Walmart routinely tops the list of the world’s most generous companies. And for good reason. In the name of charity, it donates 90 million pounds of fresh food per year to Feeding America. In 2015 alone, it pledged $100 million to advance economic mobility for retail workers. It gave out $47 million in grants to local fire departments, law enforcement agencies, schools, and rec centers in the communities where it operates.
The biggest group of food stamp recipients in the country is full-time employees at Walmart. We pay $6.2 billion in taxes every year to support them. In its notorious political spending to hold down the minimum wage and eliminate union protections, Walmart strives to prevent its workers from living a life in which its hunger alleviation partnership would be less necessary. In its notorious lobbying to slash corporate taxes, it ensures that the fire departments it funds will continue to need it.
Last week, Amazon successfully bullied the Seattle City Council into cancelling a homelessness alleviation tax. The tax—which the Council had already passed unanimously—sought to fix something that the Amazon headquarters in large part created by pricing most residents out of the housing market and prompting a rampant homelessness problem within just a few years. In its original form, the tax charged $500-per-employee, per year, on corporations that made more than $20 million per year within the city. But when Amazon responded by halting construction on a building downtown, putting 7,000 jobs in immediate jeopardy, the council brought it down to $275-per-employee.
At that, Amazon resumed construction, but joined forces with the likes of Starbucks and Microsoft (also headquartered in Seattle) to sponsor a mass PR campaign against the tax.
Last Monday, the Council voted 7-2 to cancel the tax that all nine of them voted for just four weeks earlier.
This may not surprise you. But perhaps these two Jeff Bezos tweets will. Mary’s Place is a homeless shelter in Seattle:
He tweeted this next one last week, the day after he got the homelessness tax cancelled:
So what gives? Why do corporations insist that we’re “anti-business” to tax them more or demand they pay their workers a higher minimum wage, and then proceed to give away hundreds of millions of dollars to provide the exact services for the exact populations that their taxes and wage hikes were designed to address? Why do some wealthy people fund both hospital wings and lobbyists to free themselves from the requirement to help others afford the visit?
As progressives, we say that the root problem is greed. I think that’s an incomplete answer, and a little bit lazy. Donating millions of your own dollars to charity and public projects is, let’s face it—by-definition not greedy.
Consider instead this quote by Nietzsche:
When the democracy vanishes, and with it any kind of social contract, there is no use to feed the “useless/excluded” anymore. Therefore, the excluded disappear and the upper classes depend less than ever on the society. Already today, the members of the upper classes of the world are more close to each other than they are to the excluded of their own country.
We see this in our neighborhoods, where income segregation has increased 20% since 1990. We see it in the global rise in gated communities over just the past decade. In the national surge of private police forces.
Why would you pay into a safety net that you don’t need and can’t imagine needing? Why would you allow the government to siphon off even more of your earnings to support a flailing group of Americans that keeps growing in size as it shrinks in relevance to you?
That’s what charity is for.
The problem with charity is that it does nothing to address the inequalities in capitalism that make the giver’s charity so necessary in the first place. Clean water, feeding the hungry, getting the homeless back on their feet—charities that work on these issues are irreproachable. Wealthy individuals and large corporations that donate their millions here are irreproachable.
But requiring them and all their peers to pay the type of wages and taxes that would diminish the world’s need for their boundless charity, and indeed, would diminish their and their companies’ ability to be boundless in their charity?
Then, it’s war.
And that’s the difference.