What's Good for [Company X] Is Good for the Country

Amazon's fight with the state of California over paying sales tax is ridiculous. Whatever arguments might get ginned up, the basic fact is that the company sells stuff in California and companies that sell stuff in California have to pay sales tax, therefore Amazon has to pay sales tax. Perhaps it made sense to foster online commerce by exempting them from sales tax laws, but we're not talking a baby industry here. Amazon has a $95 billion market cap and is steamrolling everyone in sight.


Amazon has spent more than $5 million loading up their More Jobs Not Taxes campaign for a referendum that would repeal the legislation that started charging them taxes. Meanwhile, the latest turn in the political fight has been that Amazon offered to create 7,000 jobs if the state postpones enforcing its sales tax on the company until 2014. 

Here's why that offer is a big deal. It transforms a debate that is fundamentally about a value -- fairness -- into a numbers game. The next step will be that Amazon's political operatives will plant the seed that the bill will kill jobs, probably a nice round number like 7,000 of them. According to our calculations, the politicos will say, California is killing the exact number of jobs that Amazon offered to add! Taxes are bad!

I don't mean to pick on Amazon here. Every company is after as many tax advantages as they can get. Walmart, for example, which pushed the effort to get the Amazon sales tax bill passed, skirts some online sales taxes, too. And every company has realized that it is good politics to say that taxes kill jobs, whether they have real evidence for it or not. 

In the 1950s, a long-past GM CEO who had been appointed secretary of defense said that "for years, I thought what was good for our country was good for General Motors and vice versa." That CEO, Charles Wilson, got misquoted as saying, "What's good for GM is good for the country." At the time, it was something to be embarrassed about. Or at least it sounded a little ridiculous to conflate your narrow corporate interests with the collective interests of the country, even if you were the nation's largest company.

Now, by transforming tax fights into skirmishes over how many jobs this or that tax will "kill," every single tax becomes something that hurts America. The narrow (and self-serving) interests of every tax-fighting corporation become part of our national project. And the battlefield becomes the competing spreadsheets of political opponents who say that one plan or another will create more jobs, when it's pretty obvious that no one knows precisely how that whole mechanism works. 

The what's-good-for-my-company-is-good-for-America rhetoric should become laughable again.
Presented by

What Happened to the Milky Way?

Light pollution has taken away our ability to see the stars. Can we still save the night sky?

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

What Happened to the Milky Way?

Light pollution has taken away our ability to see the stars. Can we still save the night sky?

Video

The Faces of #BlackLivesMatter

Scenes from a recent protest in New York City

Video

Desegregated, Yet Unequal

A short documentary about the legacy of Boston busing

Video

Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Life

The Supreme Court justice talks gender equality and marriage.

Video

Social Media: The Video Game

What if the validation of your peers could "level up" your life?

Video

The Pentagon's $1.5 Trillion Mistake

The F-35 fighter jet was supposed to do everything. Instead, it can barely do anything.

More in Technology

Just In