business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

This is what passes for sophisticated political discourse these days.

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) goes on Twitter to say:

Giant corporations like Amazon report huge profits to their shareholders – but they exploit loopholes and tax havens to pay close to nothing in taxes. That’s just not right – and it’s why I’ll be introducing a bill to make the most profitable companies pay a fair share.

Amazon goes on Twitter to responded in three parts:

1.  You make the tax laws  @SenWarren; we just follow them. If you don’t like the laws you’ve created, by all means, change them. Here are the facts: Amazon has paid billions of dollars in corporate taxes over the past few years alone.

2.  In 2020, we had another $1.7B in federal tax expense and that’s on top of the $18 billion we generated in sales taxes for states and localities in the U.S. Congress designed tax laws to encourage investment in the economy.

3.  So what have we done about that? $350B in investments since 2010 & 400K new US jobs last year alone. And while you’re working on changing the tax code, can we please raise the federal minimum wage to $15?

Prompting Sen. Warren to react:

I didn’t write the loopholes you exploit, @amazon – your armies of lawyers and lobbyists did. But you bet I’ll fight to make you pay your fair share. And fight your union-busting. And fight to break up Big Tech so you’re not powerful enough to heckle senators with snotty tweets.

Which, of course, earns this rejoinder from Amazon:

This is extraordinary and revealing. One of the most powerful politicians in the United States just said she’s going to break up an American company so that they can’t criticize her anymore.

Look, I think there is plenty of room for a nuanced debate about tax policy, the roles of corporations and organized labor in 2021 America, income disparity, the minimum wage vs. a living wage, and so on.

But is Twitter really the place to be having this conversation, in quick bites that hardly do the issues justice?

On the one hand, maybe it is … simply because the use of Twitter to communicate positions and opinions has become standard operating procedure, even if means reducing those positions to the lowest common, easiest to understand, quickest to stoke outrage denominator.

It isn't just Warren with whom Amazon is engaged in a social media contretemps.  Reuters had a story the other day about how Amazon's social media team is "baring its teeth," and it has engaged in an extended - though not necessarily nuanced - argument with Sen. Bernie Sanders about the minimum wage and organized labor.

Recode reports this morning that "Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos expressed dissatisfaction in recent weeks that company officials weren’t more aggressive in how they pushed back against criticisms of the company that he and other leaders deem inaccurate or misleading. What followed was a series of snarky and aggressive tweets that ended up fueling their own media cycles."

I'm going to go way out on a limb here and suggest that nobody is doing anybody any favors by engaging in this way.  Neither side probably has a choice, since the one thing even less optimal than getting into the Twitter mud is allowing the opposition to fling statements and accusations without response.

While I'm sure Amazon feels it has to fight back against accusations, I don't think it is helping itself by engaging in cyber feuds.  Wouldn't Amazon be better off mounting a sophisticated and nuanced defense based on facts that it believes are on its side, that respects people's intelligence and ability to discern between a quick 280-character shot and a persuasive case?

Of course, even as I write those words, there's a part of me that responds, "Probably not."

But is this the Eye-Opening debate that we - the public, the business community, the press, and the governmental/political class - really deserve?

I.  Think. Not.