$ 5,000 Flashlights: They’re Not Just for the Pentagon Anymore

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.


With last year’s tax cut leaving the budget surplus but a fond memory, the nation’s lawmakers are now scrambling for ways to supplement federal coffers. A logical place to start might be a crackdown on corporate tax trickery. In 2000 alone, according to a recent study conducted by two Florida International University researchers at the behest of Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND), multinational corporations shirked more than $45 billion in U.S. taxes through an increasingly popular scheme known as transfer pricing.

The practice works something like this: The U.S. branch of a multinational imports goods from a foreign subsidiary at wildly inflated prices — say, $935 a pop for watch batteries. The U.S. arm might then export goods to its sister outfits offshore for drastically discounted prices — say, rocket launchers at $40 apiece. The net effect? The U.S. branch appears to bleed red ink, while the multinational parent rolls in profits safely out of Uncle Sam’s reach.

The examples of such “abnormal transactions” listed here are culled from Commerce Department trade data. (Note to the IRS: Enforcement might be easier if next time the department includes the names of the corporations involved.)

U.S. imports

Toothbrush: $5,655
Disposable razor blade: $461
Flashlight: $5,000
Vinyl record: $5,670
Ink-jet printer: $179,000

U.S. exports

Bulldozer: $528
Fine diamonds: $3/carat
Automatic teller machine: $36
Prefabricated metal building: 82 cents
Military aircraft: $20,000

IT'S NOT THAT WE'RE SCREWED WITHOUT TRUMP:

"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. It's our first time asking for an outpouring of support since screams of FAKE NEWS and so much of what Trump stood for made everything we do so visceral. Like most newsrooms, we face incredibly hard budget realities, and it's unnerving needing to raise big money when traffic is down.

So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

payment methods

IT'S NOT THAT WE'RE SCREWED WITHOUT TRUMP:

"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate