By Ralph Nader
CEO Greg Wasson of the giant Walgreen drugstore chain may be thinking of other things than patriotism this 4th of July. He confirmed last month that, to save on taxes, he and his Board of Directors may be renouncing the company’s U.S. citizenship and moving its incorporation to Switzerland or some nearby tax haven.
Were Mr. Wasson to quit America, where the company rose to great profits and where it receives one quarter of its annual $72 billion in sales from Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements, he would be grossly underestimating the reaction of many Americans.
Following intentions by corporate welfare kings Pfizer and Medtronic to quit their native country to get further tax escapes, Walgreen is unique in that it has 8000 pharmacies — convenience stores well situated for citizen picketing.
Imagine the signs:
“Walgreen Goes For the Green Instead of the Red, White and Blue.”
Or “Walgreen: Where’s Your Patriotism?”
Or “Walgreen: Pay Your Fair Share of Taxes and Stay Loyal to the U.S.A.”
Or “Walgreen: American Taxpayers Fund Your Sales But Not If You Abandon America.”
“The average person who pays taxes cannot take advantage of the tax loopholes exploited by corporations and they don’t think it’s fair,” says Professor Klaus Weber at Northwestern University’s Kellog School of Management. Nell Geiser, associate director of Change to Win Retail Initiatives, declared that “Walgreen should show its commitment to our communities and our country by staying an American company.” While Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who has filed legislation to make it harder to move overseas to cut taxes, bluntly asserted that he is “troubled by American corporations that are willing to give up on this country and move their headquarters for a tax break.” Durbin must be upset to challenge one of the biggest corporations in his own state of Illinois.
Nonetheless, Mr. Wasson seems unperturbed by the coming uproar and damage to his 103 year old corporate brand name. He still says the company is “looking at everything” that could reduce their effective tax rate. Analysts estimate Walgreen saving $4 billion in taxes over five years.
I wonder if Mr. Wasson is ready for the public reaction implicit in Senator Carl Levin’s (D-Mich.) recent statement: “Average taxpayers are fed up with profitable U.S. corporations using tax haven gimmicks to dodge their tax obligation, while still benefitting from this country’s laws, infrastructure and workforce.”
The senator could easily have added more grist for the “fed-up” mill. These include U.S. companies shipping jobs and whole industries, encouraged by our tax laws, to fascist and communist regimes abroad that know how to keep their workers in their serfdom. Or very profitable drug companies, lathered with U.S. tax credits and U.S. taxpayer-funded research and development of new drugs, still going to China and India to make 80 percent of the ingredients in medicines that Americans buy so as to make even more profits and avoid tougher safety regulations here.
Mr. Wasson will be taking many considerations before making a decision for his company’s nearly $80 billion in annual sales. Let’s hope he does this before the public blowback starts adversely affecting the company’s stock price. Over the years, it is amazing how oblivious to public opinion and mores these overly monetized CEOs can be. All these U.S. chartered, big corporations better get used to corporate unpatriotism becoming more and more a political electoral issue.
As the U.S. Supreme Court rules again and again that corporations (never mentioned in the Constitution) are “persons” under the Constitution and in federal statutes, it should not be surprising if real people start judging them by such human values as loyalty, reciprocity, gratitude and love of country.
The days when Big Business can have it both ways — as an artificial, power-concentrating entity with special privileges and immunities, on the one hand, and all the constitutional human rights of real people on the other hand, are coming to an end. When the public sentiment changes and becomes politically and electorally operational, it won’t matter what Chief Justice John Roberts and his band of four other corporatists think. For their decisions subordinating the sovereignty of the people to the domination of corporations will be consigned to the ‘dustbins of history.’
The subject of unpatriotic corporate behavior, at huge cost to the people, is emerging as a left/right unifier.