Saturday, March 07, 2009


Let Them Eat Clicks

I have a piece in Friday's Slate about's seemingly nonexistent corporate philanthropy -- and more importantly, whether that should matter.

But I hid the real barb in the tail of the piece: and its shareholders can claim a philosophical purity of purpose and not spend a penny on charity so long they play by the rules. There's just one problem: doesn't much like the rules. has spent a decade opposing the enforcement of online taxes so that its noncollection of sales tax creates a powerful pricing incentive over bricks-and-mortar competitors. Why buy a MacBook Air in Boston, after all, when online you'll save nearly 90 bucks in Massachusetts sales tax? But there have long been warnings that consumers just might get ruinously addicted to the tax-free ride Amazon and others appeared to be giving them—and that states might just get, well, ruined.

I say the ride appeared tax-free: In fact, there is tax due on some online sales. Amazon and other online retailers have benefited from the lack of an enforcement mechanism.

It's Amazon Marketplace sales -- which were launched in November 2000 -- that actually make the retailer a deadbeat dotcom. And their entry into that market explains this amusing and long-forgotten detail about Amazon's stance on sales taxes: it was for them before it was against them.

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