I don't often dive into topical Apple news on this site, but I can't help but comment on the Congressional inquiry into Apple's corporate taxes. The typical headline reads "Apple avoids billions in US taxes."
And the typical response from the mostly uninformed, emotional public is "how can Apple get away with paying a lower average tax rate than me?"
And that's a good question to ask. Just not to Apple.
Apple isn't doing anything that the rest of the Fortune 500 hasn't been doing the last few years (though I'll concede that Apple appears to be doing it better).
Washington Post writer Jia Lynn Yang back in March of this year:
The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations found that from 2009 to 2011, Microsoft was able to shift offshore almost half its net revenue from U.S. retail sales, or roughly $21 billion, by transferring intellectual-property rights to a Puerto Rican subsidiary.
As a result, the subcommittee found Microsoft saved as much as $4.5 billion in taxes on products sold in this country. [source]
There's that "b" word again. Boeing, Proctor & Gamble, and other major companies that do significant business abroad all play by the same rules:
Any dollar earned abroad does not get taxed by the U.S. government until it flows back to the parent company. A J.P. Morgan report estimates that $1.7 trillion in foreign earnings is being held overseas by more than 1,000 U.S. firms, yet to be taxed by the federal government.
Put the CEO of any of these companies in front of Congress, and they'll probably all say the same thing: "We're playing by the rules you wrote into law."
If these hearings cause the American public to reverse the hearings and ask Congress why the tax code has lagged so far behind the realities of modern big business, the hearings will be a good thing.
I recommend benchmarking the average tax rates paid by Fortune 500 multinationals with the average tax rates paid by small domestic businesses and self employed individuals.
Something about our way of life is broken if an American entrepreneur or small business pays 20% or more in average taxes while billion-dollar multinationals pay far less than that. In some cases, they pay negative taxes.