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Opinion

US businesses don’t succeed in spite of government. They succeed because of it.

Big business complains about corporate tax rates. But corporate taxes fund the infrastructure that the private sector depends on. Try starting a business without it.

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What if, when Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, he couldn’t get a patent from the United States government to protect his idea? Or for that matter, if there had been no laws to protect private property and no law enforcement, Bell might have had to sit up all night with a gun guarding his invention – instead of going out in the world and figuring out how to use it.

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When Bill Gates wanted to start Microsoft, consider if instead of drawing on the government-created infrastructure of the original Internet (which he accessed early on in high school through the publicly funded University of Washington), Mr. Gates not only had to invent Windows, but also invent the entire World Wide Web and run the wiring for the phone lines that originally connected all his potential consumers.

When Warren Buffet launched his investing career that ultimately earned him billions, imagine if in addition to hiring lawyers to run his business, Mr. Buffett had to hire judges, too, and create entire court systems to oversee and enforce the types of binding contracts on which the stock market relies. For that matter, imagine if Buffet had to print his own currency and negotiate its value against the currencies of all other individual investors.

Taxes fund the infrastructure of private sector success

Businesses in the United States don’t succeed in spite of our government, in many ways, they succeed because of our government. Through our taxes, we fund the legal and economic infrastructure of private sector success. By definition, those businesses that get the most out of that infrastructure are those that should give the most back.

At a time when economic conservatives want to slash spending that helps the poor and middle class rather than raise the already-low effective taxes of big business, it’s shameful that corporations like General Electric and Bank of America effectively pay no taxes. In the context of the larger American story, where successful businesses of today support the public infrastructure for the businesses of tomorrow, saying that corporations should pay even less is downright un-American.

Sally Kohn is a community organizer and political commentator. She is the founder and Chief Education Officer of the Movement Vision Lab, a grassroots think tank.

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