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Amazon is on the rise and proposing big changes to US laws. This could be great for a lot of Americans and for the country, or it could be mostly talk.
Amazon is clamoring for a state minimum wage of $ 15 an hour. The company mentioned (briefly) in a blog post in April that it was in favor of increasing the federal corporate tax rate. Amazon wrote this week that it would “actively support” a proposed federal law to legalize marijuana. Last year the company said it wanted Congress to establish rules for the ethical use of facial recognition technology, including Amazon’s recognition.
Some of these actions could really change people’s lives. My concern is that Amazon may want recognition from the public and policymakers for supporting these laws, but it is not doing the concerted and sustained work needed to make a real impact – unless it is directly helping Amazon .
We know that companies work hard for or against laws that are good for their bottom line. But when companies say they support policies that they believe can help everyone, do they spend the same amount of money and effort on those efforts? (And should they?)
Emily Stewart, who writes for Vox’s Recode, recently asked similar questions to all companies, including tech giants. But maybe we should elevate the tech superstars because of their power over our lives and their influence over policymakers and public perception.
Corporate pressure can’t hurt to nudge a Congress that is often bogged down or slow to pass legislation. Unions have been calling for a minimum wage of $ 15 for years. It is possible that Amazon’s advocacy could be even more effective in gaining public support and changing the law. The same goes for Facebook’s relentless promotions in support of revised US Internet regulations.
These companies deserve credit for taking on big problems, but what matters is that they see it through to the end. As Stewart wrote, “Vague gestures by companies and executives are a way of smoothing out real political and social problems and distracting the control they deserve.”
An episode from Amazon’s past also invites skepticism about his motives in political battles. For years, the company loudly proclaimed its support for a national sales tax in the United States. Amazon knew a national sales tax in Congress was most likely a non-runner. But Amazon’s position helped fight government laws that impose sales taxes on online purchases.
There was never a national sales tax. Amazon began compromising with states about collecting sales taxes about a decade ago. Until then, the company had benefited from long-term price advantages over conventional dealers.
This story shows that what Amazon called a principled political position was likely little more than a strategic maneuver.
Here are some questions American taxpayers can ask of tech companies campaigning for policy change: How is the company pushing for this law? What specific political proposals does it have? How much money will the company spend on lobbying? Will the company commit to status reports on its political advocacy and results?
Amazon’s lobbying disclosures, without much detail, indicate that minimum wage issues are among the issues the company has been plaguing with Congress members. Jodi Seth, an Amazon spokeswoman, also pointed out the company’s ads and opinion pieces to increase the minimum wage and said it was one of the few issues that affects everyone on Amazon’s policy team.
I’ll add one more question to my list: Why? No, the real answer. Radical openness to corporate motivations for proposed policy changes could help win the trust of lawmakers and the general public.
Why not be open to Amazon that raising the minimum wage could be good for many American workers and for Amazon’s business? The company may have to pay more to attract enough highly skilled workers and keep them satisfied, and its competitors may not be able to afford higher wages.
Facebook and some other tech companies that are behind a national digital privacy law in the United States don’t usually say out loud that they want tougher rules from Congress to usher in tough laws that some states have passed .
I am creating a table listing selected policy positions from major tech companies. I promise to report here regularly on what the companies have done. (And please email me with suggestions for any tech company guidelines you’d like to pursue. Include “guidelines” in the subject line.)
Before we go …
Facebook struggles with itself: Some employees challenged Facebook bosses for actions they believed helped the Indian government suppress dissenting opinions on the internet and for removing some pro-Palestinian posts, report my colleagues Sheera Frenkel and Mike Isaac . It’s the latest example of divisions between some Facebook employees who want the company to stand up to domineering governments and a policy team handling troubled international relationships.
It’s hard to build a Silicon Valley from scratch: Rest of World explores what went wrong in Kenya’s efforts to build a city that was meant to be a high-tech utopia for residents and a hub for tech companies. “Smart cities are not a panacea for socio-economic problems, but rather ways to distract citizens from larger, structural ones,” the article says.
Meet the new king of TikTok: Khabane Lame, a 21 year old former factory worker in Italy, is the fastest growing video creator on TikTok. My colleagues Jason Horowitz and Taylor Lorenz explain the appeal of his clever and relatable reaction videos. (Here, for example, he’s appalled by Sour Patch Kid Pizza.)
Birds are so great. Here a cockatiel (I think?) Dances and sings to the piano.
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