"The longer the capital is invested, the lower rate it’s taxed at, until it gradually approaches zero and maybe goes negative".
Clayton Christensen Wants to Transform Capitalism, Wired.com, February 12, 2013.
Howe: You’re working on a new book now, right? The Capitalist’s Dilemma. How is that related to the Innovator’s Dilemma?
Christensen: I wrote a piece for The New York Times just before the election. I was wrestling with a paradox. If you look at the financial measures of prosperity in the economy, things seem to be going just great, especially company balance sheets. They haven’t been so strong in decades.
Howe: High market caps all around.
Christensen: It looks like the economy is emerging from the recession in an exciting way, but we’re not creating more jobs or income for the average person. And in all humility, I think I articulated a simple model that explains why. The bad actors are business school professors like me who have been teaching people what I call the Doctrine of New Finance. We’ve encouraged managers to measure profitability based on a return on net assets, or return on capital employed. That encourages companies to liberate their capital, so they invest in efficiency innovations, which means they can make more money with fewer resources. But what the economy ultimately needs are empowering innovations—like the Model T, the transistor radio. Empowering innovations require long-term investments, which tie up capital for years and years. So companies are using capital to create more capital, and consequently the world is awash in capital but the innovations we need to advance aren’t there.
Howe: What’s the solution?
Christensen: I don’t know the solution, but I believe solutions exist. The government can’t dictate, “Oh, that’s an empowering innovation and that’s not.” But what government can do is create tax rates that transform what I call migratory capital into productive capital. Migratory capital flows to investments that will maximize the speed with which it can then be withdrawn, which plays to the doctrine of new finance. Productive capital wants to stay on the job and not go truant after 366 days.
Howe: Can we structure a tax code that encourages that?
Christensen: Absolutely. The idea would be to peg a tax rate to the length of time the capital is deployed. The longer the capital is invested, the lower rate it’s taxed at, until it gradually approaches zero and maybe goes negative.