Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Who Rules When There are no Rules?

Colleague, the allies at the Tax Justice Network (TJN) have beat me to an analysis of a great piece in the FT on April 30 about Amazon’s US political machinery which appeared as part of the paper’s tax competition and regimes series.

My particular interest in the piece however wasn’t the sheer arrogance of Amazon in rebuking countries for their effrontery in requesting that the firm comply with domestic and business taxation duties, but moreso how the article helped to articulate a corporate strategy of naked ambivalence towards any form of civil or moral responsibility to the nation states in which they operate.
There are indeed many on the right of political life who would argue that Amazon’s brutalist approach to managing its affairs are what comes within the domain at operating beyond the fringes of mainstream land-based, tax paying business – a kind of cowboy utopia. When, however, the US Congress now attempts to force online retailers to gather tax what we can see is the full force of a complex corporate assault upon federal and state’s rights to assert a dominant, restraining influence on business behaviour.

As we have seen with Amazon’s response to the UK Treasury select committee when challenged over its tax avoidance behaviour it threatens the relocation of jobs and divestment and much the same has happened in the US, backed by legions of lobbyists, and supported by a rabid army of anti-tax Republicans and libertarians.
This is all very much redolent of what I have written of in this blog before; an inherently mercenary business approach which expects to be able to cleave any advantage from its largescale business operations, whilst at the same time avoiding any responsibility that accrues from operating at that size and scale. 

I have previously written about this in the context of corporate personhood – the demand of the corporation to be treated as citizen in order to dominate civil society – but here with Amazon and their ilk we see something even more sinister – if that were even possible.  It is of an economic and political predominance so overweening that it can set the parameters and limits of how the state, government and civil society may ‘interfere’ in its activity.

This analysis is best summed up in the final paragraph of the original FT piece that kicked off this blog post.
Essentially, Amazon has become so dominant that it no longer cares to fight. It has played out the clock longer than it dared hope and would now like to be able to build warehouses everywhere without doing state-by-state battle over its “physical presence”. In other words, this is not a case of Congress finally choosing to act. It is a case of the owners finally giving it permission to do so.

In Solidarity


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