CORPORATE TAXATION is one of the thorniest issues in international economic policy. Janet Yellen, President Joe Biden's treasury secretary, and a former head of the Federal Reserve, is duly weighing in. On April 5th she grabbed the attention of the occupants of corner offices worldwide with a speech to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. The headline was a call for countries to agree on a global minimum tax rate for large companies.Such a levy, Ms Yellen said, would help "make sure the global economy thrives based on a more level playing field", and would help end a "30-year race to the bottom". Though the idea of a minimum tax raises hackles in tax havens in the Caribbean, parts of Europe and farther afield, many other big economies will welcome America's renewed commitment to multilateralism on tax after the prickly unilateralism of the Trump years.Over the past decade, growing corporate-tax avoidance has met with a growing backlash. Breakneck globalisation allowed multinationals to replace fears of double taxation with the joys of double non-taxation, using havens to game the system. By exploiting mismatches between countries' tax laws, taxable profits could be cut or even made to disappear. The game became easier with the rise of intangible assets, which can be shifted between jurisdictions more easily than buildings or machinery. Big tech has been a big beneficiary: the five largest Silicon Valley giants paid $220bn in cash taxes over the past decade, just 16% of their cumulative pre-tax profits.
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