President Trump’s recent Twitter activity calling out Amazon’s allegedly exploitative relationship with the United States Postal Service has sparked discussion about the company’s size and influence as well as Trump’s personal motives for the attack.
While the response to Trump’s tweets has largely been focused on concerns that the president is lashing out at Amazon in response to coverage of him in the Washington Post (which is owned by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos), an opinion piece by David Dayen published in the New Republic titled “No Sympathy for Amazon” highlights the fact that “Trump’s attacks on [Amazon] aren’t nearly as alarming as the government largesse that helped it become a tech behemoth.”
Dayen writes: “It’s valid to condemn government by vendetta. But I don’t think it logically follows that one must subordinate concerns about Amazon to concerns about Trump. That’s because Trump has been largely ineffective at bringing any company to heel, and in fact has bolstered Amazon quite a bit on his watch. Nor is Trump particularly interested in taking steps to make the playing field more level for retailers. But the most important fact to remember amid his spat with Amazon is that the government has been propping up the company for the entirety of its existence.”
Dayen shows that in spite of Trump’s “mean tweets,” Amazon has not faced any real consequences under Trump’s administration. He notes that the president could have singled out Amazon for harsh treatment in his tax reform bill but did not, and he added that Amazon Web Services appears very likely to secure a lucrative contract to host the Pentagon’s data.
The article points out that Amazon’s business model is heavily dependent on government: for close to two decades, Amazon never collected sales tax on online purchases, which gave it a significant advantage over traditional bricks-and-mortar stores. Amazon still does not collect sales tax on third-party sales made through its Marketplace and has enjoyed $1.1 billion in subsidies from cities and states for its worksites since 2000, according to Good Jobs First. And, while Trump’s assertion that the USPS is losing money thanks to Amazon is inaccurate, Dayen writes that it is true that “Amazon appears to be getting a sweetheart deal for using the USPS’ universal delivery network…the company is borrowing government infrastructure on the cheap.”
The New Republic piece was published just as the American Booksellers Association and Civic Economics released Prime Numbers: Amazon and American Communities, a report that documents the growing negative impact Amazon has had on the U.S. economy, including the increasing loss of jobs and state and municipal revenue resulting from the company’s retail dominance.