Working Paper
The indirect costs of corporate tax avoidance exacerbate cross-country inequality

Corporate tax avoidance hampers domestic revenue mobilization and, with it, the development of lower- and middle-income countries. While a wide range of studies has shed light on the magnitude of profit shifting by multinational corporations, the indirect costs of this behaviour is underexplored. These indirect costs are likely to be skewed based on a country’s level of income.

We hypothesize that developed countries tend to recover a larger part of corporate tax revenue losses (primary effects or direct costs) via capital gains and dividend taxes on corporate investors (secondary effects). Furthermore, developed countries can offset tax losses by borrowing in financial markets at very low interest rates (tertiary effect or, together with secondary effects, indirect costs).

In this paper, we introduce a dynamical model that includes not only corporate tax revenue losses but also tax revenue collected from capital gains and dividend taxes, as well as government borrowing costs.

We use country-by-country reporting data on the operations of multinational corporations to estimate profit shifting, alternative operationalizations of the location of investors to proxy the tax revenues from capital gains and dividend taxes, and yields on government bonds to measure the cost of borrowing.

Our results show that when these indirect costs are included, the total cost of profit shifting for developing countries increases significantly, while some developed countries can often offset or recover the majority of the direct costs of profit shifting.

The ability of the latter to do this is, however, uneven with, for example, most European countries losing revenues from profit shifting even after indirect effects are taken into account. Only a handful of other countries actually appear to profit from profit shifting—and by an amount that is far smaller, in relation to gross domestic product, than the losses suffered by others.