass plaques next to the doorbell, 20 in one case. Such are the Liechtenstein “headquarters” of hundreds of international businesses.

I had seen similar plaque-bedecked buildings in Barbados on a much smaller scale. Yet I don’t think I’ll see any in Sioux Falls, although the South Dakota Legislature is drumming up analogous businesses.

All this relates to a positive recent development: the agreement among 130 countries to coordinate taxation of corporations, including a minimum global tax of 15 percent. This may reduce the legal contortions so benefitting brass plaque engravers.

Let’s step back a bit: The general problem is the world has some 200 countries, each sovereign over laws seen as best benefiting the country’s and its citizens’ and residents’ needs. This can include earning a few million dollars or euros by writing laws that allow businesses in other countries to in turn save billions in taxes. This is little different from Liberia and Panama offering near-regulation-free registration of commercial ships for a modest price.

There are thousands of businesses, mostly incorporated, that do legitimate business in multiple countries. There are thousands of rich people too. Naturally they try to minimize taxes owed. This can include juggling funds between countries to lower total taxes owed or paid.

This can be, and usually is, legal — at least within the letter of the law. This is “tax avoidance,” and is little different from what accountants might tell any of us.

There also is “tax evasion,” or fraud, in which laws are broken. Sometimes this is from otherwise legitimate businesses. Other times it’s hiding dirty money garnered from government corruption, criminal activity or simple personal crime.

The global agreement just reached aims to reduce avoidance strategies by legal companies, not crime, but the incentives and mechanisms for legal avoidance overlap those for illegal acts.

For example, Minnesota’s own Medtronic has its “legal headquarters” in Dublin, Ireland, even though its “operational headquarters” remains in Fridley. Johnson Controls is another major U.S. business nominally headquartered in Ireland. And hundreds of other corporations still legally based from this country have subsidiaries in Ireland. This has been part of the Celtic boom that propelled Ireland from poverty to prosperity.

Many also may have wholly-owned subsidiaries in Liechtenstein, Panama, Bermuda the Bahamas or similar havens. Frequently these have some innocuous name that gives no indication of the true owner. Transfers between subsidiaries of one corporation across several countries can move money so that low or even zero income taxes are paid.

In 2017, Google reportedly moved $22 billion in income to a Dutch company that transferred it to an Irish company, but one with a subsidiary in Bermuda. Bermuda has no tax on income. The Bermuda entity can “loan” funds back to Google’s home office in California, funds on which no U.S. corporate income tax was ever paid. All of the entities involved were owned 100 percent by Google and under their exclusive control.

So how does one transfer money in this way? Usually, it is through an old dodge known as “transfer pricing” already common and legal when much multinational business was in manufacturing.

For years, my favorite surplus machinery outlet in south Minneapolis had dozens of metal skids marked “Return to Ford, Taubate BR.” The St. Paul Highland Park Ford plant used four-cylinder engines produced in one of Ford’s Brazilian factories. Ford do Brasil is a separately-chartered Brazilian corporation owned entirely by the Michigan-based parent.

So when Ford-Brasil sells to U.S. Ford, money must change hands, but at what price per engine? There is no market price for these as there is for the soybeans Cargill trades, for example.

Set this transfer price high and it increases Ford profits in Brazil but reduces them in the U.S. Ford as a whole has more income here and less in Brazil. Price the engines low and Ford’s Brazil profits drop but those of U.S. Ford rise.

There are limits to this with physical products. One engine is not worth $1 million nor is it worth $100. But with software or intellectual property or pure service-based businesses, the sky’s the limit. What does one subsidiary charge another for design of an implanted medical device, but not the actual device? Writing advertising and designing logos for hamburger wrappers? Writing code for a search engine or social media? Accounting and legal services?

For years, McDonald’s, using the “double-Irish with a Dutch sandwich” ploy so beneficial to Google, moved franchise-fee income versus corporate overhead to lower taxes. It’s all legal, and corporate transfers between subsidiaries based in myriad locations will remain legal. Countries will retain control over their own tax laws, subject to the new provision that a multinational business will have to pay a 15 percent tax on corporate profits to some country. There inevitably will be hitches, but “progress, not perfection” applies here.

The recent ”Pandora papers” leak revealed how South Dakota changed its laws governing trusts at the dictation of law firms specializing in such work, so as to make it a favorable location for them to be established in that state. As for Liechtenstein or Bermuda, there is nothing illegal about this. But in both cases, such favorable rules can attract illegal money as well as legal. A U.S. state or a sovereign nation may gain economic activity and employment, but society on a global whole loses.

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Jackknifed tractor-trailer closes Interstate 70 eastbound at Eisenhower Tunnel

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Jackknifed tractor-trailer closes Interstate 70 eastbound at Eisenhower Tunnel

A jackknifed tractor-trailer shut down Interstate 70’s eastbound lanes Sunday morning at the Eisenhower Tunnel, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation.

The eastbound interstate was closed between mile markers 206 and 213 around 8 a.m. and is expected to reopen around 10:15 a.m., according to CDOT.

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Denver barbecue restaurant Smōk opens in Fort Collins

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Denver barbecue restaurant Smōk opens in Fort Collins

Smōk opened a location Monday in Fort Collins at the Foothills shopping district.

This is the third site for the barbecue restaurant and the first outside of its Denver base. The 3-year-old chain has locations in RiNo and at Junction Food Hall.

Executive chef and owner Bill Espiricueta worked with Chef Steve Redzikowski at Acorn in Denver and at Oak in Boulder. Prior to that, he worked at Nobu in Dallas and Bluestem in Kansas City, Missouri.

Smōk’s rotating menu includes burnt ends, turkey, pork spareribs, chicken, brisket, wings, sausages, smoked meat sandwiches and “southern-influenced sides [and] house-made pickles,” a press release said.

“Chef Bill executes an easy-going barbecue-joint vibe with the high expectations of a fine-dining chef,” the release said.

Beverages include beer, “boozy slushies and balanced cocktails.” There are eight TVs and room for 155 people in the restaurant and on the patio.

© BizWest Media LLC

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