Here are the opening paragraphs of Dartmouth economist Matthew Slaughter writing in today’s Wall Street Journal:
Deep in the president’s budget released Monday—in Table S-8 on page 161—appear a set of proposals headed “Reform U.S. International Tax System.” If these proposals are enacted, U.S.-based multinational firms will face $122.2 billion in tax increases over the next decade. This is a natural follow-up to President Obama’s sweeping plan announced last May entitled “Leveling the Playing Field: Curbing Tax Havens and Removing Tax Incentives for Shifting Jobs Overseas.”
The fundamental assumption behind these proposals is that U.S. multinationals expand abroad only to “export” jobs out of the country. Thus, taxing their foreign operations more would boost tax revenues here and create desperately needed U.S. jobs.
This is simply wrong. These tax increases would not create American jobs, they would destroy them.
Academic research, including most recently by Harvard’s Mihir Desai and Fritz Foley and University of Michigan’s James Hines, has consistently found that expansion abroad by U.S. multinationals tends to support jobs based in the U.S. More investment and employment abroad is strongly associated with more investment and employment in American parent companies.
When parent firms based in the U.S. hire workers in their foreign affiliates, the skills and occupations of these workers are often complementary; they aren’t substitutes. More hiring abroad stimulates more U.S. hiring. For example, as Wal-Mart has opened stores abroad, it has created hundreds of U.S. jobs for workers to coordinate the distribution of goods world-wide. The expansion of these foreign affiliates—whether to serve foreign customers, or to save costs—also expands the overall scale of multinationals.
Expanding abroad also allows firms to refine their scope of activities. For example, exporting routine production means that employees in the U.S. can focus on higher value-added tasks such as R&D, marketing and general management.
The total impact of this process is much richer than an overly simplistic story of exporting jobs. But the ultimate proof lies in the empirical evidence.
Consider total employment spanning 1988 through 2007 (the most recent year of data available from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis). Over that time, employment in affiliates rose by 5.3 million—to 11.7 million from 6.4 million. Over that same period, employment in U.S. parent companies increased by nearly as much—4.3 million—to 22 million from 17.7 million. Indeed, research repeatedly shows that foreign-affiliate expansion tends to expand U.S. parent activity.