Skip to main content

Common Dreams. Journalism funded by people, not corporations.

There has never been—and never will be—an advertisement on our site except for this one: without readers like you supporting our work, we wouldn't exist.

No corporate influence. No pay-wall. Independent news and opinion 365 days a year that is freely available to all and funded by those who support our mission: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good.

Our mission is clear. Our model is simple. If you can, please support our Fall Campaign today.

Support Our Work -- No corporate influence. No pay-wall. Independent news funded by those who support our mission: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. Please support our Fall Campaign today.

Capitalism has failed workers, and it has caused a surge in inequality that gets worse with each passing year. In "Capital in the 21st Century," Thomas Piketty showed that for 40 years, from 1970 to 2010, labor's share of national income (wages and salaries) has declined. Stanford research reveals that "the declining labor share at the economy level is driven by the growth of large firms." Like Amazon.  (Photo: Getty Images)

How a Failing Capitalist System Is Allowing Amazon to Cripple America

There may be no better argument for democratic socialism in America than the way individual state leaders have been falling over each other trying to lure corporations to their states with tax subsidies

Paul Buchheit

Capitalism is failing in America, and Amazon is both the cause and beneficiary of much of the breakdown. Jeff Bezos said, "We've had three big ideas at Amazon that we've stuck with for 18 years, and they're the reason we're successful: Put the customer first. Invent. And be patient." He might have added three capitalist practices familiar to his company: (1) Pay no taxes; (2) Drive competitors out of business; and (3) Exploit workers. 

Anarcho-Capitalism: The Sordid Details of Amazon's Tax Avoidance 

In 2018, according to its own SEC filings, Amazon claimed a refund on its $11 billion in U.S. profits. It did the same on nearly $6 billion in profits in 2017. The company has reportedly positioned itself to avoid even more future taxes with unspecified tax credits. 

In the most extreme form of capitalism taxes do not exist. This is called "anarcho-capitalism." Among all corporations, Amazon may be the leading advocate of this philosophy. They haven't paid federal income tax for the past two years. They set up headquarters in Luxembourg for tax breaks that are now being challenged. They claim minimal profits on hundreds of billions in revenue, resulting in one of the lowest profit margins among major corporations, and thus much less tax. Of course, Amazon claims to be using tax credits from past losses that stemmed from investment in research and development (R&D). But the company appears to overstate and obfuscate the R&D numbers. Its only 'explanation' of R&D in its annual report comes in an ambiguously all-encompassing section called "Technology and Content." Plus, that's no excuse to dodge taxes. Walmart and Google each spent nearly $12 billion on technology in 2018, almost as much as Amazon, but Walmart paid 28 percent in federal taxes, and Google 14 percent. 

We learn much more at the state level. Amazon has played one state against another for tax breaks over the years, most recently negotiating an estimated $3 billion tax credit from the state of New York before residents rebelled—as well they should have. The Economic Policy Institute found that employment levels don't significantly change in communities with new Amazon warehouses, and a recent study by The Economist concluded that the opening of a fulfillment center in a given community actually depresses warehouse wages. Furthermore, as an indication of the folly of wooing corporations with state subsidies, Upjohn research found that in the great majority of cases incentives are not even a part of a company's decision to locate in a given area. 

Most insidiously, Amazon's seemingly fair-minded acceptance of state sales taxes likely has a dark side. For years the company fought the state tax as it built a competitive advantage over smaller firms. Now that it's firmly established, online variety and convenience have replaced price as the primary incentives for most consumers, and so Amazon now supports a sales tax, very likely to discourage competition. Evidence comes from one study that found Walmart 34 percent cheaper than Amazon in four of five product categories.

Monopoly: Amazon and the Killing of Competition 

Kiplinger compiled a remarkable list of 49 companies, many of them familiar to almost all Americans, that are in danger of being driven out of business by Amazon. One of them, Toys 'r' Us, has already succumbed. Sears is nearly gone. Others include Barnes & Noble, Kroger, Rite Aid, Best Buy, Etsy, Yelp, Pandora, and even stalwarts like Target and Trader Joe's and UPS and FedEx and Office Depot and Staples. Investopedia agrees, adding Macy's and even Walgreen's and CVS and Costco. 

In a summary of "The Myth of Capitalism," by Jonathan Tepper and Denise Hearn, it is argued that "an increase in market concentration across the United States has resulted in a system that is not true capitalism, since freedom is being restricted... Amazon is crushing retailers.. It can determine what products can and cannot sell on its platform, and it competes with any customer that encounters success." Columbia University and UN economist Howard Steven Friedman adds, "Monopolies are one example of capitalism failing. Monopolies have virtually no competition and can dictate prices to their customers unless they are restricted by regulators." 

Of course, along the way Amazon has destroyed or dismantled or discouraged many smaller businesses. Like the jewelry store in New Mexico owned by Candelora Versace, who said her customers have started buying gems online, in part to avoid state taxes, and then visiting her store just for the settings. She considers the far-reaching effects of Amazon's tax avoidance: "The roads don't pay themselves. The schools don't fund themselves... When they don't want to pay the tax, it cheats us."

Labor in Decline: The Economic and Physical Abuse of Amazon's Workers 

Amazon warehouse workers make about $13 per hour. That's not a living wage for a U.S. family of four, and not even for a single person in many areas of the country. So the employees of this super-rich company turn to food stamps, letting U.S. taxpayers take care of them. In Ohio and Pennsylvania, one in ten Amazon workers were recently on SNAP. In Arizona, one in three. Along with the low pay comes intolerable working conditions, with overheated warehouses and employees using water bottles to avoid bathroom breaks in order to meet their schedules. And worse, employees have suffered workplace injuries that leave them homeless, disabled, or unable to earn an income. Employees are also forced to deal with constant surveillance, anti-union pressure, and the threat of losing their jobs. Much of Amazon's over-hyped R&D spending is focused on the development of robots to replace human workers. 

Capitalism has failed workers, and it has caused a surge in inequality that gets worse with each passing year. In Capital in the 21st Century, Thomas Piketty showed that for 40 years, from 1970 to 2010, labor's share of national income (wages and salaries) has declined. Stanford research reveals that "the declining labor share at the economy level is driven by the growth of large firms." Like Amazon.

A Good Reason for Democratic Socialism 

There may be no better argument for democratic socialism in America than the way individual state leaders have been falling over each other trying to lure corporations to their states with tax subsidies. We Americans have never been able to cooperate in ending this pointless waste of tax money that should be going to education and jobs and infrastructure. 

Does Jeff Bezos have any sense of social responsibility for all the societal benefits heaped upon his company? Amazon has arguably benefited more than any other company from what The Economist calls the "game-changing breakthroughs" of the Internet, which was built with our tax money through the National Science Foundation since the 1980s, and before that by the taxpayer-funded Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Fortune refers to Amazon's actions as "extracting public money for its own enrichment." 

But perhaps the Amazon boss doesn't care. According to The Atlantic, "Bezos has argued that there is not enough philanthropic need on earth for him to spend his billions on." If that truly reflects the man's attitude, it shows an incomprehensible ignorance or disdain on his part. Bezos himself said, "The only way that I can see to deploy this much financial resource is by converting my Amazon winnings into space travel...I am going to use my financial lottery winnings from Amazon to fund that." 

Good work, Jeff. Benefit from seventy years of public inventiveness and productivity and funding, and then fly off to the skies before you have to pay for it.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Paul Buchheit

Paul Buchheit

Paul Buchheit is an advocate for social and economic justice, and the author of numerous papers on economic inequality and cognitive science. He was recently named one of 300 Living Peace and Justice Leaders and Models. He is the author of "American Wars: Illusions and Realities" (2008) and "Disposable Americans: Extreme Capitalism and the Case for a Guaranteed Income" (2017). Contact email: paul (at) youdeservefacts.org.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

'Outrageous and Shameful': Dems May Cut Paid Leave Due to Manchin's Opposition

Decrying the plan, advocacy groups vowed that "the American people are not going to allow that essential human need to be ignored and negotiated away behind closed doors."

Jessica Corbett ·


Open Letter Warns Trump's 'Big Lie' GOP Poses Existential Threat to Democracy

"Now is the time for leaders in all walks of life—for citizens of all political backgrounds and persuasions—to come to the aid of the republic."

Brett Wilkins ·


Ahead of Historic House Hearing, Fresh Big Oil Misinformation Campaign Exposed

"It's always helpful to remember that big fossil fuel companies (besides being overwhelmingly responsible for carbon pollution) are also skeevy disinformation hucksters."

Jessica Corbett ·


'Very Welcome' Progress as Iran Agrees to Restart Talks on Nuclear Deal Sabotaged by Trump

One peace advocate urged all sides to reconvene negotiations "as soon as possible and with renewed urgency" to avert "disastrous" consequences for Iran and the world.

Brett Wilkins ·


House Progressives: 'When We Said These Two Bills Go Together, We Meant It'

"Moving the infrastructure bill forward without the popular Build Back Better Act risks leaving behind working people, families, and our communities."

Andrea Germanos ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo