Saturday, May 21, 2016

Trump’s War on Amazon.com Explained

Trump’s War on Amazon.com Explained

On February 2016, Donald Trump began a public relations war against one of America’s most successful companies. He directly threatened Amazon.com and its founder Jeff Bezos with political reprisal should he become president.

Why? It seems like every consumer loves Amazon. What gives?

“I have respect for Jeff Bezos, but he bought The Washington Post to have political influence, and I gotta tell you, we have a different country than we used to have,” Trump said. “He owns Amazon. He wants political influence so that Amazon will benefit from it. That’s not right. And believe me, if I become president, oh, do they have problems. They’re going to have such problems.”

Problems? This is pretty dark. What kind of problems? He didn’t say. Regardless, Bezos is right that this is “not an appropriate way for a presidential candidate to behave.”

This week, Trump filled in some detail. He thinks that Bezos bought theWashington Post to stop D.C. from taxing Amazon. “The politicians in Washington don’t tax Amazon like they should be taxed,” he said. They have to be taxed because right now “they are getting away with murder taxwise.”

It’s not only taxes. He also thinks Amazon is too big, too controlling. “I would go after him for anti-trust because he has a huge anti-trust problem.”

A Brutal and Baseless Attack

These serious claims are all wrong on their face. Amazon customers once benefited from the lack of a sales tax when shipping out of state. But once Amazon established distribution centers in state after state, its goods are taxed like any other — thus taking away a pricing advantage for customers. It is fast service and variety that are driving Amazon to new heights.

As for antitrust, it is hard to imagine what he is referring to. Not gouging. Not controlling (anyone can list on Amazon’s platform). Not even market share, since producers see its marketplace as an alternative venue to  their own main sites. In fact, the old antitrust laws don’t seem to have any application in the complex, multilayered, ineffable world that digital commerce has become.

And by the way, if Bezos did buy the Post in order to editorialize against higher taxes on internet commerce, that would be absolutely fine, even praiseworthy. It certainly shouldn’t be condemned. The Post has historically served as a mouthpiece for state growth. That has noticeably changed since Bezos took charge, and the results have been a blessed relief.

For his part, Trump says he is burned up at Bezos, the Post, and Amazon, because journalists have been digging around for dirt on him. Threatening journalists would be bad enough. This is straight out of the 1790s when the Alien and Sedition Acts led to the arrest of editors who criticized President John Adams. Such attacks on free speech nearly smashed the union. Certainly it led to the triumph of Thomas Jefferson in the upset election of 1800.