If you looked at the front page story in the New York Times today, you may be wondering, as I did, what a fair-minded expert would say about the idea of offering a tax break for repatriating corporate profits now as a potential boost for the economy and jobs. So I e-mailed one of my favorite fair-minded tax gurus, William Gale of the Brookings Institution. Gale gives the idea a serious thumbs-down.

“First, companies already have stockpiled large amounts of cash that they are not using to make new investments right now; second, if the phalanx of attorneys and accountants hat they have can't already figure out ways to make funds available domestically given the existence of funds off-shore, they should all be fired. Third, and most importantly, we already tried this, last decade, and it simply did not work — the companies just paid the money out in dividends. The studies cited in the NYT get this exactly right.

“Here’s one other thing. When corporations talk about why they need to invest overseas, they talk about how investing over there actually creates jobs in the US. When they talk about the patriotic need for a tax break on repatriation, they imply that the only way to create jobs in the US is to bring the funds back. Which is it?”

Good question.