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The Type of Government Action that Could be Used Against Capital Mobility

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It’s no secret that I see unrestrained capital mobility as a global plague creating a New Gilded Age that makes it nearly impossible for workers to build dignified lives against the constant geographical shift of employment every time they organize. For Americans, the disaster of globalized capitalism has been the fleeing of stable work abroad, a situation I believe has contributed to crises ranging from the decline of unions and weakening environmental movement to the fear of “unemployable majors” in higher education and long-term unemployment.

It’s not that the U.S. could do nothing about this phenomena. It’s not a natural law. Globalization is not gravity. It’s that the politicians, under tremendous pressure from corporations, choose to do nothing except encourage more American jobs to be shipped overseas, soon potentially through the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Obama supports much to the demerits side of his presidential evaluation.

I was reminded of this when Obama yesterday called for a relatively minor but important reform:

President Obama on Thursday will call for Congress to end a tax loophole that allows big corporations to designate a foreign country as their official address, avoiding American taxes while maintaining their presence in the United States.

“The president will make clear that these companies are essentially renouncing their American citizenship so that they can ship their profits overseas to avoid paying taxes — even as they benefit from all the advantages of being here in America,” a White House official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe the president’s remarks in advance.

This is a good policy but of course it could be extended much further. It is American tax law, or the lack thereof, that helps give corporations incentive to exploit labor in Bangladesh, Honduras, and Sri Lanka. We could change those laws to both incentivize American owned companies employing Americans and to ensure that when American companies choose to move operations overseas, the workers are treated with dignity and the ecosystems respected. That we don’t is a political problem, not an inevitable result of a globalized world.

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