Jonathan Alter at The Daily Beast has an idea that will infuse the president's "economic patriotism" rhetoric with some bite: Compel companies to take "loyalty oaths" to prove their patriotism. You may find this suggestion a little creepy, maybe even a little fascistic; but Alter says that "it's time for red-blooded Americans to take matters into our own hands."
And by taking the matter into "our" hands, Alter means that President Barack Obama would unilaterally bar any company that practices "inversion"—corporate merging with foreign firms to save on U.S. tax bills—from doing business with the federal government. Companies that follow the administration requirements would earn a government seal of approval. If you were to act "un-American" and fail to recognize your "real interests" and those of the United States—which are, naturally, indistinguishable from the president's agenda—you would be shunned and your business punished.
You would be powerless to stop it: "That's because," Alter explains, "efforts to stop desertion aren't populist or socialist but nationalist, a much more powerful force in American politics. Unbridled nationalism is a menace; it leads to trade wars and, all too often, real wars. But properly channeled, nationalism and patriotism are matters of the heart that cut to our deepest ideas of who we are."
Ah, properly channeled nationalism. You see, when you do it, it's just a bunch of dangerous jingoist rubbish. When we do it … America! And after five years of conflating patriotism and left-wing economic policy, you are expected to treat a completely legal tax designation as an attack on the homeland. Unless, of course, you're a seditious weasel who's betting against America.
Now, I suppose, a conservative might ask: Can we really trust politicians who offered legislation to limit free expression and religious freedom (as defined by the Supreme Court, which still decides these issues) to be arbiters of American patriotism? Or is it only the president who's tasked with deciding who deserves special status?
A liberal might ask: What happens when the next administration, one with different views on "nationalism," begins divvying out golden stars? When the future GOP president punishes companies that aren't helping fight the war on Iran, for instance, will that be cool, as well?
Now, we could lower corporate tax rates to be more competitive with the nations that are enticing companies to move elsewhere and avoid this sort of ugliness. There is some unanimity on the issue. But as Alter notes, that probably wouldn't work, considering how many countries continue to cut corporate taxes or have eliminated them altogether.
Clearly, I'm not the rock-ribbed patriot Alter is, because I hope corporations continue to use inversion to avoid taxation until D.C. is forced to pass reform that completely eliminates corporate taxes that unnecessarily burden consumers. Multinational corporations do not exist to be tax collectors. Now, if a person were going to get into the economic patriotism game, he might point out that rent-seeking companies that subsist on government subsidies and use their political connections in Washington as a cudgel against competition are engaged in something far more un-American. And you can imagine the unholy cronyism that would be likely to erupt if the executive branch were to begin deciding which companies deserve to be rewarded for their patriotism.
It's worth remembering that when Alter proposes that Obama discipline companies that have done nothing illegal or illegitimate, he's simply taking Obama's "economic patriotism" to its next logical step. He wants the administration to threaten to close the "easy access to American markets" companies enjoy. And really, haven't we all suffered enough with all this unhindered access to affordable goods, exotic merchandise and cool gadgets?