Who Subsidizes Whom? Sanders, Amazon, and Workers on Welfare

business_ethics_highlights_2Do public assistance payments to low-wage workers subsidize the employers of those low-wage workers? Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) believes they do, and has introduced a bill that, if made law, would levy a 100% tax on employers for the cost of public assistance provided to their employees.

A quick thought: Are taxpayers subsidizing Amazon (Walmart, etc.) through public assistance payments to their workers or is Amazon (Walmart, etc.) instead subsidizing taxpayers by employing people who, if unemployed, would be an even greater burden on public assistance programs? This question is important because it highlights the role that counterfactuals play in analyzing ethics cases.

Some may be inclined to believe that public assistance payments do subsidize Amazon (Walmart, etc.) because if there were no public assistance payments, Amazon (Walmart, etc.) would have to pay their workers more. “If there were no public assistance payments” is the counterfactual clause in that claim.

Others may be inclined to believe that Amazon (Walmart, etc.) is subsidizing taxpayers because if their low-wage workers weren’t employed by Amazon (Walmart, etc.), those workers would be an even greater burden on public assistance programs. “If their low-wage workers weren’t employed by Amazon (Walmart, etc.)” is the counterfactual clause in that claim.

An important consideration in evaluating competing counterfactual claims is whether the inferences drawn from them follow from the conditions imposed by the counterfactual: Would Amazon (Walmart, etc.) have to pay their workers more if there were no public assistance programs? Would those workers be an even greater burden on public assistance programs if they weren’t employed by Amazon (Walmart, etc.)?

Which is the (more) relevant or (more) plausible counterfactual? >>>

LINK: Bernie Sanders introduces ‘Stop BEZOS’ bill to tax Amazon for underpaying workers (by Adi Robertson for The Verge)

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) have introduced a bill that would tax companies like Amazon and Walmart for the cost of employees’ food stamps and other public assistance. Sanders’ Stop Bad Employers by Zeroing Out Subsidies Act (abbreviated “Stop BEZOS”) — along with Khanna’s House of Representatives counterpart, the Corporate Responsibility and Taxpayer Protection Act — would institute a 100 percent tax on government benefits that are granted to workers at large companies.

A report from nonprofit organization New Food Economy in April also indicated that 1 in 3 Arizona Amazon employees receive SNAP aid, and 1 in 10 receive them in Pennsylvania and Ohio. (The report was based on public records that only five states provided.) Amazon has said that the numbers are skewed by people who work part-time or were only briefly employed at Amazon.

What do you think?


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