[Plura-list] Ferris wheel offices; UK to tax Amazon's victims; Amazon returns end up in landfills

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Fri Oct 16 15:13:19 EDT 2020


Tonight's Attack Surface Lecture: ​​SciFi Genre with Sarah Gailey and
Chuck Wendig

Full schedule:


Today's links

* Ferris wheel offices: Well-ventilated, unbeatable views, sub-par toilets.

* UK to tax Amazon's victims: Only Amazon competitors will have to pay
the UK's Amazon tax.

* Amazon returns end up in landfills: The CBC's hidden camera investigation.

* This day in history: 2010, 2015, 2019

* Colophon: Recent publications, upcoming appearances, current writing
projects, current reading


🥩 Ferris wheel offices

Yomiuriland is a sweet little mid-century theme-park near Tokyo; like a
lot off smaller parks, it was already experiencing hard economic times
before the pandemic, and then things got worse still.

The park is now offering its ferris wheel gondolas to local businesses
to use as socially distanced, wifi-enabled micro-offices: what they lack
in toilets, the make up for in stunning views.


Workers can also opt to work poolside; the park offers driving rang for
post-work/lunch-hour golfing.


🥩 UK to tax Amazon's victims

Imposing penalties on cheating monopolists is hard and must be done with
care, lest the companies turn new rules into a competitive advantage -
rules they can afford to follow, but which their smaller customers cannot.

For many years, Big Tech maintained the fiction that their digital sales
were consummated somewhere in Irish-adjacent high seas or possibly in a
basement in Lichtenstein and thus sales-tax exempt. This let Amazon sell
books for 20% less than its non-cheating UK competitors.

To fix this, the EU created a rule requiring digital retailers to
collect two non-contradictory pieces of personally identifying info on
each purchaser (including non-EU customers) to determine where they were
for tax purposes.

This data had to be retained for ten years, and digital retailers had to
remit quarterly sales-tax reports and payments to any of the 28 EU
member states from which they had collected a single cent.

I was a Londoner then, running a small digital bookstore selling my own
books (https://craphound.com/shop). This store turned over a couple
hundred pounds/quarter, and after the first quarter, I owed £17 in tax.
It cost me more than £700 to file the paperwork to pay it.

Now, there was a way to escape this: all I had to do was stop selling my
books and move all my sales to Amazon. Amazon would steal 30% of my
money and do my EU paperwork for me. They had whole buildings full of
accountants and programmers to automate the process.

Yes, Amazon finally had to collect sales tax, but many EU sellers
smaller than Amazon went bust or were absorbed into Amazon - this was
not a punishment for tax-cheating, it was a reward.

It's happening again. In an effort to get Amazon to pay its share of UK
tax (the company paid paid £14.4m tax on UK revenues of £13.7bn in
2019), the British government has enacted a 2% "digital services tax."

This tax is levied on the fees that Amazon charges the sellers who use
its platform (i.e. me, if I'd decided to move my online bookstore to
Amazon) (I moved to the USA and didn't have to).


The idea is that this will catch Big Tech cheaters without penalising
high-street retailers like John Lewis. But Amazon has taken the
absolutely predictable step of announcing that it will simply charge 2%
more for third-party goods that it sells.

Here's why that's a big deal: Amazon preys on these sellers. It spies on
their sales through its platform to figure out which businesses are
worth entering, then it clones their products, sells them below cost,
and puts them out of business.

The EU and the US are both crafting rules to ban this practice, but
those rules won't matter if Amazon is *required* to charge 2% extra for
every third-party item - this creates a permanent advantage for Amazon,
a universal excuse for predatory selling.

A simpler answer: charge Amazon tax on its earnings where money changes
hands, irrespective of accounting fictions that book those earnings in
low-Earth orbit or the British Virgin Islands.

If Amazon can't provide adequate documentation to ascertain where the
transaction took place, simply treat 100% of its total global revenue as
taxable in the UK.

I bet they'll figure it out.

Then do all the other profit-shifting scammers: Google, Ikea, Apple,
Rolex, etc.


🥩 Amazon returns end up in landfills

The CBC hid GPSes and wireless cameras in Amazon returns to see what
happened when Canadians sent their Amazon purchases back for refunds.
Amazon claims it processes these returns responsibly, either restocking
them or selling them to third-party jobbers.

That matters: 30-40% of online purchases are returned (it's <10% for
physical retail).

But those returns largely end up being destroyed. In just *one*
facility, between one and five *truckloads* of Amazon returns are
shredded, mostly for landfill.


Two thirds of the items that CBC bugged were destroyed.

The returns that *did* make it back into peoples' hands travel hundreds,
even thousands of kilometers before that happened.

Amazon's pitch is that it enjoys economies of scale: being large allows
it to figure out how to operate efficiently. But what scale mostly
delivers to Amazon is the power to externalize its environmental and
labor costs with impunity. The efficiencies are hard to find.


🥩 This day in history

#10yrsago Rudy Rucker remembers Benoit Mandelbrot

#5yrsago UK MPs learn that GCHQ can spy on them, too, so now we may get
a debate on surveillance

#5yrsago Tweens are smarter than you think: the wonderful, true story of
the ERMAHGERD meme

#5yrsago Eric Holder: I didn’t prosecute bankers for reasons unrelated
to my $3M/year law firm salary

#1yrago Britain’s unbelievably stupid, dangerous porn “age verification”
scheme is totally dead

#1yrago Want a ride in a Lyft? Just sign away your right to sue if they
kill, maim, rape or cheat you

#1yrago In Kansas’s poor, sick places, hospitals and debt collectors
send the ailing to debtor’s prison

#1yrago A San Diego Republican operator ran a massive,
multimillion-dollar Facebook scam that targeted boomers

#1yrago “The People’s Money”: A crisp, simple, thorough explanation of
how government spending is paid for


🥩 Colophon

Today's top sources: Brian Milnes, Slashdot (https://slashdot.org/),
Fipi Lele.

Currently writing: My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel
about truth and reconciliation. Yesterday's progress: 536 words (73412

Currently reading: Harrow the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir

Latest podcast: Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town (part 17)

Upcoming appearances:

* The Attack Surface Lectures: 8 nights of bookstore-hosted events in
which I and a massive group of entertaining and knowledgeable experts
discourse on my latest novel's themes, Oct 13-22

* Milehicon (Guest of Honor!), Oct 23-5, https://milehicon.org/

* Coding Democracy/Toronto International Festival of Authors, Oct 24

Recent appearances:

* Judge John Hodgman: "The Doctorow Doctrine"

* Savage Lovecast

* Trashfuture: Stolen Likes Acknowledgment

Latest book:

* "How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism": an anti-monopoly pamphlet
analyzing the true harms of surveillance capitalism and proposing a

* "Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new
introduction by Edward Snowden:
https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250774583; personalized/signed copies

* "Poesy the Monster Slayer" a picture book about monsters, bedtime,
gender, and kicking ass. Order here:
https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781626723627. Get a personalized, signed
copy here:

Upcoming books:

* "Attack Surface": The third Little Brother book, Oct 20, 2020.

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