Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is so wealthy he makes $15,000 in the amount of time it takes you to read a headline about how rich he is. And yet, conditions for his employees are far from good. Now, former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is taking aim at the Bezos problem.
Sanders introduced a bill that would levy a very specific tax on people like Bezos. The “Stop Bad Employers by Zeroing Out Subsidies Bill“, shortened to Stop BEZOS, aims to recoup the money governments spends providing services to workers not paid a living wage — by taxing their employers.
“Despite low unemployment, we end up having tens of millions of Americans working at wages that are just so low that they can’t adequately take care of their family,” Sanders said. “And we have the absurd situation that 52 percent of all new income is going to the top one percent.”
The bill calls providing food assistance, Section 8 housing, Medicaid and other social services to employed Americans corporate welfare as it is money taxpayers are forced to spend to subsidize the low wages paid by massive corporations. Taking aim at businesses with more than 500 employees, the bill would tax the businesses as, in essence, a bill for the complete cost of government investments in keeping their employees alive.
The bill counts full-time and part-time workers as well as contract workers that are de facto employees, which would include giants in the gig economy like Uber.
With Bezos’ massive wealth, the naming of the act after him singles out the person who has benefited most off of welfare for the poorest Americans, as the money spent keeping those in poverty in his employ alive has contributed to his astronomic personal net worth.
“Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, is the wealthiest person on Earth, and since the beginning of this year, his wealth has increased by about $260 million every day,” said Sanders. “Meanwhile, thousands of Amazon workers rely on food stamps because their wages are so low.”
Amazon has refuted Sanders’ characterization of their company, arguing that they spend “real money and effort” upskilling employees. Despite their treatment of employees, Amazon remains massively popular. But Matt Stoller, a fellow at the Open Markets Institute, told Vox that Sanders is actually lowballing the dangers posed by the megacorporation.
“In some sense, [Sanders’s] critique is not big enough,” he said. “It’s a basic abuse of power problem, and Bernie is shining a light on one part of it, but it’s not the whole thing.”
There are risks associated with Sanders’ suggestion, though. Notably, the dangers posed by further incentivizing businesses to cut employees altogether, as Uber is attempting to do. Half of all jobs might be lost to automation in the next ten years, and charging businesses for their low payment of workers risks speeding that process up.
And, of course, in a Republican congress with Donald Trump as President, the odds of actually passing the law might be something like one in 168 billion. $168 billion is Bezos’ net worth.
Katelyn Kivel is a contributing editor for Grit Post in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.