Audit Notes: KKR Tax Avoidance, Manufacturing Politics, Freelancing

Fortune’s Allan Sloan has a good column this week examining how Henry Kravis of KKR and others in the private-equity and corporate world get out of paying taxes by having their shareholders pay for them.

Sloan says KKR and others like Blackstone Group and Lazard set up shell subsidiaries for tax purposes—they can “increase the stated value of its assets based on the gain realized by insiders who sell some or all of their stake in the company.”

Here’s the math. Say Henry Kravis sells $1 million of units, generating $1 million of taxable income. He pays $150,000 in federal taxes, assuming all his proceeds are long-term capital gains. Let’s say half that gain — $500,000 — becomes deductible to KKR’s corporation at a 35% rate. This saves KKR $175,000 in taxes over 15 years.

Of this, $149,000 — the aforementioned 85% — goes to Kravis. The payments to Kravis beget further deductions for KKR, begetting further payments to Kravis, and so on. You end up with about $206,000 in payments to Kravis. Adjust for the fact that they’re spread over 15 years, and they’re equivalent to about $150,000 today. So the public firm would be giving Kravis tax-sharing payments about equivalent to his tax bill, assuming, as I said before, that all his profits are capital gains. (KKR declined to discuss Kravis’s tax situation.) Kravis would have to pay income tax (at ordinary rates) on his tax-sharing payments, poor baby. But he’d still be getting a helluva deal on his gain, compared with what regular folks pay.

And Sloan is good to note in closing that private-equity (and hedge funds and other partnerships) only pay capital-gains rates on what is really income that regular folks would get taxed at more than twice the rate, though he’s a little more optimistic than I am that Congress is going to change this anytime soon.

— The Washington Post reports that the Obama Administration and the Democrats are rolling out a campaign called “Make It In America” focused on pushing homemade American manufacturing.

I’d be glad to see it if I believed it were anything other than politicking, which is all it appears to be: a “repackaging” of existing pell-mell policies that could have been bundled together in the first place:

Some independent analysts are also skeptical. U.S. manufacturing jobs have been disappearing since 1979, in part because of the heightened productivity of American workers but also because of cheaper labor abroad. Over the past decade, the sector lost a third of its workers, falling from 17.3 million people in 1999 to 11.7 million last year, according to the most recent figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“Cheaper labor” is a euphemism for free-trade policies here that put Americans at a severe and unfair disadvantage.

— Richard Morgan writes a brilliant piece for The Awl on the life of a freelancer. Anyone who’s ever dealt with editors will love this one.

Here’s a sample:

Freelancing is an adventure the way “Locked Up Abroad” is an adventure. Journalism even at its best is already a fairly caustic and draining experience. All the qualities that make you a great journalist make you a terrible person: gossip, urgency, obsession, noisiness, theatrics and hysterics. I help anyone who asks for it. Just this past Friday, I got an email at 3:38 a.m. from a Pulitzer-winning friend who wanted my help with a New Yorker assignment; I called their cell at 3:39. I never wanted to be one of those broken, bitter people. Why would anyone want to lose friends and alienate people? I was particularly struck—and maybe scared—by a story a friend told me after he snagged a great job at Condé Nast. He talked about how he shared his apartment with a married couple and their cat, and that the couple was on vacation and there he was, in his bathroom, trying to take a dump, and this cat was lonely and pawing at the gap under the door, and all he could think is that he had this glamorous job at this stylish magazine and he couldn’t even manage a life where he could take a dump in peace.

Hey, print it out and read the whole thing. It’d make good bathroom reading—if you can find some peace.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.