Software, Hardware, Silverware

The “Burden”, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Tax

On May 6, the Senate will vote on a bill that would require online vendors to collect sales tax. The actual tax would be determined based on where the item is being shipped. So if you live in New Hampshire, when you buy online, you won’t have to pay sales tax, exactly as you would in a brick-and-mortar store in your neighborhood. And if you live in Florida, you’ll have to pay a 7% tax on items you buy online. Again, exactly as you would in a physical store in your town. Easy, logical. So naturally, many are up in arms about it.

This week, I got an email from Ebay. An email, note, that I received despite having unsubscribed from every correspondence Ebay auto-subscribes you to when you join1. The email was asking me to rally behind them in fighting Congress on this bill. It called on me to help out the small business. “Small”. The bill in question requires online merchants who bring in at least $1 million annually to start collecting sales tax. Ebay wants that number raised to $10 million. “Small”.

Ebay wants me to support the unfair advantage that online retailers have enjoyed for the past twenty years. It grinds my gears whenever American citizens attempt to avoid taxes they are capable of paying. So “No!”, Ebay, I will not join you in saying “No!” to Congress.

Amazon, a company who has for the longest time avoided sales tax by running the company and building warehouses in sales-tax-free states, supports the bill. Kristina Peterson, reporting for the Wall Street Journal:

Though the Seattle-based online retailing giant has clashed with several individual states this year over efforts to gather sales tax, Amazon supports “an even-handed federal framework for state sales tax collection,” Paul Misener, Amazon’s vice president for global public policy, said at Wednesday’s House Judiciary Committee hearing.

Good on you, Amazon. That stand is both controversial and forward-looking, and they deserve admiration for taking it. I understand completely why they’ve avoided sales tax thus far: it was the only way to be competitive. This legislation is way overdue, and Amazon recognizes that. It truly levels the playing field. Online merchants won’t be pressured to set up shop in New Hampshire. They can go wherever. Brick-and-morter stores won’t have to live in fear of the artificially low prices of their online counterparts. Not to mention the billions of dollars in tax revenue that’s been left on the table.

It’s popular, as this bill makes its way through Congress, to say that it will “make your whole life a lot more expensive”. I guess we’ll just overlook the fact that most of us are paying sales tax on most of our daily purchases? Cool. And really, what difference does it make? We’ve been enjoying tax-free internet purchases for two decades now, but that doesn’t mean it’s right.

Another says that “big business and big government are uniting to pursue their mutual interest in sticking it to the little guy”. It’s been awhile since I considered 1,000,000 “little”. Dammit, I hate conservative media.

It’s pretty simple: this bill will give physical and digital merchants equal footing, and that’s what our government is supposed to facilitate in our government. I get that you aren’t looking forward to paying a tad more for your online purchases, but selfishness won’t build a successful society.

  1. Not cool, Ebay. ↩︎