Amazon welfare?

Tucker Carlson, the sometimes libertarian leaning Fox News pundit, is either a masterful troll or eminently confused about what the word “free” in the phrase “free markets” means. Last week he started pinch-hitting for Team Bernie when he joined Bernard in lamenting the “indefensible scam” of Amazon “offloading” payroll costs onto the taxpayer.

According to Carlson “many” Amazon employees are on welfare. This is the modus operandi of all who entreat the state to take action against some perceived societal ill. This unqualified, uncorroborated assertion is all the pretext needed to initiate action. How many is “many”? Well even according to Snopes this assertion is on flimsy ground. It is based on a mere estimate of the number of Amazon workers in just one state (Ohio) and indeed that number hardly qualifies as many – 11.8%. I suppose 600 or so workers in one auditorium would look like “many,” but within the context of the entire workforce (even assuming it extrapolates to all states) 1 in 10 is hardly “many”.

Carlson doesn’t really suggest a solution to the problem, leaving the mechanics of that process up to Bernie (100% tax on Amazon for any welfare used by employees – I guess the $15 billion in taxes Amazon paid last year isn’t quite enough to cover their “fair share” of welfare). One is left with the assumption that Carlson, like Sanders, would like to see some sort of government action to fix this “problem.” Carlson claims although conservatives are all for free markets, this market is not at all free. According to Carlson it is a monopoly (and we all know monopolies are bad – except when that monopoly is the government itself) that achieved its status via government regulation. That may be true, however that is a pretty bold claim given that Carlson provided no evidence for it. I’m unaware of any government regulations that Amazon or Walmart could have used to their benefit, although I would not be at all surprised if that were true to some extent. Retail just doesn’t happen to be one of those more highly regulated and monopolized industries such as pharmaceuticals, banking, or healthcare (where government regulations create artificial barriers to entry thereby diminishing competition and thus reducing supply which in turn drives prices skyward).

What both Sanders and Carlson miss in their missives is that the solution is not more government regulations to fix the consequences of prior government regulations. The solution is to remove government from the equation. If companies are benefiting from government regulations or subsidies, then eliminate them. If companies are able to pay lower wages to some employees because said employees are also being paid a wage by government (through welfare) then eliminate the welfare. You can’t hand out a bunch of free money to people and then expect that to not factor at all into their determination of the wage they will be wiling to accept. If you need $20/hour to get by and the government is paying you the equivalent of $10/hour in food, healthcare and housing welfare, then all things equal you are going to be much more willing to accept a $10/hour job.

As an employer myself I’ll let you in on a little secret. Employers don’t set wages. You do. Or rather groups of you do. Maybe you want $30/hour but if everyone in your working-skillset-peer group will work for $20 then why pay you $30/hour if there are hundreds of others more than happy to work for $20/hour with the same skillset as you. I’m sorry if you are a single mom raising 3 kids and working an entry level job but that is not your employer’s fault and your employer has no obligation to pay you more because you need it when there is a long line of single teenagers with the same skillset as you willing to work for a lot less. It is extremely disingenuous to lambaste a company for not paying its workers enough merely because you found one example of an unlucky individual who can’t get by on a salary that is more that enough for thousands of others.

Being mad at Amazon or Walmart for hiring people in a welfare-backed society is like being mad at them for using roads to deliver products or the postal service to send mail. Here’s a novel concept: if you want to eliminate free-riding effects for services stop paying for things with taxes (which socialize costs in a way that will always benefit some to the detriment of others) and bill only when services are actually used.