The Enron Debacle

Brief

The Enron Debacle

Lessons for Tax Policy
February 13, 2003

Abstract

The Enron debacle had potential implications in three areas of tax policy: tax-favored retirement plans, stock options, and differences in book versus tax accounting. The most important issue relates to the increasing riskiness of retirement plans that (1) can pay in a lump sum amount, (2) are of the defined contribution variety, and (3) may be excessively concentrated in employer stock. Proposals to remedy this issue even in a limited way may be unsuccessful if they do not address the especially favorable tax treatment of employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs). The spectacle of a purportedly profitable company paying little or no tax has become a common phenomenon. The Enron case suggests the need for more disclosure regarding the sources of book versus tax differences, if not some substantive corporate tax reforms.

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