By Ralph Nader
Dear Mr. Bezos:
You’ve come a long way from being a restless electrical engineering and computer science dual major at our alma mater, Princeton University. By heeding your own advice, your own hunches and visions, you’ve become the world’s richest person – at $141 billion and counting. You must feel you are on top of the world.
You are crushing your competition—those little stores on Main Street, USA, and other large companies that are still in business.
Your early clever minimizing of sales taxes gave you a big unfair advantage over brick and mortar stores that have had to pay 6, 7, 8 percent in sales taxes. Your tax-lawyers and accountants are using the anarchic global tax avoidance jurisdictions to drive your company’s tax burden to zero on a $5.6 billion profit in 2017, plus receiving about $789 million from Trump’s tax giveaway law, according to The American Conservative magazine (see Daniel Kishi’s article, “Crony Capitalism Writ Large,” in the May/June 2018 edition).
Amazon has been a leading corporate welfare King and is about to reap more of this extorted harvest once you decide where to locate your second headquarters. By the way, if you are considering the Washington, D.C. area, where you are building an extended mansion worthy of an emperor, consider the fact that there is a higher concentration of public interest lawyers per square mile there than any other metropolitan area. These lawyers stand opposed to further housing price spirals, gentrification, congestion, and huge crony capitalistic subsidy demands.
Your expansion into retail stores and warehouses will further highlight the low wages and sometimes hazardous working conditions and assembly line pressures of your corporate model. Other companies are exploiting their workers—as in Walmart (which by the way pays far more income taxes than you do on a percentage basis even under its tax avoidance schemes)— but few companies are as blatant in their planning to replace with robotics the warehouse workers and truck drivers delivering goods.
Your small Board of Directors is clueless about both their responsibility for Amazon shareholders and their overall social responsibility. Your board will rubberstamp all of your proposals as they tally how rich you’ve made them with stock options, at the expense of your workers. I wrote you (see enclosed letter) as a shareholder to start paying a dividend—your horde of cash belongs to the shareholders, doesn’t it? You have not had the courtesy to reply to this letter.
Amazon and Starbucks have just succeeded in a grotesque power play reversing the Seattle City Council’s vote to impose a mere $48 million a year tax on large, local corporations to combat the crisis of homelessness and unaffordable housing in your hometown. Given your successful tax avoidance mania, you should be ashamed of yourself. Because of your company’s insatiable greed, you have decided to ignore the plight of the homeless.
You should spend some personal time with Seattle’s homeless. Then you can announce what you have seen is inconsistent with our society‘s values and capabilities. You should then announce that you will personally pay that annual $48 million to the city. This charitable gesture will ground, ever so slightly, your cash investments in extraterrestrial space travel. Jeff, reduce your focus on the future, installing all robotic plants and your outer space ventures. You would do well to increase your focus on what is happening presently on Earth. Here, hard-pressed people have to live and raise their children with increasingly bleak prospects.
So you are on top of the world, hyper-rich, arrogant, with your raucous laugh and your sudden temper, believing that neither antitrust laws, nor labor laws, nor tax laws, nor consumer, nor environmental, nor securities laws will ever catch up with the excesses of your business model.
Don’t bet on it. Relentless greed with overly concentrated power (about the only thing you seem not to be willing or able to control is Alexa whose ambitions may come back to haunt you) sooner or later, faces a statute of limitations.
Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer, and author. His latest book is “The Seventeen Solutions: Bold Ideas for Our American Future.” Other recent books include, “The Seventeen Traditions: Lessons from an American Childhood,” “Getting Steamed to Overcome Corporatism: Build It Together to Win,” and “Only The Super-Rich Can Save Us” (a novel).