The Agenda

Amazon and the ‘Marketplace Fairness Act’

At Time, Brad Tuttle seems to be arguing that Amazon has made a sudden about-face in calling for a common federal standard regarding how online retailers impose state sales taxes. While the fact that Amazon is now backing the “Marketplace Fairness Act” really is new, Amazon has long supported the Streamlined Sales Tax initiative. Bezos has explicitly said the following: 

Our point-of-view on this is that we should simplify the sales tax system, and we’ve been insisting on this for 10 years. We support the streamlined sales tax initiative, and 22 states have signed on. The right way to fix this is with federal legislation. Sales tax is very complicated. We’re no different from big chains of retailers. They don’t collect sales tax in states where they don’t have nexus either. So everyone is following the same rules.

What is the Streamlined Sales Tax initiative?

This Agreement is the result of the cooperative effort of 44 states, the District of Columbia, local governments and the business community to simplify sales and use tax collection and administration by retailers and states. The Agreement minimizes costs and administrative burdens on retailers that collect sales tax, particularly retailers operating in multiple states. It encourages “remote sellers” selling over the Internet and by mail order to collect tax on sales to customers living in the Streamlined states. It levels the playing field so that local “brick-and-mortar” stores and remote sellers operate under the same rules. This Agreement ensures that all retailers can conduct their business in a fair, competitive environment.

Is it fair to say that Bezos has been dodging state sales taxes? No, I don’t think it is fair. Rather, he has long maintained — correctly in my view — that federal legislation was required if state sales taxes were to be collected in states where Amazon doesn’t have nexus. And now there is a proposal that irons out the haze of confusion.

It is also worth noting that Amazon does rather well even in states where it does have nexus, e.g., here in New York state. Amazon has spent years and billions of dollars building a “moat” around its competitive position — its logistical apparatus, its transition to digital media, etc., have all made the sales tax question far less important than it had been during Amazon’s first decade. Even if we embrace the most cynical explanation, Amazon has no reason to oppose something like the Marketplace Fairness Act because it is now a powerful incumbent. 

Reihan Salam — Reihan Salam is executive editor of National Review and a National Review Institute policy fellow.

Most Popular

Culture

What Self-Help Guru Tony Robbins Was Trying to Say

Tony Robbins must have known immediately that he'd made a huge mistake in how he responded to a question about #MeToo. Last month, at one of Robbins's popular, sold-out seminars, audience member Nanine McCool told the self-help guru that she thought he misunderstood the #MeToo movement. You can see the entire ... Read More
Sports

The Dominant-Sport Theory of American Politics

I think it’s safe to assert that President Trump has an unfortunate tendency to do and say (and tweet) embarrassing things. When he does, we all join in the condemnation, and often it’s not so much for the substance as for the style. The president of the United States should be dignified, measured, slow to ... Read More
Film & TV

Little Pink House Speaks Truth to Power

Coming soon to a cinema near you—you can make this happen; read on—is a bite-your-nails true-story thriller featuring heroes, villains, and a history-making struggle over . . . the Constitution’s Takings Clause. Next February 24, Little Pink House will win the Oscar for Best Picture if Hollywood’s ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Comey–Trump Dance

I never thought the Comey book would make much news for the simple reason that it would be outrageous if it did. If Comey knew something relevant and important about the Russia investigation that we didn’t already know, he couldn’t possibly put it in his book. Let’s say he did have something big on the ... Read More