America’s lone self-proclaimed social-democrat Senator, Bernie Sanders, has exploded back onto the national stage following a relatively quiet period in the wake of his lost bid for the Democrat primary against now fallen star Hillary Clinton.
But interestingly this time Sanders is at least attempting to align interests with an unlikely character, President Donald Trump; as he himself continues his campaign against the American megacorporation Amazon and its owner Jeff Bezos, whom he has publicly condemned multiple times for purportedly cheating the U.S. tax system and thus the American people.
The unlikely alignment of populist platforms comes in the form of the Stop Bad Employers by Zeroing Out Subsidies (BEZOS) Act which at its most elementary seeks to force companies with employees on welfare programs to repay to US taxpayers whatever said programs cost for that employee.
In other words, companies would be targeted for having employees on public assistance and wouldn’t be allowed to get away with it financially. This would only apply to any companies with 500 or more employees to spare small businesses (hypothetically).
Let’s establish this right off the bat; the BEZOS bill will *absolutely* not pass. Even with the Congress stacked in favor of Bernie’s general allies the Democrats (instead of Republicans as it is now) pushing such a far reaching redistributive policy through the modern U.S. system would be a monumental task. With Republicans generally opposed to Sanders’ ideology at the helm, it becomes an impossible one.
Bernie Sanders knows this.
He likely himself has no illusions of a legislative victory. Senator Sanders instead is looking for a victory somewhere else arguably more important, the American public sphere. Bernie thinks he has a winning message here for a citizenry already stirred into a populist ‘America first’ fervor by (ironically) Sen. Sander’s chief opponent, President Trump. So, what’s in this BEZOS bill anyway and should you buy it?
Even if you aren’t a socialist like Sanders, the BEZOS bill addresses some glaring issues that don’t require a desire for mass redistribution to identify. Trump has hit on them himself in his attacks on Bezos and his company, and it's more than safe to claim he doesn’t identify with Sanders on ideological grounds. It comes down to the dollars.
With Americans on welfare rolls (of some sort) still hanging around historic highs since the recession following the 2008 financial crisis despite a recovery on paper, companies taking advantage is a real concern.
When he revealed the legislation, Sanders cited a UC Berkeley study that found American taxpayers to be forking over $150 billion in taxes to support welfare recipients that are employed by companies like Amazon and Walmart, yet still cannot make ends meet. In Sanders’ words, “Our legislation gives large, profitable employers a choice: Pay workers a living wage or pay for the public assistance programs their low-wage employees are forced to depend on.” But while that may seem like an easy fix on Capitol Hill, it gets more complicated on the ground.
The issue with this bill comes down to its application. While I could go on about the economic repercussion of this policy for 20 (likely very boring) pages, I’ll compress it to two key issues.
1. Amazon (and others like Walmart) will work around the policy: That is to say when faced with shrinking bottom lines Bezos and other fortune 500 bigwigs aren’t going to simply concede to Sanders, they’ll dodge the blow by raising wages to pay employees *just enough* to stay off the welfare rolls and make back the raises by cutting personnel/escalating the warpath to automation.
2. Collateral Casualties: While the bill safely excludes Mom and Pop stores by establishing a 500-employee minimum, it will still hit a lot of unintended companies hard, especially those centered around low-value goods and services like eateries and agriculture. To avoid the wrath of blanket taxation, many companies could be forced to ditch their ‘expendable’ staff to properly pay vital core workers within BEZOS bounds. Or they’ll simply take their compensation system under the table entirely, which makes for even less taxes to make up for welfare expenditures.
The point is, as so often is the case, the legislation that sounds like a generally sound plan (Force billionaires to pay back the welfare system) is laden with potential unintended consequences, and unintentional victims. While we won’t see this BEZOS iteration comes to pass, with both sides of the populist fence honing in on the problem, it might not be long until we see a much more likely (and bipartisan) attempt at taking on the richest man in the world.