SATURDAY UPDATE: The Denver Post’s David Harsanyi did respond, but we think beer-thirty started early at the Post yesterday afternoon. Should have probably just taken his lumps, because this response is, well, it’s unusually and notably ridiculous.
The bill gives Amazon an ultimatum. Collect taxes on your site for Colorado or hand over the names of those who do not pay up. If you do not, Colorado can subpoena you for the names and/or fine you 10 bucks a pop. Sounds like “force” to me. But in the interest of peace, I concede, I could have qualified “force” with “try to,” as per a Supreme Court ruling. But it’s far from a mendacious statement…
Below, you can catch up on what we’re talking about if you haven’t already: in a column yesterday, Harsanyi asserts that the bill in question “forces” online merchants to collect sales tax. The bill very plainly does not do that, having been exhaustively debated and amended to coexist with federal law. And reaching for the most incendiary terms in one’s vocabulary–isn’t every law ever passed an ‘ultimatum?’–doesn’t make this demonstrably false statement any more truthful.
But now that Harsanyi has determinedly picked up the shovel, for God’s sake, don’t stop him.
I gather most people comprehend while reading. So it would be mind-bogglingly deceptive if I had actually written ‘lose’ or ‘loss’ or ‘losing’ or anything of the sort. My column does not – not once. What I wrote was: “Unfortunately, this meant closing its associates program, which involved an estimated 5,000 jobs.’ That statement is true.
Sorry, but there is no way to read Harsanyi’s column and not determine that he wants the reader to think 5,000 ‘jobs’ were lost. The sentence Harsanyi cited in his own defense quite obviously asserts that, and his closing paragraph again deplores the idea that the legislature would be “willing to risk the jobs of thousands of citizens for a couple million bucks.” For reasons we’ve described below, Harsanyi’s invocation of “5,000 jobs” wildly hyperbolizes the economic impact of Amazon’s actions earlier this week–period. We’re not sure exactly what Harsanyi thinks he is refuting here, but it’s not the point we made.
Original post, which, needless to say, we stand behind completely, follows.
The big political story this week in Colorado was Monday’s announcement by online retail giant Amazon.com that they are terminating their relationships with “affiliates” located in the state. Conservatives have rallied to Amazon’s defense, while Democrats and their allies have reacted with indignation and threatened to boycott the retailer.
The biggest problem we see here is a profound lack of understanding: of what the new state law in question actually does, and what Amazon did in response–and why. And we’re sorry to say, that lack of understanding isn’t helped a bit by Denver Post columnist David Harsanyi today:
[I]f anyone ever needed an obvious illustration of how government overreach can damage an economy, they need look no further than the Colorado legislature’s foolish attempt to wheedle a few extra bucks out of consumers via an Internet sales tax.
After legislation forcing online companies to collect sales tax passed, Amazon.com moved to protect its consumers and long-term interests by severing its ties with Colorado. Unfortunately, this meant closing its associates program, which involved an estimated 5,000 jobs.
Amazon’s actions were not surprising, as it did the same in North Carolina and Rhode Island…
Full stop–this is some pretty shockingly false information to find itself printed in the state’s newspaper of record, even in an opinion column. Everyone who has followed this issue since House Bill 1193 was being debated knows that the bill does not “force” online companies to collect sales tax. Until federal laws change states can’t do that, and that is why the bill merely requires online retailers to report sales to the state and customers. This has been argued out so many times that the only way for Harsanyi to get it this wrong is to intentionally do so.
Next, there’s the matter of the ‘loss’ of “an estimated 5,000 jobs.” If you read that without comprehending, you might actually believe that what we’re talking about here are 5,000 actual paycheck generating, family supporting jobs. That is exaggeration well past the point of misleading–we’re still waiting to see estimates on average income for Amazon’s “affiliates,” but just about everyone we’ve talked to who carried Amazon’s ads on their site never even earned the minimum amount required for Amazon to generate a check. One person who had an Amazon box on their page has made about five dollars in as many years. Obviously some people may have focused on these ads a little more and done a little better, but to call the termination of this commission program ‘losing 5,000 jobs’ is just mind-bogglingly deceptive.
The rest of Harsanyi’s column doesn’t get much more intellectually honest: he doesn’t think that the state should be considering “fairness” with regard to Amazon’s tax advantage over local retailers–leave that to “toddlers and legislators,” he says. Of course, he doesn’t want to talk about the tax advantage at all; it’s all about their ‘far superior business model,’ even though the tax advantage is pretty darn central to that ‘superior business model’ based on how vigorously they defend it.
We have trouble imagining how this story could be more egregiously misrepresented.
UPDATE: More explanation on what really happened and why this column is wrong.