In January of this year Jeff Bezos, the chairman and CEO of the huge online retailer Amazon.com, made a $33 million contribution to a fund that offers college scholarships to certain qualified undocumented immigrants in the United States. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Bezos is not now one of President Donald Trump’s favorite people.
Last week the President unleashed one of his now notorious twitter storms at Bezos’ expense. The day before Easter Sunday he tweeted about how the U.S. Postal Service loses money “on every package it delivers for Amazon.” He got immediate push-back on this. But on April 2 he stuck to his guns, tweeting: “Only fools, or worse, are saying that our money losing Post Office makes money with Amazon. THEY LOSE A FORTUNE….”
The following day he returned to the point, saying that Amazon “should pay these costs” it has allegedly imposed, “(plus)”. Also, he said that the Post Office’s “own leaders don’t have a clue” that this is a money loser for them.
What’s going on? Aside from the immigration angle, and the issue of Amazon’s relationship with the USPS, part of the issue for POTUS seems to be that Bezos owns the Washington Post. He bought it in 2013 for $250 million in cash. It is worth noting that Bezos owns the newspaper through a holding company, Nash Holdings LLC, so that it is not under the same corporate roof as Amazon. Nonetheless, Trump has claimed that the Post serves as an unregistered lobbyist for Amazon.
Left Wing View
A common response to POTUS’ tweets on this point has been to attempt to correct him on the underlying issue. The U.S. Postal Service is not losing money on the packaging side of its business. The USPS makes money on that side, and loses money on exorbitant pension obligations. This means that Amazon (in common with other package mailers of course) in effect subsidize those pensioners and arguably also those of us who still send old-fashioned snail-mail letters to each other.
Emily Bary, at MarketWatch, says that Trump appears to have concerns about the extent to which Amazon is a threat to traditional brick-and-mortar retailers. But she thinks little of that argument, saying that efficient retailers have been posing a threat to inefficient retailers for centuries.
Another group of observers on the left make the case that POTUS is something worse than garden-variety wrong on this point. POTUS is acting despotically, threatening new taxes or punishments in order to silence a perceived foe. Yascha Mounk, writing in Slate, says for example that “when the President is busy handing out lage presents to businesses around the country … it is naive to pretend that his hostility to Amazon is motivated by anything other than an attempt to curb the critical coverage of Bezos’ Washington Post.”
Matthew Iglesias at Vox refers likewise to Trump’s broadsides about how Amazon must pay up the supposed costs it has imposed as “raising dire prospects for American democracy,” though he is also comforted by the possibility that Trump may be all bark and no bite.
Right Wing View
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is generally considered on the rightward side of U.S. politics, yet the Chamber is aligning with Bezos in this feud.
Amazon itself has taken the attacks in stride. The management says investors should ignore them and, after an initial dip, investors seem to have adopted that policy.
The National Review, the magazine of opinion associated with the late William F. Buckley, editorializes of the subject. ”We would tax online sales in the state of the seller,” it says, though that would be averse to Amazon’s interests: still, such “policy reevaluations should not take place in the context of a politicized campaign against one company.”
Breitbart has said nothing about Bezos, Amazon, and their relations with POTUS in the days since Easter. But earlier, it has paired the two and it made it clear that where they differ, it sides with Trump.
Finally, on twitter, those who are Trump’s supporters in general are his supporters as against Bezos in particular as well.