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This New York Times piece on the Amazon-California sales tax dispute misses the long-term perspective. In the 90's, when online commerce was just taking off, having it free from sales tax was absolutely the right thing to do, since it gave an advantage to a fledgling industry that needed every advantage just to survive. But now that online commerce is becoming the dominant model in many industries, it is almost criminal to continue to provide that advantage.

Like so many others, I love the convenience of shopping at Amazon, the unparalleled selection, the great customer service, the ease of checkout, the low prices. I don't need the added incentive of no sales tax to make me shop there. Yes, it would be a minor inconvenience for Amazon to collect sales tax for every county in the nation (but hardly the challenge they make it out to be, given the power of computers to handle repetitive tasks, and Amazon's vaunted capabilities at building scalable systems.) But at this point, the added advantage we're giving to them and other online retailers is completely unnecessary, except to gild their bottom line. Meanwhile, it's doing terrible damage at the local level, which our society will one day rue.

We're seeing the result in shuttered local businesses, which degrades the quality of our towns. I was really surprised on a recent visit to Harvard Square to find the old Wordsworth bookstore location still empty seven years after the bookstore's closure. What a sign of the decline of local retail when a prime location in the heart of one of the most prestigious college towns in America has remained empty. I understand why it would not have been filled by another bookstore, but the fact that no other retailer has been able to survive there is a telling example of just how far the pendulum has swung in terms of what kind of business needs preferential tax treatment!

The damage to local and state government is even greater. Local services depend on sales tax for their funding. As local retail declines, so does the community's tax base. Services decline (I was just in a vacation community in the Sierras this weekend where I was told I had to haul out my trash to another town 15 miles away!), and the quality of life goes with them.

Amazon's attempt to avoid sales tax is one more sad example of the short-term thinking that rules American business. Amazon has to be aware of the long term trends in retail and its consequences for local communities, but they are selfishly putting their own short-term advantage over paying their own fair share of what it takes for us to function as a collaborative society.

If California fails in its attempt to collect online sales tax, there will be other taxes levied on us that are far more onerous (see for example California's attempt to collect "use taxes" for online transactions ) This shifts the compliance burden from an online retailer, who can easily track and charge the tax at point of sale, to us as individuals. This is a truly horrible outcome, one that would do far more to drive me away from online retail than paying sales tax.

In an imaginary world where Jeff Bezos was as public spirited as he is far-sighted about pursuing competitive advantage, Amazon would not only willingly collect and pay sales tax, but would offer the infrastructure they built for doing so to other online businesses. Amazon would encourage other online retailers to also adopt this policy, realizing that a society in which every member pays a fair share is a far better society than one in which particular business segments or particular individuals successfully avoid paying taxes while still reaping the benefits that then must be paid for by others.
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Noel Yap
IMO, what's criminal is when one entity (eg the government) takes money from another entity (eg people, companies, etc) without their consent. But I suppose since government decides what is really criminal, it makes an exception for itself.
This is very well said:

"In an imaginary world where Jeff Bezos was as public spirited as he is far-sighted about pursuing competitive advantage, Jeff Bezos would not only willingly collect and pay sales tax, but would offer the infrastructure Amazon built for doing so to other online businesses. He'd encourage other online retailers to also adopt this policy, realizing that a society in which every member pays a fair share is a far better society than one in which particular business segments or particular individuals successfully avoid paying taxes while still reaping the benefits that then must be paid for by others."
I see both sides of the issue. California has a right to tax Amazon sales to the state. Amazon has a right to refuse to sell into California if they choose. And both have a right to negotiate a settlement with each other.
Online sellers have to deal with the costs of shipping the product to the buyer. This works to offset the sales tax advantage. The local seller has the advantage that the buyer doesn't have to pay additional for shipping.
+Noel Yap I don't think what's being suggested is criminal. You may not like it, but criminality is a whole 'nother ball game.
Tim O'Reilly
+Noel Yap I wonder how your tune would change if your house were on fire, or you were routinely held up at gunpoint outside your local store, or if you had to drive on dirt roads because gas taxes couldn't be collected to fund them without the consent of drivers, or if you had an outhouse, no running water, and a garbage pile in your backyard. We can disagree about the size of government, how well it spends the money it collects, and what its priorities are, but it takes a particular kind of blindness to pretend that no government (and no taxes at all) are a solution.
I live in New York State where Amazon has had to charge sales tax. It hasn't stopped me from purchasing at Amazon and it puts money back in my community. I feel as though my purchases support my own needs, the needs of my community, and the need Amazon has to stay in business.
I have mixed thoughts pro and con about this. If an online business headquartered in another state has to pay sales tax to the local government of a customer, then should not that business be entitled to have influence on that government? Perhaps someone will explain why that is a bogus notion.

The reality of life is, adapt or die. Local businesses have to find creative ways to compete, or add online sales to their business. When the automobile was invented, should automobile manufacturers have been made to pay taxes to support horse breeders? (Not sure that is an apt metaphor.)
I completely disagree with the concept of sales taxes, they are completely regressive, and there are far better ways to collect "revenue" for governments. Sales taxes are especially unfair for lower income and middle class incomes, anyways - well said +Tim O'Reilly - good piece.
+Lil Peck I don't think that this is just a case of protecting local business. It's a case of coming up with a fair way for local government to get paid for the services they provide. Want a local income tax instead? Seems to me that if Amazon and others win, there will need to be a national VAT as in most European countries, a tax that is just baked into the price of the product.
+Steven Sudit Agree that sales tax is regressive, but it's also closest to the point at which services are provided, so there's less "pipeline loss" than in any less regressive tax, which generally needs to be collected at a greater distance from the source. You trade off your evils.
Tim - with all due respect, but it seems like the "short term thinking" may be yours. You want to return Harvard Square (and "our towns") to a form that hasn't been viable since the 70s (which is one of the many reasons people fled to the suburbs). Cities need to be competitive. They need to provide reasons to live there. If Harvard Yard can't fill a space that's not all Amazon's fault. It could have a lot to do with the fact that traffic is awful, parking is non-existent, etc. Charging tax on Amazon's purchases in Cambridge, Mass., (or Detroit or Cleveland) won't fill that space. It won't make a single locale a better place to live or build retail establishments. It will just be more money that consumers have to pay. Companies don't pay taxes, people do. And though I think +Steven Sudit is a bit harsh to call libertarians "whiners," :-) he's right that sales tax is regressive.
+Tim Cuthbertson Amazon isn't proposing not selling to people in California. They just stopped paying affiliate fees to take away one more argument that they have "tax nexus" in the state.
The real problem for the local sellers is that the Internet has wiped out their primary advantage. The local sellers have made money by being the "best of known alternatives." When the other competition was another brick and mortar store then the buyer faced higher costs to learn what the alternatives were: other product choices or other cost options. The Internet wiped out the cost of knowing the alternatives. Even if there were no online sellers, some local sellers would struggle because their customers can now learn that there is a better option a few miles down the road. Add the online sellers and you just add more available sellers.
+James Wester I'm not at all trying to return to the past, just reminding people of consequences. My point was that local businesses are now the ones that are disadvantaged. If they don't survive, they don't survive. No one should get special treatment, but least of all those who are already most successful. The most successful are the ones who should be most willing to pay a fair share.
Online retailers collecting sales tax? What's next, ending farm subsidies? ...
+Alton Danks There's another element, which I wrote about in my 2003 piece, Buy Where You Shop in which I pointed out that many consumers are taking services (browsing in a store) from one merchant while giving their money to another. As I said in that piece, I buy online all the time - when I shop there - but when I find something in a store, and found it precisely because someone invested in the overhead of a storefront and local inventory, I'm not being fair to them when I buy it online to save a few dollars.
I'm all the more surprised Jeff Bezos is a forward-thinker and an altruist. I'd really love to hear him justify this one, because he will point at greatly disfunctional aspects of our society, aspects that not even him can resolve. It could be corporate habits to trust nit-picky accountants with tax policy, or the influence of board members, representing maximising stock holders.
I see local businesses offering online catalogs.

Online buyers pay shipping (most of the time).

Just because it's done in Europe doesn't mean it's right, or correct, or smart.

On the other side of that, I'd love to see a flat, across the board consumption tax to replace income taxes.

Regarding online sales taxes, would you apply the tax of the location of the seller, or buyer? Distribution centers? What about multiple offices in multiple states or even countries? Logistically, this is problematic, unless it becomes a flat, across-the-board consumption tax.

... you know: in my opinion.
My take on this, as someone who has tried to implement online sales tax collection for companies with nexus in many states, is that the problem is addressing the complexity of tax rate and taxable item variation in states and municipalities. I recall hearing that there are something like 32,000 state and local entities collecting sales tax, each with its own ideas about what's taxable, and potentially each with its own rate.
I see a parallel where the government of India provided significant tax breaks to software companies. They also allowed them to import equipment like PCs without paying any import taxes. That is attributed as one of the key reasons for the industry to flourish. So I guess the question is not whether governments should do this, it is how long should they do this for. Whens a good time to reverse the policy? And once they reverse it, how should businesses respond? Thanks Tim for an insightful post. 
+Nathaniel Kabal, yes people are certainly free to leave. I wonder how the rest of society would work if rather than having people opt into transactions they were forced to opt out. For example, by default, people are forced to buy Google stock and they would be free to sell that stock if they don't want it.

+Brian G. Fay, I'm just commenting on +Tim O'Reilly's comment about something being 'criminal'. IMO, not taking money isn't criminal, but taking money is.

+Tim O'Reilly, I'm pretty much held at gunpoint each and every day. How do you suppose the government would react if I refused to give them my money?

Lots of transactions happen on a voluntary basis. I don't see why personal defense would be any different. I suppose one might imagine a world in which the bigger fish would eat the smaller fish, but I think humanity in general is much more humane than that. And for the small minority that aren't, they either enter into positions of power (eg in government) or use the powers afforded to them by government to get what they want.

You make it sound like none of what you had mentioned would exist without government. But one of the most basic things around, food, isn't provided by the government (even though it certainly affects that industry via farm subsidies).

Now, I'm not suggesting that government be eliminated at once, but I do suggest we strive more towards a live-and-let-live society. And recognizing that government is contradictory to that society is a first step.

+Steven Sudit, I don't think I've whined at all. Do you disagree that taking money from others is criminal? If so, why? Do you think that pragmatic concerns ought to weigh over moral concerns? If so, it would be very pragmatic to force sterilization on those in generational poverty -- doing so would end it in a few generations and would benefit society as a whole.
The situation is really bad for local specialty stores that sell expensive items like ski and mountaineering gear. Those stores offer a lot more than the item in forms such as expert advice, fitting, and repair, but they can't survive on that alone when you the sale price difference on a $600 base price item like backcountry ski boots is $47.25 for my favorite mountaineering store in Truckee. As for shipping costs, local stores also pay for them, except that they are added to the sale price, making the item appear even more expensive. You end up with a common situation where someone checks the item out in the store, maybe even has the staff help them with the fit, then buys the item on the internet, but it doesn't fit well, then they go back to the specialty store for help, and the store, trying to be nice to a prospective customer, just charges parts and labor without any markup.
+Tim O'Reilly -- But the "pay a fair share" issue is a part of cities being competitive and what makes it hard for store owners to survive in places like Cambridge. The Cambridge property tax rate is 3 times my property tax rate. It's sales tax rate is almost double. There is also a state income tax rate in Massachusetts that I don't have in Texas. If I can live in Detroit or Cambridge or some other struggling city by avoiding some of the cost burden put on me because of its already higher taxes by ordering through Amazon, I'm more likely to stay. So isn't advocating that municipalities charge tax on Amazon going to hurt cities, not help them.
+Steven Sudit the "Fair Tax" proposes sending a check (preferably Direct Deposit?) to each citizen, each month, to make up the difference of taxes on groceries and survival goods up to the poverty line. Only consumers pay the tax, so business buy the component parts of the things they build and sell without having to embed the taxes in the final price and the cost of goods drops accordingly, too. has more info, and better info, as I'm not a tax guy.
Amazon are trying to maximise profits - it's what companies do!

There's no technical reason for them not being able to deal with tax issues per state as they do per country, ie, UK.
The issue here is that the states cannot do this by themselves. It's unconstitutional and that has been settled multiple times already. The federal government regulates interstate commerce. Not the states. Collecting sales taxes across state lines has to be sanctioned and managed by the federal government.

So really, the morality doesn't matter here. What matters is the law. I'm all for some sort of federal sales tax if it is done properly but I do not and will not support individual states trying to do this themselves. Without an amendment to the constitution they have no right to do so.
+Steven Sudit, the law isn't the same as something being right. For example, it used to be the law that a free black person in the North can be taken and made a slave in the South. It used to be the law that alcohol was illegal.

I would be perfectly happy to pay for the services I use and not pay or cut back payment for the services (eg military) I don't want to support.

As I replied to Tim, we pay for groceries but government doesn't provide them. Your argument seems to be that if something is needed, government must be the one to provide it.
Here in NC the "local" portion of the sales tax is very, very small. Our town and county gets almost all their revenue from property taxes. The state gets the majority of the sales tax and ALL the income tax. I'd like to see sales tax abolished since it is so very, very regressive. The difference could be made up with a tiny bump in local property taxes and a small bump in income taxes. With the poor and middle classes losing so much ground in real-dollar incomes in the last decade, sales tax mostly good at further eroding their fiscal situations.
um. So, do we start taxing mail order too? E-commerce is taxed on a mail order model, under the same laws, traditionally. That's the argument that Ron Wyden (D-OR) used to forstall the last attempt at this being put in. If we tax e-commerce sales, then we're saying that the model for remote sales by catalog of any variety is just a silly thing, and that mail order by net, catalog, seen-on-tv ads, radio ads, or Girl Scout door-to-door should be charged sales tax. That would be the correct application of law.

e-commerce sales are catalog sales that cross state lines. That's all they are. They simply use a different medium. If you change the law for a web site, you need to change it for TV ads, paper catalogs, radio ads, and everything else.
Steven- Charging you sales tax helps your local book store by making the playing field more even. You have to pay your sales tax at your local bookstore: a venue which provides you with sales people -- paid sales people, local sales people -- an opportunity to flip thru ALL the pages of the book before deciding to buy it. Now, you can go to your local bookstore, if you still have one, decide on which book you want to purchase, walk out the door without making a purchase, and save a few bucks by buying that book online. It is unfair to all local businesses that sells the same goods as Amazon that Amazon doesn't have to collect sales taxes. Amazon, by definition, has an unfair advantage.
And with sincere apologies to +Tim O'Reilly for a non-thread-related post, but this is an awesome discussion. I disagree with Mr O'Reilly, and several other posters for that matter, but this is a very respectful, informed discussion on a topic that I know I'm going to be on the losing side of. (Governments will find a way to tax that big honey-pot known as online commerce. They always do.) :)
I can now see why Amazon is taking so long to setup a business in India where every state has its own tax structure and its own set of complexities. And this is in addition to the central govt taxes...
+Steven Sudit You are wrong: the price you pay to the retails includes shipping from the distributor to the retail store. I've spent a lot of time chatting with my favorite specialty retailers about these matters.
+Shava Nerad the tax is already levied. If you living in CA and buy from Amazon you must pay sales tax. Amazon just doesn't collect it for the state and that is what is at issue. Currently as a CA resident you must report what you paid for mail order or web based goods during the year and pay taxes on that quantity when you file your taxes each year. Most people do not do this. CA just wants to remove this loophole where their citizens are not paying their taxes.
+Estelle Weyl, I completely agree that it's unfair. The fair thing to do would be not to tax local bookstores.
The US needs a simple solution with it's multitude of state and local sales tax jurisdictions. I'd suggest a) applying state tax if the buyer and seller are in the same state (I already pay tax on my server as both it and I are in Texas) and b) apply a federal inter-state online tax otherwise. On interstate transactions vendors make one check to the feds who then allocate it out to the individual states.
+Doug Tyrrell I agree that there should be a federal program which provides, free of charge, businesses with the tax rate they should be collecting for each sale. The program should provide easy API access for anyone who would like to know what the tax is for buying item A from location x.
+Shava Nerad I believe mail order is taxed just as ecommerce, based on tax nexus in a state. I.e. you charge a tax wherever you have a physical presence. When I was involved in ecommerce for Whole Foods Market, they had bricks and mortar stores in 28 states - now it's more. We were concerned not just with rate variations but with variations in the appolication of sales tax to food items. This was a decade ago, so it's not new. Amazon's argument is that it doesn't believe affiliate presence is or should be sufficient to establish nexus.

I hope this conversation isn't hijacked by libertarians who don't feel they should pay their share of the costs of government services. I really would like to send those guys to a place where there's no services and no costs as penalty for their selfish ways.
Current law requires "use tax" to be paid. Most people don't. CA shouldn't force Amazon to be tax police.

I do think on-line retailers have an unfair advantage over locals. I just don't think they should be tax police, especially when the tax system is extremely complicated. Each county (and sometimes school district or utility district) has a different rate. And some items are exempt, which also varies county by county.
As a Seattleite, I've always paid the taxes on my Amazon purchases. I really don't see their point. Taxes haven't stopped me yet.
+timothy burdine The lower their profit margin, the less they can pay for competent employees as they spiral toward bankruptcy.
Spot on.

Amazing how others disconnect from high-school civics: businesses have no votes and so no, if they want to do business in Californina, that doesn't give them a right to control policies. Taxes, which nobody likes to pay, are set — every single one of them — either by representatives elected by the same people, or here in CA, put into law by direct vote of the people. Let's lose this "taxation of businesses without representation" nonsense, OK? Because following that line, as SCOTUS is veering towards, is the end of democracy. Some states like sales taxes, others like income taxes (what a coincidence: Washington State has no personal income tax; relies on sales taxes INSIDE WA and property taxes and so Amazon's business dealings in 49 states are pretty much tax free, unlike all local retailers who pay either their state's sales or income taxes), and other blindingly obvious rejoinders.

Business-wise, the "advantage" of local businesses not having to pay for shipping is proclaimed by somebody who apparently has never run a retail business himself: perhaps he thinks water filters, books, shower curtain rings, etc., all appear by magic on the local store shelves. Increasingly, Amazon is merely emailing a shipping label and invoice to a manufacturer's warehouse, totally undercutting the bricks-n-mortar guys on price, or pocketing extra profit.

Maybe the easiest way to understand the inanity of this whole "internet stores shouldn't charge sales tax" meme is to consider BestBuy Store vs BestBuy.Com. A TV with delivery/setup costs 10% more from the store than from the .Com under the misguided rules we now have, resulting in over-use of the dot-com versus the local choice. Just because our current arrangement trades off real benefits of local versus tax evasion via internet. (Yes, people in CA are obligated to calculate & pay "use tax" on all out-of-state purchases but it's utterly unenforceable and so widely evaded.) Here, the tax policy causes us to over-use internet sales versus what we would do otherwise, making a less economically-efficient arrangement.
I'm okay with the strong surviving if the ground rules are fair. I'm happy with eliminating sales taxes altogether, but not for one industry, especially when that tax break brings no value to the taxpayers of my locality.
+Fernando Pereira
As a vendor I liked Canada's HST. Collect one tax, deduct your credits, and make one payment to the gov't. Most merchants aren't adverse to collecting pass-thru taxes - it's just the accounting headacahe, time and expense of complying with & paying multiple jurisdictions. Sales tax is pass-thru - Amazon would be on board with a simple tax collection & payment scheme that had little impact on expenses.
"Fair" isn't a word that should be used in matters of taxation. Lights too many fires under people. Quantify "fair"... and you'll need to account for State, County, City and "ugly" taxes, then shipping (including the wonderful cost advantages of having your own shipping and distribution systems)... everything must be accounted for in order to be "fair".
+Joys Maclaurin I don't think their issue is that they believe sales tax requirement will reduce sales appreciably. Actually I haven't really looked into their reaoning, but that's not the issue I would have. I would want to avoid taxation in any state I could to avoid the complexity and additional costs of collection and payment according to diverse rates and policies, and would also question a policy that changes my nexus position with a state by redefining how nexus is established.
+Brian Baughman The reason the law is written this way is to allow for small mail order businesses not to have to track ever sale at their end, originally. Some only have one or a few products. Some of the states have completely heinous forms for out of state payment of sales taxes. I looked into this back about ten years ago, it was daunting. It would kill a small company.

I used to run an e-commerce company, back in Oregon when Ron Wyden (D-OR) was my senator fighting this the first time. It was on the basis that the law is about mail order. Not online. Just catalog sales through whatever medium. Phone sales. Radio ads. TV ads. Girl Scout cookies, door-to-door. Catalogs in the back pocket of an airline seat, or delivered to your mailbox, or picked up at your doctor's office. A catalog on a web page.

The law is about a sale from a catalog or sales presentation that occurs across state lines. That's what the feds have jurisdiction to regulate. It really doesn't matter what they want to collect taxes on. It's whether it's Interstate commerce or not.

Now, since we've established what the relevant case is, by law, let's look at that. If we change all those cases at once, what do we get? Amazon is inconvenienced. The customer is inconvenienced. And we lose small businesses that do small scale mail order all over the country, because they can't handle doing 50 states of sales tax. It's like doing 50 versions of the 1040ez form all different, at best. Some are worse. And the feds can't mandate that the states reform their tax reporting forms.


Welcome to the world of unintended consequences, dudes.
+Steven Sudit, do you mean externalities like police beating up on innocent people? If I paid some service and they did something like that, I would look for someone else to provide that same service; I would at least end the contract.

But if I'm making the standard libertarian errors, how about answering the sterilization question? Those that aren't libertarian tend to rely on pragmatism and benefit to society to guide them as to what is right and wrong. Forced sterilization is both pragmatic and would benefit society as a whole. Does that mean you would be all for it? If not, why not?
Amazon's not the bad guy here. Underlying this is stores with physical locations in Calif who think Amazon has an unfair advantage. They do not. They're playing by the rules and the rules say no physical presence means no sales tax collected. If Ritz and Best Buy, to name two, are suffering reduced sales volume because they're obliged to collect sales tax while Amazon is not, it does not make Amazon the bad guy. YMMV
I worked at a small wholesale/retail business in southeastern Virginia. Because of geographic access, we did more business with customers in northeastern North Carolina than similar companies based in NC. We collected sales taxes for both VA and NC. Any goods we shipped into NC were taxed at NC rates while any goods bought by NC customers and picked up in VA were taxed at VA rates. "Brick and Mortar" businesses in border areas already deal with these issues. Why shouldn't online businesses?
Separation of state and markets -- just like separation of state and religion. Of course government needs income -- but policy and income must be separated.
+Jon Lebkowsky -- And suddenly the "respectful" went out the window. :-) I don't think I need to be sent to a penal colony for my libertarian leanings.

I can't speak for all libertarians, but as far as I'm concerned, I absolutely believe I should pay my share to the government. I also believe government has a very important part to play in keeping our society functioning properly. Where I believe you and I might disagree is the limits of those functions. (I would also bet that you and I wouldn't be that far apart either.) I also disagree with the myriad ways governments find to tax their citizenry.

We pay taxes on income, property, sales, car licensing, hotel stays, car rentals, long distance, wireless, starting a business, etc. California is the worst of the lot when it comes to tax burden. That's why they're losing citizens at a faster rate than any other state. It's also why I disagree with Mr. O'Reilly's contention that allowing sales tax on Amazon purchases in California will help local economies. It won't. It will only drive more people out of that economy and kill more local businesses.

Sorry if that's thread hijacking. :-)
+David Henderson, you got it backwards. Why should businesses in border areas have to deal with these issues? Wouldn't your business have been able to concentrate on what's really important (ie your customers) if it didn't have to deal with taxes?
Sales tax compliance is a royal pain in the ass. I used to work for a leasing company, and we had a 0.75 FTE who did nothing but manage our sales and rental tax compliance; we also spent a couple thousand dollars a year to subscribe to a service that provided us with monthly tax rate updates for each of the roughly 30,000 distinct taxing districts in the US. And those services failed to capture all the vagaries of the various tax laws; for example, none of them have any way to cope with Chicago's bottled water surtax.

There's also the problems with places like Rosemont and Oakbrook Terrace: communities with small populations but large commercial venues that offer their residents low property taxes through reliance on commercial taxes, including sales taxes, levied on the businesses in their jurisdictions. These communities are typically run by politically powerful individuals who are going to fight tooth and nail to maintain the taxation system that is the core of their power.
And god forbid other nations begin mandating online tax collection. Someone like Amazon could conceivably have to deal with over 100,000 taxing authorities. The problem isn't just tracking tax rates; they also have to disburse to all of those individual tax authorities. The infrastructure required is huge and unnecessary.
Maybe I'm just a cynic, but I really don't think that the lack of sales tax is what drove people away from brick and mortar stores to Internet shopping. I really think it was just the convenience and selection. It's the same reason that mom and pop shops close down when Wal-Mart moves into town. It's not that people enjoy their shopping experience at Wal-Mart, it's just that they've got more product and can sell it for less. I love small stores, and despise large big boxes. I always take David Wilcox's advice and "Go to East Asheville Hardware before you go to Lowe's", but it's economic evolution.
Drop sales tax and replace with property tax to pay for local services: simpler & more reliable collection. Local merchants increase local prices accordingly to bake in local costs.
+David Henderson Online businesses also deal with sales tax in areas where they have nexus.

+James Wester If you're not arguing that taxation is theft (as +Noel Yap has argued in this thread), then we're probably not far apart at all... though I would think a conversation whether and how we should be taxed, and for what, would be topic drift.
+Kelly Martin, I just had a thought. <thought tone='sarcastic'>For those that think more jobs necessarily leads to a better economy, perhaps tax codes should be even more complicated. Having more complicated tax codes would create more tax jobs. Imagine if we'd have to hire a tax expert each time we went shopping, even for groceries. So many new jobs created. It'd be great for the economy, wouldn't it?</thought>
The online business market is doing excellent, in fact it is starting to hurt the job prospects of people who have to compete in retail stores, stores that create more jobs.

The government should not be giving .com companies special tax treatment when unemployment is near 10%.
Using only property taxes is an unfair additional burden on homeowners; renters get off mostly unscathed.
+Benjamin Krueger Property taxes are figured into the rental rate. Part of rent goes towards the landlords' property tax bill.
+Steven Sudit, I'm not trying to BS you at all. I'm just trying to analyzing the reasoning behind your beliefs. What rationale do you use to decide what is right and what is wrong?

You have mentioned the legal system. If that's so, then you would've thought slavery was OK before the Civil War and alcohol not OK during Prohibition. OTOH, this would be consistent with your notion that taxation is not theft -- that since it's the government doing the taking, it's OK since it makes an exception for itself.

Others have mentioned societal good and pragmatism. If that's what you follow, like I said, forced sterilization of those in generational poverty is both pragmatic and for the betterment of society as a whole.
California is in the top 25% of states in terms per capita tax revenues, yet they rank at the bottom in terms of state deficits. Plain and simple, this is just a money grab b/c all other income sources are squeezed and politically out of reach.
So renters get to split their share of property taxes across anywhere between 2 and 10+ households. And a single homeowner shoulders the entire burden. Perhaps you missed the part where I said this isn't a particularly fair proposal?
+Noel Yap We already do that. I live near the Cook County-DuPage County boundary in northeastern Illinois. The sales tax rate in Cook County is a point or two higher than that in DuPage, and so I have to decide whether to shop in Cook County (closer to home, higher sales taxes, but typically lower prices) or DuPage County (a bit further away, lower sales taxes, but higher prices, at least in the first tier of communities). What seems to happen, from my point of view, is the businesses in the communities just over the line cater specifically to tax avoiders, who will pay more in total just to pay less to the man (that is, they are making an uneconomic, ideologically driven choice, and the businesses cater to that). I have to go past the first rank of communities on the county edge before I find businesses who are not charging me a "tax discount premium", and at that point the money I spend on gas getting there generally exceeds the tax discount for anything under $1000 or so.
+Steven Sudit, those that don't want to be robbed can opt to protect themselves if they don't want to hire a protection agency.

Yes, I expect private police to be less corrupt because their clients have other options and most people would opt not to support a corrupt police force. Do you agree that most people would opt not to support a corrupt police force? Do you agree that people don't really have much of a choice today whether or not their police force is corrupt?

I never said anything about killing the poor. I said something about sterilizing those in generational poverty. So, how about not trying to evade the question? Do you think ending generational poverty would benefit society as a whole?
+Tim O'Reilly, with all due respect, you're downplaying the difficulty of complying with local sales taxes. If it were just states and counties it wouldn't be so problematic but the precedent would apply just as readily to any jurisdiction, and most cities and townships have their own as well, with many of the taxes having weird product category and time based rules.

A simple example is that many states have 'sales tax holidays':

More complex and strange are taxes on pumpkins unless intended for carving into a jack-o-lantern, large packs of Twix taxed as cookies while individual bars are taxed as candy, headbands tot being taxed unless they are 'sweatbands', taxes on playing cards unless the deck has more than 54 cards, and so on. Some of the rules out there are truly bizarre.

When you combine this with the theory of 'nexus' that is based on the presence of an affiliate, you can see how administering this would quickly become problematic, and it has nothing to do with technical challenges.

Meanwhile, Walmart (who is behind this particular push) have their own means of avoiding municipal taxes by strategically locating their stores just outside city limits or otherwise negotiating tax breaks, which also disadvantages local businesses and deprives local government of revenue (not to mention displacing local employment with lower paying jobs that invariably don't have benefits).

I agree that we need to find a ways to fund local government, but subjecting Amazon and other online retailers to the insanity that is the system of local sales taxes, especially through this dubious theory of nexus based on the presence of local affiliates, seems like the wrong approach.
Nice post Tim. I am a New Yorker who defaults to for just about everything due to price, selection and prime shipping. I didn't even notice they were collecting sales tax for the longest time. Agree that these industries are mature enough not to need the tax advantages, and the states sure could use the lost revenue.
A sales tax is not particularly regressive if it doesn't apply to food, and I believe most states exclude food bought from places other than restaurants from sales taxes.
Yet another reason to abolish states and have UNIFORM rules for businesses everywhere. But for sure online and offline business should have the same rules if they're doing business in California
+Steven Sudit, if you're poor, why would people rob you? Also, a bunch of poor people can pool their resources and defend themselves.

So, again, how about not trying to evade the question? Do you think ending generational poverty would benefit society as a whole?
This is considered long-term thinking? I'd like to see the State of CA take initiative and come up with a reasonable tax plan that doesn't tax the crap out of it's citizens. Where's all the money going? Other states do well with lower overall taxes, yet have much smaller economies.

Small business has no chance there. Doing business in California is a nightmare. Way too many tax and licensing agencies to deal with and far too much burden on small business. The local book stores are not shuddering solely because of Amazon. They're fighting with B&N, Target and Wal-Mart; while being burdened by California's anti-business structure. I've owned two small businesses there and I'll never do it again--it's time consuming and expensive just to keep up with the tax burden and countless permits.

Wal-mart and other big box retailers in CA have lobbied to create an opportunity for Amazon to lose what they perceive is an unfair advantage. I think it's just posturing, because they don't want to spend the money to make shopping at their stores a better experience, ergo more pleasant to buy from. As a consumer, I'm not worried about $1.60 sales tax on a $20 item. If it's in front of me and I can start using it now, I'm not waiting for Amazon's free super-saver shipping, which takes 7-10 days.

Apple Stores are a great example of this. People could buy from many other stores, but Apple stores are wildly successful in California and world-wide. Why don't people just buy Mac and iPods from Amazon and save hundreds in sales tax? I'm sure some do, but the numbers show Apple does very well with brick n' mortar.

Wal-Mart is a dinosaur. It would do a service to many I they'd just go away. They're the people who are blamed for killing small business in America, not mail order.

Or is it just evolution of consumers an their buying habits. The problems in CA are many, including a state government that is in the way, wasting billions on who knows what, while having many horrible schools (and some great ones) and nonsensical social programs that strive for mediocrity. Amazon and their ilk are not the enemy--just political targets for a State who's in complete denial.

Let consumers decide and step off, California. 
+Noel Yap That's naive. You think corruption is universal? Yes, you would hire a corrupt police force if they were corrupt on your behalf. If they abused those who couldn't afford those services. And that sort of system is a violence toward society. Come on man, this is kindergarten stuff. Most kids grow out of this kind of naivete by the age of 20.
+Jon Lebkowsky Is tracking variation in tax across 32,000 districts really an insurmountable problem for a company that is able to host and manage a catalog of millions of products from hundreds of thousands if not millions of suppliers? Try to be serious! Not to mention the fact that a quick Google search turns up a whole host of small companies offering this as a Software as a Service/callable API solution...
+Benjamin Krueger, I think the vast majority of people aren't corrupt the vast majority of the time. The minority that are would enter into jobs in which their corruption can be maximized (eg public police force).

If the general public were so corrupt, we wouldn't have the society we have today -- wealth would've been destroyed consistently rather than have been created.

Let me ask you, would you voluntarily hire a corrupt police force? If not, why is it that you support a country that kills thousands of people each year through its military (not exactly a police force, but similar in the effect you describe)?
Property taxes are 100% (or more) baked into rent: raise the tax 5% and the rent goes up at least 5%. For all intents and purposes, the property tax is paid by the lessee. The property tax burden borne by a renter is typically comparable to that borne by an owner-resident. In fact, renters usually pay more because the landlord is going to bake in a premium to account for vacancy risks; the landlord has to pay the tax whether or not the property is occupied by a paying tenant.
+Michael Bernstein I would repeat what I said to Jon Lebkowsky: is this really a harder problem than the one Amazon already manages? In any event, I would bet that if they handled the 98% case, and left the 2% of really weird outliers off the table, they wouldn't be faulted for that. Or for that matter, they could invest their lobbying dollars requesting sales tax simplification, paying the ones that are easy, and using the carrot of additional revenue to urge simplification of those that are really difficult to track.
+Noel Yap I'd suggest you do some research on countries that operate on rules that are close to those you espouse. They are generally not very nice places to live. Remember the wisdom of the old usenet adage, "the difference between theory and practice is always greater in practice than it is in theory."
P Tufts
+Tim O'Reilly I agree with effects of a declining tax base due to on-line retail, but I do point out one weak point, where you write

"I don't need the added incentive of no sales tax to make me shop there."

Most shoppers are more price sensitive than you. An 8% - 9% discount? Yes, that matters.
Good people do bad things, Noel, and they often believe they are right in doing so. Human beings can justify so much, and are willing to turn a blind eye to so many things. Your private police force doesn't have to kick puppies and shoot indiscriminately to do violence toward society on your behalf. In fact, if they're doing their jobs right, you'll never know said corruption exists. You need to think this through.

There were private police forces for private citizens in the first world, once. They're rare now, for good reason.
Kevin, is it possible, you think, that California has higher costs of services given the huge urban population? In one State you have SF, LA, SD and a number of medium sized cities, and a massive University system. California is going to cost more to run than say Kansas of Utah.
Couldn't this be solved with a national sales tax that is then reapportioned to the states by population?
A person with heart recognizes that people aren't inherently evil. A person with wisdom recognizes that good people can do evil things.
+Kevin Mathis I was struck by your statement, so I took a look at The interesting number to look at in this context is the per capita amount of local taxes, or the combination of state and local taxes. By that measure, California is easily in the middle of the pack - with a lower total state and local tax burden per capita than such "small government" states as Texas. The reason why California is in such budget trouble is because of various initiatives that compel services without providing the corresponding taxes to pay for them.
+Benjamin Krueger That is a good argument. But I'll bet Amazon already does collect and remit taxes in a lot of countries, especially those in Europe where there is a universal VAT. It would be worth doing research to see just how big a burden it would really be.
+Tim O'Reilly Not an insurmountable problem, no, but difficult. Part of the difficulty is in having to deal separately with the many tax auhtorities, particularly when they disagree with your assessment of tax due. Better to avoid if you can. The Streamlined Sales Tax is a promising solution, if more widely adopted.
What people forget, or don't know, is that we are required to pay the sales tax in California on whatever we buy online. This bill just forces Amazon to collect it so we don't have to figure it out ourselves.
No one seems to talk about what American towns will look like if there is no US Postal Service, and the taxation system penalizes local storefront businesses.

If there is no government tax structure to support local storefront businesses, towns and cities, then what is the point of being the part of the US, esp when everyone is for practical purposes bankrupt? We can all sit at our homes in front of our computers, doing business and watching television and Youtube without knowing the names of our neighbors. We won't have real neighborhood communities anymore, only the communities we know online.

Is this the future Grover Norquist and Amazon want the US to head to?
+Benjamin Krueger, read what I said again. While the vast majority of us are good the vast majority of the time, each one of us can do evil. But a system shouldn't be built around the notion that most of us will do evil most of the time, which is what our system does.

And when people can do evil things, those that have power can get away with it much more easily than those without power -- this includes those with government power. Again, many people seem to have this ideal notion of government; that it's not comprised of people just as fallible and prone to corruption as anyone else.

+Steven Sudit, you haven't answered any of my questions. How is that anywhere near refuting my claims? Or, at least, how is that anywhere near supporting your claims?

I've pretty much addressed every point you and some others have made. How about not trying to evade my questions?
It's easier for foreign countries to apply import duties (as they do) than to try & get foreign retailers to collect & remit sales tax.
So many tax battles are more about who pays the tax rather than how much tax is paid.

I personally think that sales tax is both regressive and invalid. A VAT, which captures tax where value is created makes more sense. Unfortunately politicians will be able to resist having both taxes and the inter-state battles will be about capturing out of state tax revenue whenever possible.
Ah yes, the "mainstreet" fairness argument. While it's probably true that Amazon has put quite a few bookstores on the ropes, the real culprits behind the decline of 'main street' businesses have certainly included the mega corporate chain stores, like Barnes and Noble, Borders, and far from least, Wal*Mart, who are having their own survival of the 'fittest' battle, which Borders just lost.

Wal*Mart in particular has sucked the life out of downtown shopping districts, putting their stores outside areas with higher property taxes.

The main advocate for imposing sales tax on Amazon is the "Alliance for Mainstreet Fairness" which is a really a shell to hide the fact that it is pushing the interests of Wal*Mart and it's like.
Sameer makes an excellent point; one that I happen to agree with greatly. We are talking about forcing private entities to become agents of the state at their own cost. We're expecting Amazon to take on tens of millions of dollars in costs, collecting and managing taxes, so that California doesn't have to. In some ways, this amounts to a new and burdensome tax on Amazon for which they receive no benefit.
Here is Washington State we have something like 400 tax regions to collect sales tax for. Its a mess. No central database to look up by zip code because they cross zip code boundaries. Sales tax is a privilege tax, an excise tax. Its owed by the SELLER. The seller gets the right to collect it from the buyer but they are the one on the hook, the ones made liable. Most accountants don't even understand this.
+Tim O'Reilly Are you suggesting that we only hold Amazon accountable for those 32,000 permutations? If so, we have an equal protection problem. If not, it places an enormous burden on small Internet retailers.

Having said that, as a New Hampshire resident (no sales tax) I a violently support California's right to institute all the punitive taxes it wants.
+Benjamin Krueger All levels of government impose bureaucratic burdens on businesses as well as individuals. We'd all like that to be minimized, that the processes be efficient, but accepting those burdens is the price of living in a civilized society.
How exactly does paying tax civilize me? Sounds religious.
I would like to point out that we've been bemoaning the deaths of "downtown" and "main street" for over 30 years now. First it was the suburbs and malls that were to blame. Then it was Walmart. Now it's online shopping. This little hysteria of ours does not suffer scrutiny very well, however. The simple truth is that businesses thrive when they are located where people need them and when they offer services and goods that are in demand. Otherwise, they die. Given that 95% of retail is still brick and mortar, hundreds of cities across the United States still have thriving downtown business cores, and thousands of malls are still open for business, I might posit that this problem is not as bad as we're making it out to be.
Something that doesn't get mentioned too often but is at least worth noting on a technical level: Amazon appears to already have the infrastructure to collect sales tax in place; they do it for some "Amazon-powered" stores, including national retailers like Target. When Amazon implies that tracking and disbursing taxes would be oh so impossibly onerous, the evidence suggests they're being disingenuous. (This is a polite way of saying "I suspect they're lying.")

+Noel Yap I think the "standard libertarian error" is the implicit assertion that states are imposed on a people rather than created by people, and that everyone would behave "humanely" if only government wasn't in the way forcing them to do otherwise. But kingdoms and tribes come into existence when individuals, families, and extended circles start banding together for protection: if everyone was behaving as humanely as a stateless society would require, the conditions that allow states to form would never arise. The anarcho-libertarian claim that the state is an institutionalized version of bandit kingdoms is, I suspect, basically correct. But a state with formalized laws and regulations rather than the whim of a king and some measure of accountability -- however imperfect -- of the governors to the governed strikes me as very plainly a vast improvement.
+Michael DC Bowen Paying taxes gets you public education, so your neighbors have some semblance of knowledge and self sufficiency. It gets you clean water, which is pretty much the foundation of developed countries with good public health. It gets you fire and police, to maintain order and save property. It gets you roads, which allows the efficient transport of goods and people, a requirement of any civilization (e.g. Rome). It gets you a military to defend the nation, and a coast guard to rescue your ass when a wave knocks over your boat. And it funds basic research and development over the long term, you know, like the Global Positioning System used for navigation that was enormously expensive to develop and which no private entity could have afforded, but which is now free for the world, and ...
+Watts Martin, I don't dispute our history. OTOH, I think it can be better. It's difficult to argue that we are less civilized and humane than we were even only 200 years ago (eg when slavery was in vogue). We can be better still and eventually not need any sort of government except those we opt into individually and can choose not to support if it does something we don't like.
Retailers are already "agents of the state" by collecting retail tax at bricks & mortar stores.
The problem is states and municipalities facing tax declines as more trade is done online - and how to implement an online tax that is fair, simple, collectible, and low cost.
In the US there are 3 levels of gov't trying balance their books and each has different tools to meet that end. Municipalities can't tax income and the federal gov't doesn't impose property taxes.
+Watts Martin In that agreement, Target may be paying for the infrastructure to handle tax collection and disbursement. That's Target's business if they want to pay. It isn't really relevant to the question at hand.
+Benjamin Krueger Volunteer? No. But if I did business in Mexico, I'd pay the taxes I owe, as I have in other countries.

+Sameer Parekh In our universe, the one in which Amazon is doing business in California. They're certainly free to stop selling to California residents and shipping products to California, in which case, we'd be in agreement, they have no obligation to the state.
+Doug Tyrrell Retailers act as agents of their own state. That's not much better, but the cost of implementation and management is low and it is reasonable at some level. Everyone is asking Amazon to be an agent of every state. Whatever reasonable argument we might conjure up to support acting as an agent of a single state falls apart when we start saying everyone has jurisdiction over everyone else.
+Sameer Parekh I don't remember suggesting that California ban Amazon from the state. And comparing a state to a sovereign nation is a false analogy.
So, as the Oracle said, here's something that's going to bake your noodle. Isn't all that post hoc? It also gets me a military that kills thousands of innocents, it gets me state sponsored discrimination, it gets me every failure of government (that I am not as diligent in listing as you are, kind sir).

What it is not getting me or most of us is a clear set of well-defined principles (as clear as GPL for example) onto which I would swear undying loyalty. People trust Apple more than the Democrats. Under what circumstances should such an entity undergo creative destruction and fundamental reform? My answer is now. It is perfectly illogical for the least trusted institution to increase its burden on the most trusted. When more people demand privacy from Facebook (and get what they want) than demand to vote in elections (and don't get what they want) it's time for a change.

I would like to see Amazon maintain its obstinant stand, because I believe that in the ened, Amazon can and will be more transparently accountable for its actions than will the government. Governance must evolve or in the course of human events...
+Steven Sudit, FWIW, I've spent lots of time doing volunteer work (teaching children in low-income neighborhoods, learning first aid in case anyone needs such help, etc) so please don't prejudge.

Also, I have asked many questions to delve into the rationale behind your beliefs and ideology. The best you have done is try to parry with some generic statements about libertarians and libertarianism. How about you contribute something to the discussion? If you don't want to start with the questions I have already asked, you can try explaining, since you had earlier mentioned inequality, why Switzerland has a high Gini Index and it's doing pretty well.

BTW, it's very likely that I know people much poorer than anyone you know. So, if you want to stand behind your liberal leanings, how about contributing some of your money to those starving in the Philippines?
Unfortunately, +Saul Tannenbaum, your definition of "doing business in" is vastly different from the legal definition. So there's that.

Perhaps Washington State should start demanding that Oregon retailers near the WA border begin collecting WA state taxes. WA residents do come over and shop, and by your definition that means OR retailers are "doing business in" WA. Do you see the problems your new definition creates?
+Tim O'Reilly I think your prognosis is correct, but solution won't work. Internet enabled, heavily optimized pipelines like that of Amazon have huge advantage as-is over brick and mortar. Sales tax will make one injustice go away (I agree its fair), but it is unlikely to change the tide against local businesses. Think about it like this: with sufficiently large customer base in every location, Amazon becomes Walmart whose trucks are as big as walmart's daily delivery trucks, but they don't have to have a large, expensive retail presence. Combine that with all the global optimizations they are uniquely able to do -> Amazon accelerates what Walmart began decades ago: local businesses can't really compete.

So summary: tax fixes one unfair issue, but won't solve your problem at all (local stores staying vacant, leading to poorer local services, etc).
It would probably be better, though, to legislate the taxes on the federal level, and distribute the income, rather than dumping the complexity of local sales taxes laws on globally-accessible sites.
+timothy burdine I live in the City of Seattle. We have some nice business districts downtown, and in many other neighborhoods as well. I'm not sure what exactly you're saying here. That I can't understand because I live in the suburbs (even though I don't)? Or that Obama did something? What?
Maybe we need some clarification. What is "Main Street"? What does a healthy main street look like? Is main street actually not healthy right now? How are we making that determination; do we have data showing this?
I do of course agree, +Tim O'Reilly , that this is not a technical problem for Amazon, just ill will. As it is though, it seems to me there is a simple change in the law that states could make.
I live in Norway, and as such I am required to pay sale tax for what I buy, no matter where I buy it from. This to not give retailers abroad an unfair advantage. I believe most European countries do this, btw.

Now, it is somewhat impractical (and definately slow) if you have to deal with the sales tax as a consumer, so some retailers abroad has a sales system where they collect the sales tax and makes sure you receive the stuff quickly and without any fuzz open it entering Norway.

And indeed, even does this; when I ordered my Kindle from Amazon, I paid my Norwegian sales tax to Amazon, and they did the rest. (To be fair, I think actually it is UPS or similar that does the actual payment to the Norwegian state, but Amazon pays them to do it.)

If US state law allowed/required sales tax on both local and imported goods, Amazon would no longer be able to be an ass, and because it would be an inconvenience for the buyer to do it himself, Amazon would use the system they already have to handle it.
+Steven Sudit, what would you consider to be a 'good' contribution on this topic? Only those things to which you agree?

IMO, questions that make us think about our beliefs are a good contribution. Obviously, you disagree.
+Sameer Parekh Seriously? A disagreement about tax policy leads you to "Go back to fucking Saudia Arabia where you belong?" And that's the edited version?
+Benjamin Krueger That's not my definition.

But if it were, I'd be advocating for mutual agreements among the states or a national sales tax or VAT to make things simpler.
+Sameer Parekh +Benjamin Krueger That's the issue. How do states pay for their responsibilities when the expenses remain but their revenue source (sales tax) moves out of their jurisdiction? Currently they are looking at legal options to make online retailers "agents of the state" but I doubt that has legs or is a long term solution.
+Saul Tannenbaum How do we justify the state of CA collecting taxes from a retailer located in the state of WA? You never commented on the near-border problems created by your new definition of "doing business in".
I've purchased some electronic components on EBay from Hong Kong. It was amazingly convenient, with only a two week delivery delay. There was no Hong Kong tax collected. If we start collecting interstate commerce tax, raising the price of products, won't this further imbalance foreign trade as people start purchasing overseas?
+Steven Sudit, I have addressed the externalities with private a police force. The fact is that those externalities exist even with a public police force. But maybe you're thinking of a different set of externalities. Can you elaborate which externalities you mean?

Now, I have done my best to address everything you have posted. OTOH, you have done nothing to address anything I have posted. This conversation is pretty one way, wouldn't you say? Can you at least attempt to answer even one of the questions I have asked? At least the Switzerland question is related to you statement about inequalities. The root question is, "Why is inequality necessarily a bad thing?" For example, the brain consumes much more energy per volume than the rest of the body. I doubt anyone here would protest against that inequality.
+Doug Tyrrell The answer is certainly not "force somebody else to spend a lot of money policing my revenue source". But then again, perhaps Amazon should collect sales taxes on behalf of CA and take a 30% cut for their effort.
+Tim O'Reilly , not following how your math puts California in the "middle of the pack" for per capita combination of state and local taxes. We're #9 out 50 by the data from the link you show. That's well within the top 25% Kevin quoted, and in fact is 18%.

As for all this argument about Amazon, it's an argument about who should get the unfair advantage because somebody gets the advantage no matter which way this goes, and it isn't the consumer or the taxpayer. The online retailer that isn't present is easiest to tax. They don't even have any employees present to vote against it. No political downside. We can argue it's "fair", but that's silly. This isn't about fair, it's about grabbing tax revenue and passing the business advantage to a different constituency. Politics as usual, in other words.

Fair would recognize that Amazon isn't using the services you claim it needs to pay for. It is paying shipping both ways (to get it into the warehouse and to send it on to the customer), and if it can negotiate with its vendors to drop ship, why penalize it? Do you think the Walmart down the street didn't do the same thing?

As for local businesses, they have the biggest advantage of all. They can sell on service. They can sell on relationship. They can let you see and hold the product. They are your neighbors. They can sell on the pure pleasure of dealing with them versus a big faceless entity like Amazon just to save a couple of bucks. If you're too cheap to pay a premium for that, or if they're too inept to take advantage of it, again, why is that Amazon's problem?

There's too many local businesses who want to be comfortably protected with their geographic monopoly, too many big box stores who want to be comfortable crushing those locals without an even bigger fish bothering them, and too many politicians who just want more to spend.

Forget worrying about big business or little business. Think about all this in terms of competition. What increases competition? That is ultimately what's good for the market and the consumer. A handful of big companies in a totally unregulated market reduces competition, so this isn't about Libertarianism or being right wing either. Maximize the competition, and the consumer wins. Taxing Amazon shifts the advantage too far the other way and net net is bad for competition.
+Benjamin Krueger That's not my definition of "do business in".

When the purchaser is physically in California when the transaction happens, and the delivery of goods is to California, that's a straightforward definition of "doing business in" California.

When a transaction happens in Oregon, and the delivery of goods is to Oregon, that's a straightforward definition o f doing business in Oregon.

[I'm not going to go into perverse edge case of which I'm sure there are many.]
+Mace Moneta As long as we're having Amazon collect sales tax, why do you think it would be any more difficult to have eBay do it as well?
+Benjamin Krueger Maybe the answer isn't chasing the sales tax dollar but looking at at other revenue options. At the state level that's trimming services and/or raising property & income taxes. Texas has a deficit, despite low expenditures, because it lowered property tax, has no personal income tax, and relies too heavily on sales tax that took a dip in the recession.
When North Carolina instituted the Amazon Tax, it cost me $1,200 a month revenue I was making from affiliate links and subsequent purchases. Income that I was paying federal and state taxes on. Amazon cancelled all affiliates in North Carolina...and I was out $1200 a month until I incorporated in another state. Now, the state is getting zero tax revenue from links and sales because my business is no longer in North Carolina. I am not the only one to have done this.

I am firmly AGAINST any revenue grab by states.
Here's an alternative proposal. California pays Amazon to make their CA sales data available, at which point CA can spend all the money they want to process that data and send tax bills to buyers. I don't understand why everyone thinks this is Amazon's problem to solve or cost to shoulder.
Unfortunately, when governments step in, big businesses follow with deep pockets and wipe out what makes/made the US what it is/was, built by small businesses and entrepreneurs. Taxing won't bring in money in the long run. People will buy less, especially in this economy and this will not help our chronic California deficit. It is simply again, myopic. What needs to be done is to reset our Californian economy, not add more taxes on top of it. So long Amazon!
+Benjamin Krueger, why should +Steven Sudit stop engaging in discussion with me? Have I asked standard libertarian questions (if so there should some ready responses for these)? Have I not replied honestly to questions asked of me? Have I been uncivil in any way (eg calling others selfish, a troll, or what-not)?

All I have done is question Steven's rationales. He has provided nothing but attacks against some notion of who he thinks I am.

Shouldn't we all strive towards better understanding of each other? If so, how can that be done without discussion?
+Tim O'Reilly I'm still licking my wounds from Connecticut doing this, which caused a hit to my income as Amazon and others withdraw immediately. And I mean immediately. With a kid in college, the loss of marginal income has hurt.

It seems that what my State will garner from being able to tax Amazon won't be much more than what they'd have gotten from taxing my income at the highest marginal rate. Not to mention the sales and other taxes on the frivolous clothing and gasoline I buy.

It all seems shortsighted.
+Tim O'Reilly I agree with the sentiment, but the problem with your line of thinking is that it does put an unfair burden on Amazon, and holds online retailers accountable at a level that they would never expect from out of state businesses, nor from catalog companies that used to thrive before the web.

Many consumers don't know that the law requires that you pay sales tax on any items you buy, not just items you buy in state. For instance, I love on the border of West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland. I am technically accountable for West Virginia sales tax on any purchases I make in Virginia. However, most states don't enforce this law, except in cases of large purchases.

What the state is asking of Amazon is that they police California customers more than the state of California does, and more than any catalog company ever has. Moreso, they are asking them to do so without any official support from the state, yet with high levels of accountability and stiff penalties if mistakes are made. California would never expect an out-of-state Wal-Mart to function in such a way; why should they expect it from Amazon?
Simplify state tax laws for interstate commerce first. Otherwise it is criminal to require anyone who wants to setup an online store to know about the 1000s of different state and local municipality sales tax rates and remittance mechanisms across the country that would otherwise be required. The cost of implementing that mess would raise prices for all consumers and favor big business over small.
"In an imaginary world where _____ was as public spirited as he is far-sighted about pursuing competitive advantage,..."

Oh, to live in such an imaginary world. We seem to have no sense of civic pride or responsibility these days.
+Tim O'Reilly, keep in mind that those are 32,000 sets of rules (each of which has it's own arbitrary product classification scheme) that must be applied to each of the products sold by Amazon. So, while managing those rules are not a larger problem than what Amazon is already solving, it does multiply the size and cost of their original problem, particularly on the administrative side. I'm not sure what the multiplier is, but even a small one results in some fairly large costs.

As for investing their lobbying dollars on requesting sales tax simplification, it is my understanding that they are in fact doing that, but aren't getting much press for it. Meanwhile, I think this struggle with Walmart's proxies is more-or-less a holding action.
Jerry Hilts: The United States has a proud heritage of civic pride and responsibility without subjugating one's entire self to your state.
I guess if we accept taxes are neccessary it's time for ecommerce to share the load...
It's not where you buy that's driving out local businesses as much as where it's made. One look no further than California-based corporations like Apple or HP to realize that these multi-nationals are making billions of high-margin dollars over the sweat, blood and lives of tyrannical regimes all the while exporting jobs that could better be left in the state. Even California labor-lean companies like Google, Twitter and Facebook are reaping billions of dollars in profits and VC capital.

Then, of course, we have our (California) politicians who dole out billions of taxpayer dollars like drunken sailors only to retire multimillionaires by the time they decide to leave the gravy-train with hefty retirement packages or get too greedy and get caught with their hands too brazenly lifty what little crumbs are still left in the cookie jar.

So, spare us your disingenuous tripe about how Amazon is such a bad guy for playing by the rules. HELLO! They are not breaking any laws. When you come out and start as forcibly demanding that the State of California (my state) get its own fiscal house in order, then, and only then, will I give any credence to your opinion on matters of fiscal policy.
Mace, if you buy something outside the USA and bring it to your home in a state with a sales/use tax you are personally required to remit the appropriate use tax return and payment to the state or other taxing agency. This is in addition to any federally imposed tariff on the imported goods.

The problem with use taxes is that there is no meaningful way for states to enforce this with consumers (except for large ticket items and titled property like vehicles). So they rely on merchants collecting the tax on their behalf. Amazon doesn't want to.

The problem is that our tax infrastructure has not kept pace with how we do business, and to boot there are powerful vested interests who want to keep the existing system.

Amazon could instead choose to become a tax processing service for smaller businesses, but that's not the direction they've elected to take. Not sure yet how I feel about that. 
+Ben McIlwain Tariffs provide federal revenue, not state revenue. I think that no matter how you look at it, this is new territory.
Congratulations, Tim, on a great piece and robust comment string. I have a couple of thoughts I haven't seen expressed.

The only disagreement I had with your piece is the characterization that Amazon is pursuing "short term advantage" in its war against brick-and-mortar. To the contrary, I think it is their long-term strategy. Somewhere in their business forecasts there must be growth expected specifically as business moves from brick to online. This is a trend which I know we agree would be happening naturally in any case; Amazon appears anxious to pour all the gasoline they can on the fire to accelerate it. They probably see a revenue increase of some kind from a big percentage of the stores that close. Making them close faster is in both their long-term and short-term interest.

I think it is fair to say "society decided 20 years ago" that not taxing internet commerce was the best thing for everybody to allow that sector to grow. Now society is allowed to decide that minimizing taxes on brick locations is the best thing for everybody because these stores serve a myriad of public and commercial purposes. Legally and ethically, the two decisions are the same. It is illogical to defend having excused internet commerce from taxation to nurture it but to be opposed as a matter of principle to doing the same for brick stores. Because taxing online commerce and not taxing store purchases would actually be the most sensible policy of all for the economy and the society (in my opinion).
+Mace Moneta State governments already get a large amount of money from the Federal government anyway. Some of that funding coming from tariffs wouldn't be at all unusual.

I'm not necessarily saying I'm in favor of this, but if we are going to nationally require all online retailers to collect the sales tax of the state that things are being shipped to, then we would need some equivalent system to handle things purchased from overseas. Lots of countries have import tariffs (and indeed have had them for centuries), so this wouldn't exactly be breaking new ground.
+Noel Yap - The very fact that you address the issue of poor people being robbed by saying "if you're poor, why would people rob you?" demonstrates the incredible vapidity of your position. Poor people are frequently the targets of crooks that steal from them, including dishonest greedy "businesspeople" who stretch the definitions of proper business practice to engage in deceptions and frauds that hoodwink people out of their money. It's only regulation and policing (by... refresh my memory, who's chartered with doing that?) that provide any net to rein in such abuses. This is a purpose of government - to limit those with greater accumulated power from taking advantage of those who have less power, to regulate their activities, to police their behaviors.

But, of course, that is why libertarians want government limited, isn't it? - because they seek an environment where policing and regulation are absent, so that their "natural freedom" to prey on... I mean take advantage of... sorry, profit (in a "free" market) from others' situations is unrestricted.

If you would just acknowledge that the consequence, intended or otherwise, of limiting the size of government to the degree libertarians hope for is that it will thus be prevented from doing the job it SHOULD do, to police the behavior of those who would take advantage of others, and that this consequence is not unintended at all but is in fact a GOAL of those who talk so much about libertarianism and limited government and introduce straw man fallacies about eugenics and coercion to avoid acknowledging that this is the reason they believe in what they believe in, that their desire is for a world in which it will be easier for troglodyte leeches pretending to be honest "entrepreneurs" to rake in profit and say "but I did nothing wrong, I didn't coerce anybody, I'm not a bully", then perhaps we will have a level playing field, in which a more reasonable discussion can ensue. Can you do that? Can you cut out the rationalizations and evasions and just admit that "yes, I want to minimize government because I wish for a world in which my shady ideas about what constitutes reasonable practices in interpersonal interaction are accepted as normal?" Please.

Or am I coercing you?
I wonder how an online retailer would know which sales taxes to charge me. I use the zip code of the nearby city, but I'm not within city limits so you would be overtaxing me if you charged me city sales tax. Charge me state tax and county tax, but not city tax. Yet there are thousands of people with the same zip code and in the same county as me that are within city limits, so you better charge them state, county AND city tax. It's complicated. You would need a database of pretty much every address in the US (or at least every address in my state) tagged with which tax jurisdictions apply.
Of course Amazon is fighting it, they don't want the playing field leveled.

In the 90s, it would have been difficult to implement technologically. Now things have advanced enough to make it easy.

As for imported goods, I agree, and even more so believe that we need it to protect the few manufacturing jobs we have left. If would be nice if the Feds could up some sort of online Tax payment system to pay the Tax before being able to order from over seas in order to avoid having to go to the Post Office to pay taxes upon receipt of goods. On the other hand, it might be just what the USPS would need to stay afloat.
+Mike Shatzkin Great comment, that Amazon isn't short-sighted at all, but has a long-term strategy to drive more and more business online. I would agree from the point of view of strategic planning against commercial competitors. The short-sightedness I was referring to is in the tax position. Local municipalities will need to raise the money one way or another; this will harm consumers (note for example what I said about the burden of forcing individuals to remember their purchases and remit use taxes!) as well as communities.

There's a real opportunity for companies like Amazon to take a lead on figuring out what the proper role of a company is in a capitalist society. We have so many terrible counter-examples: GE paying $4 million in Federal tax on billions in profits; Goldman Sachs driving up food prices for starving people via commodity speculation; Monsanto marketing seeds that can't be propagated; agribusiness pushing cheap, unhealthy calories. Every time someone with an outsized influence (besides Warren Buffet) stands up for shared civic values as "better business"?

I'm sure there are many examples, but we need more of them!
Wow, folks. Over 200 comments! What a nice discussion. Not too rough on anyone, at that.
+Amgine Saewyc The investment is very low for a web site compared to a brick and mortar store or paper catalog mailing. The shipping costs are more than compensated by the lack of rental or mortgage costs for a shop and the lower taxes paid on a storage warehouse as opposed to an expensive retail location.
+Rich Rosen, I'll grant that poor people can be victimized and robbed. OTOH, the government does a great job of doing just that when it inflates the currency -- inflation takes wealth from poor people and transfers it over to rich people.

I agree that what you say is the intended purpose of government. OTOH, that's not what happens in practice. Since government is predicated upon the use of force, those that influence the government the most are most aided by the use of that force. Ever notice how much influence corporations and certain industries (eg the military industry) have over those in government?

The absence of government doesn't mean the absence of audits, checks, etc. I can understand how one might think that having grown up in an environment in which government has been tasked with those things, but that's akin to someone growing up in NH thinking government must be around in order for liquor to be sold.

As I have replied earlier, I have volunteered much of my time to teach under-privileged children and learned first aid in case someone may be in need of such care. So, no, I don't want lack of government because I want to be able to mistreat people. In fact, if I mistreat others, I would hope others around me would set me straight without having to lean on some government to decide for them what they ought to think as right or wrong. For example, I would hope that if we all existed around the time of slavery, we would all consider it to be wrong and do something about it rather than accepting that it's OK simply because the government said it's OK.

And who said anything about eugenics? All I asked was whether it's pragmatic and for the general benefit of society if those in generational poverty were sterilized. I said nothing of heritable characteristics or the improvement of the human population. I'm going by the following definition of eugenics:

Anyway, since you want the poor not to be preyed upon, considering how much influence the rich have over government and the fact that government itself takes wealth from the poor and transfers it over to the rich, shouldn't you be against government, too? And if you're in the US, you should be against that government for killing the poor in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere in the world.
+Alan Bland This is a major part of the problem with sales tax compliance; it can be very hard to identify what taxing districts a customer is in, especially when there are several overlapping districts that constantly change. ZIP code is not nearly enough; you really have to geocode the customer's address down to a census block and look that block up in a tax table. Both of these services are available from service providers, at a cost. (And geocoding often fails, especially when the consumer offers a post office box as an address.)

We once made the mistake of ordering something from Wal-Mart online. The purchase (a microwave oven) had to be returned (damaged in shipping), which according to Wal-Mart's policies is done by taking it to the nearest store. For us, that store is in Northlake, which has a local sales tax that we are not subject to as we live in unincorporated Cook County. Wal-Mart refunded us Northlake sales tax on this purchase (rather than the unincorporated Cook County sales tax that we paid) because the return was completed in Northlake. As a result, we made a slight profit off of our misbegotten transaction, at the expense of the City of Northlake. I wonder if this error was caught and corrected by Wal-Mart's sales tax compliance division.
This is one group of companies using government to go after another group of companies. It is protectionism for old school industrial age type businesses at the detriment of Information Age business models. The reason there are no taxes allowed on internet sales has NOTHING to do with anything in your article. It's because that's what the constitution says. Only the congress have the power to control interstate commerce. Not the states. If the FED government wants to impose an interstate sales tax, then they can, but there's NO reason to do that. The "level the playing field" argument misses the long term picture, midterm and shorterm too. It's a lame argument to say "wah, I cannot so stop them too!". Ok, how about this....instead of wasting tax payer's dollars to use our state governments to go after your competitors, try actually competiting!! If you can't, then go out of business; stop asking for things to be "fair" based on your old business model.
Despite Amazon's "vaunted capabilities at building scalable systems" that could handle such a tax, I wonder if Mr. O'Reilly's tune would change if California imposed this duty to collect use tax on every iPhone or Android developer who lives outside of CA and develops an application to sell on the market?

I think Tim's noble long-term perspective might be better focused on having Gov. Brown work with Amazon to have CA state employees' audit CA taxpayers who refuse to pay use tax on Amazon accounts over $500. It might also be a good idea to address Google and Facebook's strategic licensing of IP outside of the US. You could probably squeeze a few cents out of there... (
I agree that the time has come for Amazon's tax subsidy to end. The energy they are putting into fighting this battle would be better spent on true innovation and building out their affiliate network.

I have taken my own small stand by deleting the Amazon app from my phone and shopping at online and local retailers who do collect sales tax. There are plenty of other shopping options that don't shortchange the communities who made Amazon what it is today. 
Contrast with the situation in the EU where there is a different rate of sales tax for each country, but there is a mandated lower limit of 15%. Here, Amazon collects and pays the sales tax depending on where you have your goods shipped to. I live in Denmark, which means will add 25% to my bill when I order books, despite the fact that the UK has a special rate of 0% for books.

If I am personally int the UK then I can buy as many books as I can carry (for my own use) and bring them back to Denmark without having to pay the sales tax.

One of the big differences is that there is only one set of rules per country. Even though there are a lot of members in the EU these days, it's still fewer than the number of states in the US and there are no rules per city, or even rules that have a higher resolution than the post code!

The other big difference is that there is nothing Amazon can do about it in the EU because it's all regulated by EU law. There's nothere in the EU Amazon could relocate to to avoid this rule.
If you want an online sales tax, end the use tax.
This is off topic a bit, but not completely as it exemplifies the advantages of brick and mortar. I bought a laptop in Micro Center. I got it home and a friend said. You can get the same model in New Egg for $20 less and no sales tax. Why not return the computer and save $50. I thought about it but decided to avoid the hassle of a 10 minute walk to the shop and the return process. A while later I noticed the keyboard was faulty. I brought it into the shop and they said they would have to keep my computer for about 3 weeks. I said I needed my computer for work, couldn't they order the part and fix it when the part comes. Af ter very short consultation with the manager, they told me I could take the machine back and come in when the part came. Now, if I'd bought the computer from an on-line shop, I'd get the repair done, but at the very high cost of not having my laptop for 3 weeks. An other time, I got a loaner when I had to leave my computer for warantee repairs. So there are definitely advantages to brick and mortar.
Alan Bland, to you argument, that is actual one of many points made by the Supreme Court. There was something like 6000 separate sale tax territories 20 years ago. My guess is that number has tripled since then. It wasn't a ruling statement, but supportive to their ruling.
+Marcin Ciszewicz There are only what, 27 countries in the EU? I don't care how complicated Polish tax code is, that's nothing compared to trying to grok the thousands of interacting and interrelated commercial tax regimes that mill about within the United States. Also, the "rules of collection" are not simple: each taxing authority has its own practices for collection, reporting, and remission, with returns and payments due as infrequently as annually or as often as daily, and with penalties in the thousands of dollars if an error is made or a return or payment is late. This system isn't "simple"; the European system is far less complicated if for no other reason that there are fewer players.
+Noel Yap I'll grant that poor people can be victimized and robbed.

Wow, I'll take that as a major victory. Rarely do libertarians acknowledge being wrong about things or admit that they told an egregious lie in the service of an argument. So thank you.

OTOH, the government does a great job of doing just that when...

Yawn. OK, now we're back to the fallacies. Just because you don't like what an elected government does doesn't mean taxation is theft. Taxation is the set of dues you pay to be a participating member in society and gain the benefits of said membership. That whole line of argument is kind of old and sad. So let's move on.

I agree that what you say is the intended purpose of government. OTOH, that's not what happens in practice.

What libertarians fail to admit is the flip side of that coin - "The intended purpose of the so-called free market is... but that's not what happens in practice." Progressives do not seek to dismantle government because of the gap between theory and practice but instead seek to make it better. What suggestions do libertarians have to ameliorate the failures of the unregulated cowboy capitalism they advocate?

Since government is predicated upon the use of force, those that influence the government the most are most aided by the use of that force. Ever notice how much influence corporations and certain industries (eg the military industry) have over those in government?

Oh yeah, and I and others like me seek to reduce that influence by regulating the behavior of corporations and industries that abuse their accumulated power. Wow, are we on the same side here? Fascinating...

And who said anything about eugenics?

I guess suggesting that people be sterilized and making asides about "killing the poor" weren't in that vein? Hmm, I'll have to peruse your words again to see what you REALLY meant. Sorry...
Marcin Ciszewicz, sales tax in California varies almost by the street block. It ranges from low 8% to almost 11% depending on the region, county, city, even things like water districts. It is nuts. And yes, current sales tax laws get worse: sometimes you are supposed to pay your local rate (regardless to where you buy the item), and sometimes you are supposed to pay the rate where you bought your item. The type of item you buy determines which juristition applies.
Once more, with feeling, I need to emphasize. This is not Amazon refusing to pay something they owe. The "free ride" rhetoric is way off base. This is about Amazon's customers paying taxes, and states expecting Amazon to bear the cost of being a tax collector.

Tax collection is not "simple". Tax collection requires more computers, more workers, accounting audits, check disbursements, and California wants Amazon to pay for every dime of this operation. Amazon is just supposed to cough up millions of dollars to handle tax collection out of the goodness of their hearts so that a foreign state can collect some extra revenue.
+Rich Rosen, if I opt to join a gym, that's membership.

The intended purpose of the free market, to me, is voluntary transactions.

Taxation is theft because an entity takes it from some other entity, not because one either agrees or disagrees with a certain government's policies.

One can see that free markets have improved the whole of society. For example, the poor in the US are much richer than the average or median person in many other countries. This is because during voluntary transactions, it's very likely that wealth is created -- they're win-win situations. So, as voluntary transactions occur, wealth tends to increase in the population thereby benefiting society as a whole.

Anyway, what free market failures do you mean?

If you think you can influence government more than corporations, go for it. IMO, the entire methodology is flawed; it's used by the religious right to force their definition of 'marriage' on others, to fund wars much of the population doesn't want, etc.

I said nothing about killing the poor. Sterilization of those in generational poverty have nothing to do with eugenics (unless you go by some other definition of the word). But, yeah, go back and read what I really said and, no, I don't for a moment recommend sterilization of those in generational poverty and I would think no true libertarian would ever suggest such a thing. All I said was that if one based their rationale on what's good for society as a whole and what is pragmatic, one ought to be for the sterilization of those in generational poverty since that solution fits both criteria. But, I'll restate, libertarians are pro-individual freedom and ought never want such a thing no matter how pragmatic or beneficial to the society it may be.
When you fly in a plane, remember the FAA is keeping you safe.
When you drive to that bookstore, or bike, or walk, think about the street and sidewalk
When you go out to eat, consider that you are able to have a conversation with the staff because of free education.
When you type into the Google + text area, think about the Internet that was created with government funding.
When you take the day off today, or any weekend day, or leave from work at a reasonable hour thank the socialist workers unions that got you those priveleges.

If you want to live on top of a mountain, with no running water, roads to get you to and from that mountain, with no grocery store within 100 miles since there are no roads or train tracks to get food to the local store, no postal workers, no phone service, no internet, no plumbing, no paid vacation, sick time, holidays, no safety net should you hurt yourself digging your own out house.

You live in a society. Society costs money. Money comes in thru taxation. You were into this society, therefore you are a member of it. If you don't like receiving any services, move to the top of that mountain where there aren't any. And, remember, to shoo away the firepeople when that mountain is burning in a forest fire, since you didnt' want that service either.
Benjamin Krueger - every other business in California collects taxes. collects taxes. Why does Amazon, a company that does business in california, and has engineers here, get an exemption?
+Estelle Weyl, we've covered this argument. Amazon does not "do business in" California. +Saul Tannenbaum tried to claim this as well, but was unable to provide any legal code or ruling that supports this strained definition. Applying this argument results in a huge quagmire that negatively affects everyone, including brick and mortar stores, and violates the constitution.
Benjamin Krueger - They do business here under different names, like Lab146. I just received an engineering recruitment letter for a local position here last week. Yes, they "do business" here.
+Estelle Weyl I think you may not have a complete understanding of retail, or the difference between having a retail and having an engineering presence.
Again, until the constitution of the United States is changed a state will ultimately lose any time they try to do this. They cannot collect taxes on transactions that take place outside of their borders. I would speculate that they know this and are primarily passing these illegal laws to tweak the nose of the federal government in the hope that some sort of legal solution will be put in place. Good luck on that even if I do think it's a good idea. Anti tax rhetoric is at an all time high and having reasonable and sensible debates all but impossible.

Amazon would be foolish to collect these taxes. Ultimately they might be liable to payback all the people they collected them from and what are the odds they would get that money back from the states if this happened? If they did I would be very surprised if it happened in a timely or equitable manner.

I'm not saying Amazon is being entirely pure here. They certainly are looking out for their own interests. As a publicity traded company they have to though if they don't want to piss off their share holders.

Blame the system, not Amazon. Expecting them to be paragons is unrealistic.
+Tim O'Reilly, I went to the site that you suggested, however I'm not following your math. California actually rises in terms of total per capita revenue. Furthermore, it is not lower than Texas.

+Bob Hooker, well yes, that's why I expressed it in terms of per capita revenues. Actually, I would expect economies of scale to make larger cities more efficient at using their tax hauls.
Noel: A market failure occurs every time there is value out there to be created yet nobody has incentive to create it, or there is value being destroyed because nobody has incentive to stop it. Here are a few market failures for you.

Global warming: Everyone has a short-term interest in burning fossil fuels, because the benefits are highly individual while the harms are highly dispersed. In the real world, the ideal solution is to implement a cap-and-trade system. In libertarian fantasyland, the solution is for each individual harmed by global warming to sue every individual who caused global warming. Since this plan lurks somewhere between "wildly impractical" and "bloody stupid", the libertarian backup plan is to pretend that global warming isn't happening.

Education: It is in everyone's interests to have a well-educated citizenry. But everyone has a financial incentive to avoid paying for the education of strangers' children. It gives them resources to lavish on their own children, or buy Avril Lavinge CDs or whatever. We can argue over whether the education system could use a dash of free market to make it better, but if a family doesn't have the money -- or simply doesn't choose to spend the money -- to educate their children, we're still better off if they get educated. Yet no individual or company who has the money to pay for that education would recoup their investment.

National defense: I think our current military budget is shamefully gluttonous. But let's set that aside for a moment, and assume that having a national defense is a good thing, and that it must be paid for somehow. The problem is, the population at large benefits from being protected from invading armies, the ability to protect trade routes, etc. Yet anyone who avoids paying their fair share for it still receives the protection. So anyone can make themselves better off by mooching, yet if everyone does what is in their individual self-interest, we get overrun by Visgoths.

So what's the solution, if voluntary donations aren't adequate for the defense that is needed?

Health care: Long story short. We have the most free-market health care in the industrialized world. We also have the most expensive health care and surprisingly poor health outcomes. Yet even though there is no living example of a successful free-market health care system -- in contrast to the many superior European health care models -- your solution would probably be even less government involvement.
Should Amazon collect sales tax when it receives no benefit from it? A business uses the infrastructure provided and paid for by that sales tax, Amazon's 'store' does not. Amazon does not get emergency services from the sales tax fund, the benefit of police or fire officials, water treatment, or any of the services that come from the sales tax. Sales tax is not a tool to make a market more or less 'fair' and people and articles that frame it that way are simply incorrect.
Doesn't Amazon benefit from the roads that are built that allow delivery trucks to deliver their packages?
+Benjamin Krueger I'm not interested in doing legal research for you. And repeating quagmire over and over does not make it so. Since you've decided how it's all gotta be, I'll leave this discussion in your self assured hands.
As inconvenient as sales taxes would be for Amazon, they would be prohibitively inconvenient for their upstart and potential upstart online competitors, and thus would actually work to Amazon's advantage. So kudos to Amazon for taking a principled stand on behalf of consumers here.

I'm going to go with Milton Friedman's philosophy on taxes since he seems to understand economics better than anyone else. There is never not a good reason to cut taxes. And it doesn't matter where the NOT taxes come from because it's all one real (secular) economy.
Tim, I'm assume you are well informed, so you must be intentionally omitting some important points her. This issue is important because the state of California is manipulating the language of what constitutes a retailer in order to circumvent the intention of the US constitution.
Amazon does not have a presence in the state of California in any tangible sense: it does not rely on it's schools, law enforcement or other public service. Why should it have to pay sales tax? What is being done is essentially an interstate tariff, which any thinking person should realize, is a very bad thing in the UNITED State of America.
The unintended consequence of this is that thousands of people who supplement (or even get a significant portion of) their income are now unable to do this because associates that advertise for Amazon or eBay (for a fee) are now considered a retail presence. As such, Amazon has terminated their contracts. That's a lot of income that California was able to tax before, that it is going to miss out on now. It is yet another bonehead move by the State legislature. 
That's not how this works +Saul Tannenbaum. You made an assertion. We're asking you to demonstrate evidence supporting it. Now you refuse. It's not our job to prove your argument for you. If your claims crumble under scrutiny, that's your problem.
+Noel Yap - if I opt to join a gym, that's membership.

And if you opt not to pay the dues that other members of society willingly pay to gain the benefits associated with membership in society, then fine, leave. But don't pretend you don't gain benefit from what the commons, the government, society, all provide to you. That would be just completely daft and destroy any credibility that might be associated with your position. So I'm sure you won't do that.

Taxation is theft because an entity takes it from some other entity, not because one either agrees or disagrees with a certain government's policies.

An entity takes something from another entity... and that's theft? Any taking of something from one entity by entity is theft? That does bode well for your opinion of capitalism, does it? I'm sure you meant something other than what you typed above...

One can see that free markets have improved the whole of society.

One can also say the same thing about liberal democracy and democratic governments in general. I realize that "one" would not be you, but a lot of other people would acknowledge this.

Anyway, what free market failures do you mean?

Well, I'm going to guess you arrived here in a time machine from the past (certainly not the future - such a trip would bestow one with wisdom about consequences of actions) and missed the debacle that happened three years ago, caused by the lack of oversight over the behavior of free market cowboys... As I said those who ignore history are doomed to make the rest of us repeat it.

the entire methodology is flawed; it's used by the religious right to force their definition of 'marriage' on others

Please, don't mix social liberalism with libertarianism. It's like oil and water, they don't mix. It's nice that you hold the opinion that the government has no business interfering with personal freedoms - I fully agree. We were talking about something else.

Sterilization of those in generational poverty have nothing to do with eugenics (unless you go by some other definition of the word).

I go by the one in the dictionary, which says that practices intended to discourage or prevent reproduction of people deemed "undesirable" (by... of course the people who consider themselves and their traits "desirable") qualify as eugenics. You seem to go by another definition, one that excludes things you advocate from association with the word because of its unfortunate negative connotation. But that's OK. Feel free to do that. In the unregulated marketplace of debate, it puts you at a competitive disadvantage...

But, I'll restate, libertarians are pro-individual freedom and ought never want such a thing [sterilization of/killing the poor] no matter how pragmatic or beneficial to the society it may be.

That's very nice. Insinuating that progressives WOULD advocate such things (or "should") strikes me as a smear tactic not worthy of honest argument. But that's the path you chose here, and I guess we have to face the consequences of that tactic.

The difference in the way progressives frame arguments against libertarians is that we note what the ACTUAL consequences are of the libertarian laissez faire attitude towards keeping the market free - that deregulation leads inevitably to egregious abuses that hurt the economy and society as a whole, that advocacy of less government and decreased policing of commerce and finance results in more abuses that hurt - not "our economic system", but people. Economic conservatives and libertarians value the health and well being of "the system" over and above the health and well being of people. Progressives feel exactly the opposite. That's what makes us progressive.

... Oh, and I recall asking you a question that I was hoping to get an answer to. You didn't bother to respond. How come? Is the reason that you advocate reduction in the size of government, in particular its economic regulatory capacity, because you WANT for there to be more opportunity for abuses and taking advantage during your so-called "free voluntary transactions"? If not, do you acknowledge that what you advocate has such abuses as an inevitable consequence? And do you care?
I made one assertion: When someone in California buys something from Amazon and has it delivered in California, that's doing business in California. And I'll leave it whoever bothers reading this thread to decide what about that has crumbled. We're not going to convince each other, and I'm sure you've got better things to do than argue with me. Or, at least, I hope you do. :)

Thanks for the interesting conversation and have a great day.
I wonder how brick and mortar survive there startup. I don't buy the story that online commerce needed some type of break from basic sales tax.

All other sellers in a state are required to collect sales tax, if it applies to their state.
+Saul Tannenbaum I have nothing but disrespect for intentional dishonesty and evasiveness. With you, no, this wasn't an interesting or fun conversation. And sending a passive-aggressive "great day" wish doesn't help either. If you're going to try and butter up the audience, at least try not to be so transparent about it next time. Taking the high ground is nice, but a naked lunatic on the roof takes the high ground too.
Fundamental points I want to make on this LONG thread:

1) Amazon is a california company, and it has always been customary for internet companies (even small ones) to charge sales tax for purchases from inside the state they are incorporated in, at minimum. If Amazon has never done this, they are most-likely already being given a pass on their violations of state sales-tax law.

2) Use-tax is stupid, always, whether Amazon charges it or not. It's nickel and dime taxation, and it's dumb.

3) Amazon is employing tons of people in the state, and they spend their income in the state. To suggest that they're not contributing to the state is just silly.

4) I feel like this is akin to asking google or ICANN to enforce IP law. Sure they could pretty-easily do it...

5) Starting a business to handle use-tax seems like a pretty good idea -- except that it doesn't have a profit-model: Maybe that's why amazon doesn't want to invest developer time into it. I think if policy-makers can address that, then they might actually win amazon support.
Since we're drafting new legislation to capture Amazon, why not expand sales tax to include intangible items. That way Safari Books Online subscribers can pay their taxes too. To me there is very little difference between a physical book and a virtual one.
Well said, +Tim O'Reilly . Here in California, to get the convenience of Amazon, we now have to send our business out of state -- and pay the additional carbon cost of getting it shipped to us.
+Ben West I hate to nitpick about your Fundamental Points, but is a registered Delaware company located in Washington State; their headquarters are about 20 minutes from my house in Seattle.
Well you might want to make a distinction between market failure, that is the failure of industries or large section of the economy in a market, and a wider failure of markets to meet certainly socially desired ends.

A key issue is that the market fetish so popular today seems to think markets can solve everything. But socially essential acts like having children, taking care of the elderly who are poor, and other have not market value. 30 years ago even Reagan seemed to understand this but after a generation of instability and collapse of the middle class conservative views in the GOP have become so radical the market is embraced now as a kind of religious token.
How about an "internet state" sales tax that could be used to build the necessary infrastructure to build an actually fast internet in the States
I think there's a hole in your argument. If you "don't need the added incentive of no sales tax" to make you shop at Amazon, then how is imposing a sales tax on Amazon purchases going to do anything to help your local businesses? Those businesses are in trouble because you (and others) stopped buying from them, not because Amazon has a tax advantage.

Or look at it another way. Walmart is blamed for having the exact same effect on local business, and yet if you purchase from a Walmart you pay the exact same sales tax as you would if you purchased from the local store down the road. So there must be other factors at work than simply the sales tax issue. As you noted, there are a number of reasons, completely unrelated to sales tax, why a person might prefer to shop on Amazon. Amazon simply provides a better user experience.

At the end of the day, I just don't see how taxing Amazon helps local businesses (unless the sales tax from Amazon is paid directly to local businesses, but I give that about a 0.0001% chance of happening). A local business succeeds or fails at the whim of its community, the tax difference between online and offline purchases really has nothing to do with it. If people want their local businesses, then they need to take responsibility and show their own, individual support for those businesses. You know, by doing things like avoiding Amazon (and Walmart, et al.) and patronizing local businesses instead.

We shouldn't be blaming Amazon, online retailers, or tax policy for things that are entirely our own faults. We choose to patronize online vendors instead of local shops, so we only have ourselves to blame when those local shops quit. This isn't a problem that can (or should) be fixed with taxes.
+Bryce Anderson, the first kind of market failure you describe isn't really a failure. Who decides where value is to be made? You or the market?

For example, assuming that global warming is man-made, the solution I would think would be that people would keep burning fossil fuels until the costs of doing so outweigh the benefits. This can happen in different ways, one of which is for enterprising people to develop cheaper alternative energy sources (eg LFTR if the NRC allowed such non-nuclear-weapons nuclear technology to be developed -- note that this technology has already been proved 50 years ago to be viable and feasible). If you look back on the history of energy, this is exactly what had happened when oil (which, BTW, saved whales) and electricity started to be used.

Another example is would the non-libertarian solution have been? Did it work?

WRT education,,, and There are likely many, many others. Also, I've heard is a study that parent engagement, not money, is the key. BTW, if this is really that important to you, what about those outside the US? Or does your philosophy end at the borders?

WRT national defense, those that see it as important will pay for it without regard to whomever else is benefiting (the market is actually like this -- everyone benefits slightly from wealth being created through voluntary transactions). Not that I agree with either of the following, but and are examples of this.

WRT healthcare, there are lots of government-imposed friction in the market. The biggest, I think, are the demand-side health insurance subsidies which in the long-run increase the cost of healthcare. Another is the government-supported monopoly, the AMA, which restricts the number of doctors licenses it gives out (some qualified doctors are denied licenses). Another is the restriction of health insurance companies to work across state borders and regulations for companies to provide healthcare benefits, both of which restrict the choices in insurance companies. There are many others, but those are a few that quickly came to mind.
+Rich Rosen, if I stopped paying for my gym membership, they can stop providing their services to me. So, let's do that. I'll stop paying my taxes and the government will stop providing its services to me. Or are you suggesting gyms can give out their services, even against the will of the recipient, and force their 'customers' to pay up?

Or perhaps you'll say that the services' benefits can't be restricted to only those that pay? If so, that's exactly what happens in the free market. For example, everyone benefited when the price of energy fell when Standard Oil came around. The free market tends to drive prices lower (the more wealth, not to be confused with money, is created in the world, the more wealth money can buy).

I meant exactly what I said about theft. What definition do you use? Something that explicitly excludes the government (eg by qualifying the definition with 'ilegal')?

Anyway, 'capitalism' is an overloaded term (many confuse it with corporatism, consumerism, etc). I use 'free market' which is pretty much based on voluntary transactions so, no taking or theft involved.

Aah, the financial crisis caused by government pumping too much credit into the market and allowing banks to be over-leveraged through practices (ie fractional reserve banking) that has existed even before the US existed, not to mention forcing banks to give out low interest loans to low-credit-rated people. But let's say for the moment that the government had no hand in the matter. If so, it was only a failure after the government bailed out some banks. If an entity is to gain from good decisions, it ought also lose from bad decisions.

Libertarianism is about freedom, both social and fiscal. It stems from the notion of property rights and ownership, including ownership of oneself such that one may make one's own choice as to whom to marry.

I just wanted to be sure we know each others' definition of eugenics. A Google search for the definition turns mine up as the first hit and Wikipedia's definition is similar to mine. But that's neither here nor there. Again, I, and no other libertarian, would never advocate the practice I described no matter how pragmatic, practical, or beneficial to society since it goes against individual freedoms.

I haven't insinuated anything. I'm asking the question based upon the rationale (ie pragmatic, beneficial to society) given by some for the government to undertake some projects. No non-libertarian has yet answered why they wouldn't advocate the practice. Would you like to have a go at it?

The 'market' can make more abuses with the help of the government. I think I've listed many examples of this above. Here's one more:

I did answer your question. I'll answer again. I don't want there to be more abuses. I think there'll be fewer abuses -- corporations would have less, not more, power since they would have to rely on voluntary transactions, rather than political favors, in order to make money.

I think I've addressed every point you've made. How about actually addressing the points I've made and questions I've asked rather than trying to parry, dismiss, and/or go by some definition of libertarianism that libertarians don't hold?
+Noel Yap:

if I stopped paying for my gym membership, they can stop providing their services to me. So, let's do that.

Great! Those services include being in the gym at all!

I'll stop paying my taxes and the government will stop providing its services to me.

Then you don't get to use money. Then you don't get to travel on roads. Then you don't get to complain to the police when someone with a bigger gun and better martial arts training than you goes after you. Then maybe you don't even get to make use of the internet. (Yay, less distractive clutter in online discussions! :-) ) No wonder the principled libertarians live in mountain cabins by themselves, planting animals and hunting vegetables for sustenance. They at least recognize what "I'm not dependent on or obligated to any other people!" would really mean.

You choose not to acknowledge your interdependence on the social framework, or the notion of republican democracy where a majority elects people who make decisions that you are bound by. Great. The fact remains, that if you don't like those decisions in this society you work to elect others the next time around, but you abide by the law in the meantime. You don't get all silly and childish and call it "theft". That just lends credence to the argument that the libertarian position is just babyish whining.

Or are you suggesting gyms can give out their services, even against the will of the recipient, and force their 'customers' to pay up?

If someone chooses to "live" at that gym, yeah. Pretty much. Duh. They could certainly choose to live elsewhere. Perhaps in their own self-made "mountain cabin gym" built with their bare hands. (This is what libertarians say about the poor and disadvantaged - "if they don't like it where they live they can just hire a moving van or pack their stuff and go to the UPS store or put all their stuff in their SUV and drive to live somewhere else, right?" If it applies to such people, it also applies to the libertarians themselves, no?)

I meant exactly what I said about theft.

Well, then you should strive to be clearer next time. You made vague references to "whenever an entity takes from another entity" that made no sense from an English-speaking point of view. In a republican democracy, people elect legislators who make decisions you are bound by. Saying "it's theft because I didn't vote for it and I don't agree with it" is, simply, the rantings of a child who doesn't like the rules and wants to throw a tantrum. It's not theft. Not at all. So let's move on and get real.

Let's be clear about history: over the course of 30 years, greedy corporate interests that did not like the notion of paying taxes and being regulated and playing by rules lobbied to minimize those taxes and laxify the enforcement of those rules - the very things libertarians seek. And what did we get? Sloppy, shortsighted stupid people driving our economy into the ground. In other words, you libertarians GOT what you wanted, and the childish "I can do what I want" behaviors of the "free-marketeers" led us into a hole. And as even a stubborn mule like Alan Greenspan noted, he was WRONG about his assumptions about how the free market worked where humans were involved. Do you have that kind of honesty that you could acknowledge this, that the theoretical principles you deify when applied in practice don't quite work out as you imagine they would? Or will you stubbornly pretend, in the most fundamentally religious way, that these principles still stand despite how they manifest themselves in reality?

Libertarianism is about freedom, both social and fiscal. It stems from the notion of property rights and ownership, including ownership of oneself such that one may make one's own choice as to whom to marry.

All proud, bold words spoken like a true high school student who read them in a book and took them to heart with no practical experience or historical perspective. OK. Great. Let's move on.

I just wanted to be sure we know each others' definition of eugenics. A Google search for the definition turns mine up as the first hit. But that's neither here nor there. Again, I, and no other libertarian, would never advocate the practice I described no matter how pragmatic, practical, or beneficial to society since it goes against individual freedoms.

Does anyone really care about your deflection about eugenics? Man, this whole subthread is a deflection and distraction from Tim's original point about an online merchant charging sales tax, but even within that there must be a FURTHER distraction? Since you don't seem to be a fan of studying history, let's examine it together: you brought up the notion that "well, if you're a liberal who believes in doing what's best for society as a whole, then you should be for eugenically-motivated (though you chose not to use that word) sterilization of the poor, etc." And then you had the nerve to declare "_I haven't insinuated anything_" after attempting a deflective smear like that! LOL!

I haven't insinuated anything. I'm asking the question based upon the rationale (ie pragmatic, beneficial to society) given by some for the government to undertake some projects. No non-libertarian has yet answered why they wouldn't advocate the practice. Would you like to have a go at it?

See what I mean? "You believe in X, therefore you must believe in Y, which is a horrible thing that most people associate with the word 'eugenics' but I don't. Nyah-nyah nah-nyah-nyah!" It is not a logical progression you make, it is a deliberate attempt to smear those who disagree with you that employs most of the basic fallacies to be avoided in making an argument. It is a "tactic", not a logical point. "You believe in doing what's best for society as a whole, so why not sterilize the poor?" And you claim no non-libertarian has answered this. Ooh, ooh, let me! Because we place our priority on people and their health and well-being first, as individuals AND as a group, over and above the health and well-being of a system, economic or social or otherwise, or of abstract principles. This is the opposite of what economic conservatives and libertarians believe: which is that PRINCIPLES about a supposedly free market are more important than people.

I did answer your question. I'll answer again.

Well, no, you didn't. But it sounds like you're about to now. So thank you. Go ahead. Answer... "again"...

I don't want there to be more abuses.

As I said, you had not answered this before. You never said that you do not want for there to be more abuses. But now you have. Good.

I think there'll be fewer abuses -- corporations would have less, not more, power since they would have to rely on voluntary transactions, rather than political favors, in order to make money.

You clearly cannot "think" this based on history, based on what has demonstrably happened due to increased deregulation and lowered levels of supervision over the financial world. What we have learned is that, left to their own devices, these people will act like children. (The irony is, "conservatism" has long been associated with the old man on his porch shouting at the wild misbehaving kids to get off his lawn and follow the rules, but today... the conservatives ARE the wild misbehaving kids who refuse to follow the rules!) And the sad truth about libertarianism (within the economic sphere) is that it embodies the spirit not of an honest quest for freedom but of an adolescent approaching majority shouting "I'm an adult, I can do what I want!"

So, in short, no, there will not be fewer abuses. We know this from recent history. So you can stick to your principles, as contraindicated by reality as they might be. That's your choice.

But if you say you don't want for there to be more abuses, as an adult, you would acknowledge that regulation is not tyranny, that taxation is not theft, and that responsibility goes hand in hand with freedom. Of course, a child would say the opposite. Which one are you?

I think I've addressed every point you've made.

No, not really. I had to literally beat out of you an answer to my fundamental question, and even that was somewhat diluted. But I will accept this as the best you choose to do.

How about actually addressing the points I've made and questions I've asked

These would be, specifically?

(Note that this is another juvenile smear tactic - insinuating that the other person hasn't addressed points without delineating which points were left unaddressed... usually because there aren't any.)

rather than trying to parry, dismiss, and/or go by some definition of libertarianism that libertarians don't hold?

Hmmm, this coming from the guy who tells progressives and liberals what they MUST believe based on THEIR principles as HE defines them... hmmmm, interesting...

(Wasn't there a real discussion going on here? Sorry for the detour...)
+Benjamin Krueger thanks for the clarification. My point would still apply if they had a warehouse in CA. If not, California doesn't have jurisdiction to tax Amazon -- unless they consider the internet to be located in CA, maybe they should get the ISP's to collect the taxes, they're push-overs anyhow.
+Ben West A couple more corrections. 1) Amazon doesn't have any fulfillment centers in California. 2) Amazon doesn't have ISPs. 3) If you're implying that CA ISPs collect taxes from consumers, I'd love to know how an ISP is supposed to determine what taxes to collect and from whom.
no, I mean that California should find some akward way for you to pay concast or metropath -- or something
+Rich Rosen, yup, those services include being in the gym at all. This leads us to property rights. Who owns my house?

Money is interesting. The government tries to halt competition. This includes things like and

I would gladly pay for the roads I use.

I certainly acknowledge interdependence on those around me. Voluntary transactions couldn't happen without such interdependence.

Theft is what it is. Not acknowledging taxation as theft doesn't make it not theft. Calling me silly, childish, etc doesn't make it not theft. Proclaiming it not to be theft doesn't make it not theft. So, what definition of 'theft' do you use and how is that different from taxation? We can move on after you have answered this question.

As you said, this country was also founded upon the principle of being able to change it rather than having to leave.

'Laxify'? After saying, "'whenever an entity takes from another entity' that made no sense from an English-speaking point of view."?

Anyway, since you had trouble understanding, I'll make it a bit more concrete. Let's say there's one entity, Robber, and it takes from another entity, Rich, without Rich's consent. That's theft. Would you agree? If we replace the variables with different instances: Let's say there's one entity, Government, and it takes from another entity, Rich, without Rich's consent. IMO, that's theft. You obviously disagree so can you explain why?

You're quoting someone whose job it was to control the economy as someone promoting free markets?

Think of the downturn as a correction from the bubble the government created. The business cycle is part of a healthy economy just as inhalation and exhalation are part of healthy breathing.

Let's say corporations did get government to create tax breaks, 'laxify' regulations, etc. Doesn't that support what I said about corporate influence over government? Also, that's just one part of libertarianism. The other part is that government shouldn't support corporations including throwing money at them, inflation that takes wealth from the poor and transfers it to the rich, etc.

Wow, you call me a high school student and then say, 'move on' all the while not at all acknowledging that freedom to marry whomever one chooses and freedom of property are based on some foundation, that they are not oil and water as you had said before?

You're absolutely right -- a rose by any other name. I just wanted to point out that your definition of eugenics isn't very popular after claiming that I'm using my definition simply to get my point across. But let's move on -- like I said, that's neither here nor there.

All I said was that following the rationale given by some liberals, liberals ought to be for that sort of 'eugenics' (using your definition). IOW, it's simply a logical conclusion given the constraints of the problem. So, why would you not be for that sort of 'eugenics'?

Again, I am asking why you would not be for that sort of 'eugenics' despite what the logic concludes. Please answer the question.

I'm an adult. Adults don't call other people names when they disagree with them. Which one are you?

Anyway, I've stated many times how those influential to government can use government force to abuse the populace. You're example above demonstrates this. And it's not limited to corporations, either. Unions do it, too, as do entire industries (eg the military industrial complex takes our money and uses it to kill people).

Yeah, I'm trying to get a real discussion here. How about answering my questions rather than calling me names?

Considering how much name calling you've done in this one post alone and the fact that you haven't answered any of my questions, this'll be my last reply to you unless you show you can be more mature and civil. Note that what I mean by this is that I think you can rise above the childish behavior you have demonstrated.
Simple solution: The taxing authority of the seller applies it's rate to half of the transaction, and the taxing authority of the buyer taxes the other half.
I do not think the main issue here is whether there should be sales tax or not but whether an online business has to deal with the tax requirements of every single local jurisdiction its orders can potentially come from. If this is complex for amazon to handle, just imagine for smaller businesses...reading about this debate from Europe I an not avoid thinking about our own our VAT byzantine rules, that despite some efforts to simplify intra-EU transactions, remain a major putting-off factor for small businesses trying to scale up to reach continental coverage
+Ben West How is Comcast going to know what taxes you owe? And why is it Comcast's job to invest money in an infrastructure to collect taxes for California?
I'm constantly incredulous about how Americans can conduct this kind of discussion as if it's an internal US issue. You're only 10% of the world, guys! This is an international issue, because especially with digital products, the geographic location of both the seller and the buyer are difficult to determine and easy to adjust to optimise tax liability. As a tiny online retailer myself, I don't want any unfair advantages over tiny bricks-and-mortar retailers, but neither do I want the overhead and complexity of calculating and collecting taxes for 140 different countries in the world, not to mention countries such as the US where the tax seems to depend on what state and county your are in. As it is, the US tax authorities are already the only ones (outside the UK, where I am based) who involve me in any form-filling, and that's quite bad enough already.
There's 274 comments here that I didn't read, so forgive me if I'm repeating what's been said, but I have a couple of comments:

First off, I generally agree that Amazon and their competitors in the online marketplace should be collecting sales tax for the localities that require it, however while computers are indeed very good at repetitive tasks, ensuring that there is an accurate database of every state, county, and city sales tax, and that it is accurately applied to Amazon customers (is it based on billing address? or on shipping address? or does depend on the locality collecting the tax?) is a human problem, not a computer problem.

Secondly, Californians, not Amazon, pay California sales tax. Californians (and pretty much everyone else subject to sales tax) who make purchases on Amazon already are subject to "use tax", and are required to report those transactions and pay the tax themselves; enforcement of that is the problem, and one that's not likely to be solved. Still, it's Californians, not Amazon, that are evading California tax here -- Amazon's simply not providing Californians with that simple method of paying their tax accurately and on time, nor is it providing California with an easy, single point of enforcement and audit.

Finally, while Amazon does have a decided (if technically false) tax advantage over local businesses, if a local business cannot compete because of excessive sales taxes, that's a tax problem, not an Amazon-has-an-unfair-advantage problem. The easy example is a city sales tax, which can easily be "evaded" by simply driving outside of city limits to buy your books or whatever there, a situation that becomes more and more commonplace as sales tax increases, leading paradoxically to lower tax revenue from higher tax rates. But the example of Wordsworth is also overlooking the fact that bookstores all over the country (world?) are shuttering even in places where they are not subject to sales tax because they can't compete with Amazon -- sales tax (or the non-collection thereof) isn't the cause here.
Scott W
Well said Tim. I think you should lay out the case as an op-ed response in the NY Times. If anyone agrees, +1 this to encourage Tim to do it :)
+Tim O'Reilly I agree completely on buying where you shop. I ran into this a long time ago where a local seller was also the local expert on what they were selling, but not the low price by a ways. I'd worked in local stores myself long enough to know what kind of work they had invested. I would not go in and consume their time educating me and then buy somewhere else. It isn't fair. With the Internet now the consumer can educate themselves online and buy where the best price is.
+Noel Yap : : I told you that your solution to our uniquely bad health care system would be less government intervention. Strange. As I said, I can list dozens of countries that pay much less for their health care while having better health outcomes, and these countries invariably have more government intervention into their health care. Hell, even Cuba -- which has a per-capita GDP that is about half what we spend on health care alone -- has a similar life expectancy to the United States.

Name one industrialized country that has a less regulated health care system than we do. Then explain why everyone else seems to be getting more bang for their buck than we are.

I suspect you'll try to blame the illegal immigrants next, so let me nip that one in the bud: Illegal immigrants are disproportionately young, healthy, and not in need of medical services, and they make up maybe 3% of the population. They cannot come close to explaining why we pay 50-100% more on health care than other countries.

Your argument against a global warming failure is nonsensical. Yes, people are supposed to engage in an activity until the costs outweigh the benefits. That's the way free markets are supposed to work. When they don't, that's what economists call a market failure.

Right now, if you priced the damages caused by fossil fuels into the cost, renewables would already be economically competitive. But the people who make money putting CO2 into the atmosphere aren't the people who are suffering the long-term consequences, which fall disproportionately on those who don't benefit from the emissions in any way. Again, that's the textbook definition of a free market failure.

The horse manure story is, well, horse manure. All it proves is that sometimes technologies get replaced by other technologies with different costs and benefits. The "moral" of the story (that any problem can be solved by "the market" and "innovation") is one part unthinking libertarian fundamentalism and one part technoutopianism.

My low-tech solution would be to fine anyone who didn't install a scrubber (aka poop bag) on their horse's exhaust pipe. But barring technological advances, the doomsayers were right: the horse-and-carriage model was going to be a real barrier to the growth of cities.

I'm stunned that you could point to those Minute Men yokels as an example of a successful free-market national defense project. Besides being a bunch of ignorant racists who are putting themselves and others in danger, they're not even remotely profitable. National defense with a charity business model makes no sense whatsoever.

I love Khan Academy, but a pile of free content is no substitute for a teacher. Yes, parental involvement is critical to a student's success, but a household's income heavily influences how much time, energy, and expertise the parent(s) have to enrich their child's education. You expect someone who has just come off sixteen hours in the sugar mine (because you've repealed minimum wage and overtime laws, to give workers more "freedom") to wake their kid up and ask them if they've watched all their Khan Academy videos? Do you think such a regimen will leave the kid in anywhere near the education as a wealthy person who can afford a private tutor? Like most libertarian solutions, your non-coercive education system is both vicious and impractical. <-- why it's ridiculous to expect that the government can function on a voluntary contributions model.
+Adam Roth Fair point. However, competitive advantage is a web woven of many small strands; there is a fairness issue. Why should one class of business be required to collect taxes from its customers while another is exempt? My main point is that Amazon and other online businesses have an obligation to support state and local government, so that the burden doesn't fall disproportionately on those who choose to patronize local merchants. (Remember, it isn't the merchant that is paying the tax; it is the consumer.)

Probably the best argument for a broader base for sales taxes is that, given the need of states and counties to raise revenue, either the tax base must be broadened (as by ending the exemption for online merchants), sales tax rates go up, or states and other jurisdictions are encouraged to pursue other taxes, such as use taxes levied directly on the consumer (with a HUGE reporting burden for each of us), or even increased state and local income tax rates.
+Bryce Anderson, I'd have to examine further the situation with healthcare. It would help if you provided specifics (eg specific countries). Keep in mind that Europe tends to look more at quality of life rather than extension of life as Americans tend to do.

FWIW, I'm for opening up the borders. Freer markets includes freer mobility of labor.

The moral of the horse manure story is that government is fallible.

Your solution wouldn't work. The poop bag would have to be emptied somewhere.

I never said something had to be profitable. All I've said is that transactions ought to be voluntary. Did you know the assembly of the Statue of Liberty was funded through voluntary contributions?

Also, did you know Japan during WWII didn't want to invade the US because 'there's a gun behind every blade of grass'?

Have you read how Los Gatos has started using Khan Academy? describes a bunch of parents in the Bronx that formed their own school because they were so disgusted with what the Board of Education had to offer.

Yes, I expect parents to be more involved with their children. Pawning off responsibility isn't the solution.

But if you're so fond of education, I'll ask again, how about funding the education of those outside the US? Or does your philosophy end at the borders?

I've mentioned the free rider problem, but I guess you missed it. Everyone enjoys the benefits of the free market. For example, everyone enjoyed the lower oil prices when Standard Oil made the process more efficient. I enjoy the low prices my favorite burrito place has -- those prices are the way they are because if they raised them, fewer people would buy them and they would lose profits.

Going back over my post, it seems you've completely ignored much of it. For example, you point to a Wiki article about the Free Rider Problem, but ignore the fact that lots of money has been raised for the Arizona Border Fence Project despite that those that don't contribute would 'benefit' from it (again, IMNSHO, there's no benefit to restricting the movement of resources including that of labor).

Also, did you know that the first interstate highway was not a government sponsored one?
I know this may sound crazy coming from me, but I wish that our state would diversify it's revenue stream and include a sales tax instead of relying solely on income tax...
Oh, Noel... tsk tsk tsk...

I would gladly pay for the roads I use.

This sounds like the libertarian selectivity paradigm at work: I will pay for the things I acknowledge that I use and can't do with out, but not what I don't want to pay for. OK, that was nice...

Theft is what it is. Not acknowledging taxation as theft doesn't make it not theft.

Interesting deflection of the burden of proof. "I say that taxation is theft, your failure to agree with me doesn't make it not so." Sure, Noel.

Calling me silly, childish, etc doesn't make it not theft.

Well, first, I called you none of those things. I noted the silliness of some of your arguments, I compared adult choices with childish ones and asked you which one you abided by, but I did not engage in namecalling. Claiming that I did is just a whiny deflection from the actual points of discussion. So please don't do that in the future. And second, what makes taxation not theft is that it fails to conform to what theft is defined to be. As we see here...

Proclaiming it not to be theft doesn't make it not theft.

Again, deflection of the burden of proof, apparently because you work from an axiomatic assertion that taxation IS theft and expect others to "prove" otherwise. This is rapidly turning into the equivalent of a religious argument. Not exactly a surprise...

Anyway, since you had trouble understanding, I'll make it a bit more concrete. Let's say there's one entity, Robber, and it takes from another entity, Rich, without Rich's consent. That's theft. Would you agree? If we replace the variables with different instances: Let's say there's one entity, Government, and it takes from another entity, Rich, without Rich's consent. IMO, that's theft.

So, OK, for the sake of argument, let's replace the entity "Rich" with the entity "Noel", because it's the entity "Noel" who's insisting that taxation is without his consent. Because I never claimed that taxation, part of the function associated with an elected democratic government as part of its charter to provide services to its population, lacked my consent. I consent to the notion that a republican democracy has the authority to tax the population. You claim that you do not. Which means, by consequence, that you disagree with the very concept of republican democratic government, in which the majority elects legislators who make decisions about the operation of government. You claim that such decisions are made without your consent. So (to use your argumentative gimmick) you're saying that if the majority decision is, say, that you are obliged to be held accountable for things you sell to others during "voluntary transactions" and for the way you presented those things to buyers in the first place, that there are rules you have to follow when engaging in these transactions to ensure fairness and honest practices, this is "without your consent" and you might choose not to abide by any of that. Or, to take a more extreme tack similar to the kinds of insinuation you yourself have engaged in here, if it's decided that murder is illegal, that you can't kill people you don't like, and you assert that THIS is also a decision made without your consent, this is some form of tyranny, and you are not obliged to abide by that either,

Which leads to a question? Do you believe in the principle of republican democratic government, in which a majority elects legislators and the decisions of those legislators represents the law of the land? Or do you believe that, if you happen to be at odds with the will of the majority, that their laws exist "without your consent", and that you have the "right" simply ignore them without consequence, because you feel it is theft when they tax you, tyranny when they make you abide by rules, and slavery when you're obliged to do stuff you don't like. This is all your assertion that "taxation is theft" amounts to, that you don't like it - if you happen to agree with the principle of democratic government. So tell us - do you?

As you said, this country was also founded upon the principle of being able to change it rather than having to leave.

Exactly. So, convince others with logical argument that they should elect legislators who would eliminate taxes (and thus the government services they have come to expect). But don't imagine you can make up fictions like "taxation is theft".

Let's say corporations did get government to create tax breaks, 'laxify' regulations, etc. Doesn't that support what I said about corporate influence over government?

What you said about corporate influence over government was that corporations have undue influence over government. Your solution is to get rid of government so that corporations don't have anything to influence (which would of course result in a cowboy "corporocracy" where anything goes and accumulated corporate power went unchecked). Not real good. An alternative to that is to, appropriate, take action to limit corporate influence through laws and regulation. Disagree?

Wow, you call me a high school student

No, I noted that you made a rather pompous statement worthy of a high school student in that it sounded like a direct lift from a textbook (or, more likely, from some 1000-page potboiler that by all rights belongs in the fantasy and science fiction section of the bookstore), with nothing to back it up. Seriously, do you expect NOT to be called on making a pronouncement without backing it up? Why do you persist in claiming that I "called you names" rather than actually addressing the points being made?

All I said was that following the rationale given by some liberals, liberals ought to be for that sort of 'eugenics' (using your definition). IOW, it's simply a logical conclusion given the constraints of the problem. So, why would you not be for that sort of 'eugenics'?

Another juvenile argumentative tactic is repeating a rebutted argument pretending that it hadn't been rebutted. So again, I say that liberals and progressives see the welfare of PEOPLE as being more important than an abstract principle like your "free market". But if you insist on repeating the smearing insinuation game, let me ask: if the free market would operate better and more smoothly if we just eliminated people, would you advocate eliminating people? (Don't laugh: automated financial trading may soon eliminate the "need" for the existence of people to exercise your free market exchanges and "voluntary transactions". Using your own tactic, let me ask: why wouldn't you then advocate the elimination of people to optimize the behavior of the free market?)

Again, I am asking why you would not be for that sort of 'eugenics' despite what the logic concludes. Please answer the question.

Did already. So again: the welfare of PEOPLE, individuals and groups, is more important than some larger abstract principle, like, say "the free market". This is a fundamental difference between libertarians and progressives: the latter sees people as the priority, the former adheres to an abstract principle and considers it far more important than people.

I'm an adult. Adults don't call other people names when they disagree with them.

You're right. That's why I did no such thing. What I did do was delineate the way an adult would think about and react to the situation we were discussing and the way a child would think and react, and I asked you which one of those you would choose. Did you make a choice?

Which one are you?

I refuse to sink to the "I know you are but what am I" level our friend here is dragging the conversation down to.

Anyway, I've stated many times how those influential to government can use government force to abuse the populace. You're example above demonstrates this. And it's not limited to corporations, either. Unions do it, too, as do entire industries (eg the military industrial complex takes our money and uses it to kill people).

Your claim is "as long as there is government, there will be those who try to exercise influence over it." Great. How you get from that to "thus, we need to eliminate or drastically reduce government"... that much is a mystery. One you choose not to reveal to us. Because it certainly does not follow logically that "since there are people who exercise undue influence on government, the best thing is to eliminate government."

Considering how much name calling you've done in this one post alone

Oh, please, stop. You can't offer a reasoned response so you play the "you called me names" card? Enough.

this'll be my last reply to you unless you show you can

Why do they always say this, and never actually follow through?
As I understand it, when you strip off the leftist and the rightist nonsense, the issue is that tax compliance becomes impossibly difficult. It's easy for companies that have a physical presence. They just pay the usual local sales tax and they're done.
+Noel Yap : Just about every European country has a longer life expectancy than we Americans do, so saying that Europeans "look more at quality of life" is a weak argument. Whatever that even means.

I'm glad you're in favor of open borders. I am as well, and probably for many of the same reasons. "Illegal immigrants make our health care expensive" is a pretty common (and mostly false) claim that gets tossed around in these discussions.

"The moral of the horse manure story is that government is fallible."

Clarify that statement. I don't see any mention in the anecdote of any action by any government agent or agency. It was a technology problem, that was ultimately erased by a technological solution. The "free market good, government bad" lesson is entirely from the author's imagination.

"Your solution wouldn't work. The poop bag would have to be emptied somewhere."

The second statement seems perfectly obvious. I don't see how it relates to the first statement. It takes only a tiny amount of imagination to figure out a system for disposing of the manure.

"I never said something had to be profitable. All I've said is that transactions ought to be voluntary."

Yes. Which is why I think your entire worldview is a steaming pile of fail. Pure libertarianism, like pure communism, requires a better breed of humanity than we've ever seen on this planet. My point isn't that the Minute Men should be making money, but that it's economic nonsense to think that they can be effective. Let's imagine that the Minute Men project was actually a legitimate attempt at guarding our borders, and that they had no government competition. Let's further assume that illegal immigration damages our country (a questionable assumption, but hey) and that all contributions of time and money are voluntary.

Numbers: pretend that illegal immigration costs the country $20B a year, and that a million immigrants cross the border every year. So, on average, we're pretending that preventing one border crossing saves the economy $2000. So if we could spend $10B to reduce border crossings by 90%, the economy overall will be $8B better off.

Now, where will that $10B come from? This gets back to the free rider problem (which you haven't adequately addressed, and frankly nobody from the 'taxes are oppression' subgenre of libertarianism has been able to address to my satisfaction). If the damage is localized enough (for example, say that most of that $20B in damages was to the health care system), then maybe you could argue that the medical system would agree to bankroll the Minute Men. But if the damage is more evenly distributed, or borne primarily by those who don't have money, then it doesn't work. It's in every individual's interest to avoid paying their fair share of the $10B (about $33). Yet each person acting in their own best interests makes the whole society worse off.

A system can have small free rider problems or crippling ones. Involuntary taxation reduces the number of free riders to a point where we can actually tackle problems that harm lots of people a little bit.

Yes, I do believe we should be contributing to the education of poorer countries. Absolutely. The economic benefits would be enormous, to say nothing of the millions of lives made better. But I personally would never come close to recouping my investment. There are limits to how much people are willing to sacrifice, especially when the people around them (who are benefitting almost as much as they are) sit on their asses and contribute nothing. Cooperation for mutual gain is in most everyone's mental toolbags, while self-immolation is not.

That's what government is supposed to be: a way to come together as a society and solve problems that can't be solved by individual efforts. Don't demand smaller government. Demand better government.

"Yes, I expect parents to be more involved with their children. Pawning off responsibility isn't the solution."

When one person can provide a vastly better education for his children by writing a check for a tiny sliver of his income than another person can by devoting his every free hour and dollar to the education of his own children, the whole "land of opportunity" thing becomes a cruel joke. Listening to you, I'm ever more convinced that "personal responsibility" is just selfish douchebag-speak for "societal irresponsibility." The platitudes may read "aspire for greater things," but the real message is, "I gots mine, Jack."
I don't see where there is a tax compliance problem. They base your tax on the delivery address or your payment information.
+Russell Nelson To the extent I can channel Amazon, I think there are actually probably three issues: (1) (the easiest) different geographic locales within different states have different rates; (2) (probably a lot harder) different states have different baskets of items they tax; (3) California's leverage over Amazon doesn't extend to other sellers who don't have a presence there. A lot of companies currently selling through Amazon will do better not selling through Amazon. This actually takes business away from Amazon, and not just to give to local retailers -- it disadvantages Amazon compared to other out-of-state mail-order entities.

Item (1) will probably solve itself. Items (2) and (3) are theoretically being handled by a coalition of states who will present laws to the feds, but their current work product is apparently pretty screwed up.
+Bryce Anderson, judging from$majorMode=chart$is;shi=t;ly=2003;lb=f;il=t;fs=11;al=30;stl=t;st=t;nsl=t;se=t$wst;tts=C$ts;sp=5.59290322580644;ti=1947$zpv;v=1$inc_x;mmid=XCOORDS;iid=phAwcNAVuyj1jiMAkmq1iMg;by=ind$inc_y;mmid=YCOORDS;iid=phAwcNAVuyj2tPLxKvvnNPA;by=ind$inc_s;uniValue=8.21;iid=phAwcNAVuyj0XOoBL_n5tAQ;by=ind$inc_c;uniValue=255;gid=CATID0;by=grp$map_x;scale=log;dataMin=5959;dataMax=122863$map_y;scale=lin;dataMin=57;dataMax=92$map_s;sma=49;smi=2.65$cd;bd=0$inds=i239_l001800itfS;i110_l001800dIii;i100_l001800ivih;i98_l001950dCeZ;i13_l001800coiB;i211_l001800iEie;i217_l001800igi2;modified=75, it looks like the US was doing pretty well in terms of life expectancy until some other countries caught up. It'd be interesting to see if any particular events happened that caused that catch-up, but I don't have the time to dig further into this. In the end, a few years isn't really all that bad, IMO.

"In 1898 the first international urban-planning conference convened in New York. It was abandoned after three days, instead of the scheduled ten, because none of the delegates could see any solution to the growing crisis posed by urban horses and their output."

You're absolutely right that we need a different breed of humans. Note though that we're headed that way. I would say we're much more civil today than, say, 200 years ago when slavery was in vogue. And we're certainly much more civil today than, say, during the Dark Ages. IMO, we can be even better.

Hmm, you conjure up numbers to prove your point? What would you say if I used different numbers?

I'm pretty sure I addressed the free rider problem. I gave examples where people have donated to certain causes without regard who else might benefit from them. Here's another: Obama's campaign funding. But let's say Obama wasn't able to raise enough money, I would say that's an argument that the market didn't want him. Sure, those that would have wanted him can argue that the government should foot the bill, but that's not really fair, is it?

Assuming involuntary taxation does what you say, it also funds wars that kill a bunch of people, but I suppose that might not matter because we have our roads and schools? If you say we can elect leaders that won't do such things, isn't that one of the reasons Obama was elected?

There are other forms of organizations in which people come together to solve problems. One of them is a corporation. Heck, if one considers how much coordination is involved in, say, building one of Google's data centers, it would boggle the mind -- stuff is sourced from all over the globe. I would say thousands, if not millions, of people are involved.

IMO, the nature of government is to grow -- what else could one expect if citizenry can get through government what they want from others? Big government is bad government. If one wants better government, one wants smaller government.

I never said anything about devoting every single hour to the education of one's children.

You speak of platitudes? How about selling your computer to help feed starving people in, say, the Philippines? Or, again, I ask, does your philosophy end at the borders?

In the end, it seems you think the ends justifies the means. Would you agree that sterilizing those in generational poverty would end it? Why would you say the ends don't justify the means in this case?
+Patrick Maupin for problem #2, is Amazon's problem any harder than A national retail chain like Walmart? They have to figure out for each SKU they sell the tax amount for every state the sell in. The implementation may be different (Walmart probably has a list within each store which SKUs are taxable or not, and tax rate and taxability is decided by the store the product is purchased in.) But they still have to keep track of all the rules for every state within their system. They also need to include state by state oddities. In MA clothing is not taxable but "fashion accessories" like belts or ties are. In CT, clothing is taxable, but only if the recipient is over 13, etc. If it is decided that taxing online retailers is appropriate, what makes it more difficult for them?
Tim- does O'Reilly charge local taxes on online purchases from the safari bookshelf, etc.? Was it hard to do? How would Amazon handle the marketplace, where somewhat unclassified items are sold? Could I have all of my stuff shipped through Delaware, where there is no sales tax? What if I have an item shipped to where I work, in one locality, but I live in another? I'm not really worried about Amazon, but this will be hard problem for which to derive a simple solution for all. We already have to deal with conflicting laws for income tax on remote workers, but I see this as being a constant battle.
+Andrew Langmead Amazon is certainly big enough to do this, but obviously it would cost them more in compliance. WalMart has to have feet on the ground in all the states anyway in the stores, so it's probably easier for them. But (a) can a random mom and pop shop who sells across state borders do this same thing cost-effectively, and (b) can the mom and pop companies who sell through Amazon do this cost-effectively?

The problem is, without Federal action, states like California can't touch shippers that don't have physical presence there. And there are good reasons for this. If the feds are going to change this, they damn well better have a simplified system that is hard to game.

It is hard for me to imagine Amazon deliberately crippling itself on price vs. other online sellers, by charging tax that their competitors don't.

But in another universe, I could imagine Amazon stepping up to the bar and using its considerable clout to tell Federal legislators they need to get it in gear and pass legislation that is fair to all the states and all the sellers.
+Noel Yap : So, you don't dispute that the European countries are giving their people longer lives at radically lower costs than we are, despite much more intensive intervention into the health care system. Yet your worship of the "free market" is so slavish that you can't even seem to bring yourself to think about the implications of these facts.

Yes, I conjured the numbers. The point stands, regardless of the numbers you use. Sometimes there are problems which require cooperation to solve. Because we don't solve them, the economy produces less than it could. Yet the individual interest in solving the problem is too diffuse; no individual has any incentive (other than "the goodness of their heart") to contribute.

So let's distill it down:

* Problem X costs the American economy $20B.
* For $10B invested, $18B of this damage can be mitigated.
* Each citizen's share of this $10B is $33. On average, solving this problem would net the same citizen $60.
* Citizen Y can, by refusing to contribute, net himself $93 in benefits, instead of $60. But if every citizen makes the same decision, nobody earns anything.

Basic math, even more basic game theory.

But according to you, if everyone does what's in their own individual interests, then "the market" doesn't want the problem solved. As if "the market" was a law of both physics and ethics, rather than a sometimes-useful abstraction. Sometimes, the market is simply wrong. To say otherwise is to speak from blind faith.

This conversation no longer interests me. Later.
+Patrick Maupin when you say "cost them more", do you mean Amazon more than Walmart? Or Amazon collecting taxes vs. not? (if the former, I'm not sure: I'd guess the Walmart costs are just spread out across the stores, Amazons are centralized. If the latter, of course.)

When I was typing the previous comment, I had a brief thought about the mom&pop retailers. (although I wasn't about the ones selling through Amazon, but standalone web sites.) I actually starting wondering if, in an environment where states started asking out of state entities to collect sales tax, if there would be any business opportunities to be the tax rate lookup system for online vendors. (basically run a web service that would take a list of manufacturer make and model numbers and return the tax rate for each item.) In the cases of companies that sell through Amazon, perhaps they could provide that service.

I agree there are good reasons there are good reasons states can't arbitrarily demand tax revenue from companies otherwise outside their jurisdiction. I've had friends whose shops have been decorated shut with "depart of revenue - do not cross" tape. I'd hate for Marshalls from another state to come over to do that and then have to fight it in their court system. (which state court system do you use?)

To some extent, this issue is relatively immaterial to me. My state's tax form already has a line "Use tax due on out-of-state purchases..." and I fill it in with the amount of my online and mail order purchases. If my state winds up in a similar fight with an online retailer that I use, the initial bill will be slightly higher, and the line on the tax form slightly lower.
+Andrew Langmead Certainly, compliance would cost Amazon a higher percentage of revenue, relative to WalMart. For a start, WalMart's revenue is about 10x that of Amazon. And then, before WalMart branched out to online sales, they actually had it pretty easy -- at each store they had to collect tax based on the jurisdiction that the store is in, not where the customer lives. (That may be part of why originally launched as a separate company -- see, e.g. )

BTW, I just noticed that walmart itself doesn't collect tax, even for California, for third party sellers it provides services for:
+Bryce Anderson - As if "the market" was a law of both physics and ethics, rather than a sometimes-useful abstraction. Sometimes, the market is simply wrong. To say otherwise is to speak from blind faith.

Exactly. It becomes a religious argument with fundamentalists who worship an abstract "principle" and see it as more important than the lives of human beings. It becomes axiomatic and all conclusions flow from it: taxation is theft, regulation is tyranny, and of course the government providing services to people is immanentizing the eschaton.
Thanks, +Mike Travers. Mike Huben has been documenting the fallacies of the libertarian doctrine online for a long time, and his website is a valuable resource, in particular for people put in the position of having to engage in argument with libertarians. He includes a pointer to this great article from last year that really sums it up -
+Tim O'Reilly Fair enough about fairness. I don't dispute that the rules should be fair. In fact in Australia we've got a 10% GST that is applied to all transactions, online and off. It's already included in the advertised price of everything, so you really don't notice it. I find that I very much prefer it to the U.S. model where you see one price, pay another (advertised price + state/local taxes), and then potentially have to add gratuity on top of everything. It also works well in that it's consistent, with no variation between state/county/city.

The GST rate is the same nationwide, already included in every price advertised to consumers, and tracked/paid by the vendors/retailers. It's a good solution, in my opinion. But good luck getting people to swallow the idea of a national sales tax (or states to swallow the idea of giving up their individual tax rates).

But fairness within the tax code by itself will do very little to help save local businesses. That still requires the support of a community, and in that regard the tax code has very little impact.
I'm having a difficult time buying into the "avoiding sales tax" school of thought. It's been well established for a long time, after all, that mail order outfits cannot be compelled to collect sales tax for a state unless they actually have a significant presence (nexus) there. Amazon's business (as well as that of countless other online operations) would seem to be incredibly similar... basically substituting internet for snail-mail for the specific process of making an order, which seems like a trivially unimportant difference.

It seems to me like California is effectively pursuing a land grab, by attempting to manufacture nexus (thereby creating an excuse to compel sales tax collection). They can certainly try, but it's foolish to believe that Amazon and others will simply roll over... all actions have consequences, and they don't always match your desires.
+Benjamin Krueger Sorry, it's hard to be obviously satirical in a comment-stream. There's obviously no way for Comcast to do it, but, at least, Comcast has a presence in the state. +Michael Kay is making the point better than I am.
+Bryce Anderson, I neither confirm nor dispute that the European nations provide healthcare at lower costs or are more intrusive in their healthcare industries. I'm not even sure how one would compare intrusiveness. But I've pointed you to a tool that can show when the rate of life expectancy increases so you should be able to at least correlate those moments with something the country did or did not do (theoretically, one would be able to see that those actions and their effects would be localized since other countries would continue in their previous trajectories).

So without government there'd be no cooperation? I've already given the example of Google data centers which involve global resourcing.

Nope, I say the market is right but not from blind faith. To say the market is wrong is a statement of arrogance, that one knows better than everyone else what they want and need. If that's true, one should be able to convince others of it and potentially profit from it.

BTW, since the 10th anniversary of 09-11 is near, what do you say about our tax money having gone towards training bin Laden? How would voting have changed that? How can voting change that today? Did voting end Gitmo?

Since you've completely refused to answer any of my questions (despite my asking several times) or acknowledge any of my points, it's obvious you don't really want to have a discussion. This will be my last response to you.

+Mike Travers, can you provide URLs that answer the questions I've asked? Even the one about sterilization to end generation poverty. Or the ones I just asked about voting and bin Laden.

One thing you might consider is that I think the 'wrongness' of libertarianism is less than the 'wrongness' of statism.

It's interesting that non-libertarians pool together objectivism and libertarianism. IMO those that do that (including the site you posted) lose credibility.
+Rich Rosen, I've asked you many questions and all you've done is call me names. Who here is acting more like someone on the religious right? Or did you not know that science is founded upon asking questions?

You and Bryce have claimed without proof that having government is better (by some sort of undefined metric). In what way is that scientific? Again, I've pointed you to so you should now be more empowered to prove what you've been claiming.

I've considered every engagement here to be a discussion, not an argument. Perhaps that's why you start calling people names and I don't?

Anyway, now that you have a cite that will let you recite others' thoughts, perhaps you can start answering some of my questions without getting so riled up.

I just noticed you had replied to me. In the future, could you tag me in those responses?

You got me. Some things I don't want to pay for: funding killing, denying marriage to people who want to be married, taking wealth from the poor and handing to the rich, rewarding companies for making bad decisions, increasing the price of higher education and, at the same time, making diplomas less valuable, bridges that are made too long (

I'll ask again, what is your definition of 'theft'. How is that different from taxation? I've already provided my definition and explained it. Do you still not understand that definition? Which part(s)? Really, it's pretty straightforward to prove two things are the same once we agree on some definitions. So what don't you like about my definition of 'theft'?
You're right, I don't consent to the government taking my money.

WRT murder, that would be a violation of the victim's property rights to their self. Making it legal or illegal doesn't make it right or wrong.

I do not agree with the concept of a democratic representative government. It allows property to be taken from some (eg those living in the Bronx) so that roads may be built.

I'll be even more clear. Any government is predicated upon the use of force so that some may get something from others. This is what enables corporations to take our money to bail them out for their poor decisions. This is what allows the military industrial complex to take our money to use to kill people and train others to kill us.

I partake in these discussions to convince others. Perhaps you're not getting convinced, but each time I'm in such a conversation, the rate of people adding me to their circles increases.

FWIW, I used to be a liberal until someone started asking me the kind of questions I've been asking here and I thought about their answers.

Yes, I disagree with what you said about corporate power. Without government, corporations make money from consumers -- consumers give them power, soft power. If they abuse that power, consumers can take it away from them. Adding an indirection (ie government) dilutes the power of the consumer over the corporation.

Moreover, corporations compete among themselves for the power consumers give them. For example, you're here on Google+ today rather than, say, Facebook, because of such competition.

Those in generational poverty (a much smaller population than the poor) would benefit from sterilization since they wouldn't have to spend time and money raising their children and can use it to better themselves to get out of poverty.

I'm not sure what you mean by 'elimination of people'. If you mean to kill them, again, that would be in violation of their property rights. If you mean to eliminate their jobs, that improves efficiency. It relieves people to pursue more valuable things to do. For example, no one thinks about all the secretaries who were replaced by computers or all the monks who were replaced by the printing press. Society did not collapse when those people found they're jobs were no longer needed. Instead, they found something else to do.

But if you think people are served if their jobs are protected, take a look at India's textile industry.

And certainly you'll sell your computer to help some starving children in other countries since you care so much about them.

The fundamental problem is that people, including those in government, aren't omniscient. When they make decisions to affect the lives of others, those decisions can have drastic consequences. His applies even more when a government makes decisions that affect millions of people.

Since a government is predicated upon the use of force, no matter how small the government is, those influential to it will use that influence to gain more power. For example, WalMart lobbies for higher minimum wage because it hurts their competitors thereby increasing their profits thereby increasing their lobbying influence and the cycle continues.

Since you've drastically cut back on the name calling (even though you don't acknowledge it as such, perhaps insinuation is a better word), I have responded to your points.
Come now, +Noel Yap - +Mike Travers provided a URL that pointed to a list of URLs that offered answers to all the questions you've asked - long before you started asking them! To pretend he didn't is just being disingenuous.

And as for the conflation of objectivism and libertarianism - you're so right. One valorizes the abstract notion of a fictional character best described as the self-made industrial entrepreneur who built his business with his own hands with no help from anyone, and his right to do business the way he wishes, and the other touts the principles of free market capitalism as a kind of religion with its own gospel and a fundamentalist attitude towards adherence to that gospel. I'm sure in the service of demonstrating how different the two things are, you can explain which of the two I'm describing is which. :-)
+Noel Yap - I've asked you many questions and all you've done is call me names.

Not once have I called you names. I have labelled your arguments and noted how they are juvenile and trite and founded on abstractions rather than reality. Accusing me of having called you names when I have not is also (like your deflection that I mention above) disingenuous.

Who here is acting more like someone on the religious right?

Um... the one who has a doctrinaire gospel about an abstract imaginary entity called the "Flying Spaghetti Free Market" that he treats axiomatically and that he expects others to prove wrong rather than the correct approach and giving him the burden of proof to demonstrate that he's right?

You and Bryce have claimed without proof that having government is better (by some sort of undefined metric). In what way is that scientific?

Having government is better than what? Than your hypothetical situation of having no government that you assert without historical precedent or evidence simply WOULD be better, because you say so? Your logic, in your own words, has been that corporations have undue influence on government, therefore the way to eliminate that undue influence is to eliminate government so that corporations have nothing to have undue influence on. To call this a ridiculous argument without foundation would be much too gracious. Eliminating government would mean that the one bulwark keeping corporations from exercising accumulated power to engage in abuses of that power would be gone. Is "the free market" going to fill that role? Of course it isn't - it will simply amplify the abuses because the marketeers will be "free" to do what they want.

Bring up Somalia again as an argument for a positive role model for a libertarian state. That was just too funny.

Since, as I predicted (I must be psychic), you did not "go away" as you promised you would do, I feel free to re-ask the question I asked that you still haven't answered: you claim that taxation is done without your consent. But taxation is voted upon by legislators elected by the majority of the voting populace - this being the very core principle of representative republican democracy. You're claiming that, even though taxation is levied through such a process, it is still theft, which implies that you believe ANY law enacted by a majority-elected legislative body that you happen to disagree with can reasonably be classified by you as theft... or tyranny... or slavery... or some other whiny crybaby label applied in the name of "I don't like the rules so I'm going to throw a tantrum". So, I ask again: do you believe in the principle of representative republican democracy that dictates that majority rule of law applies to you? Or, as you imply in claiming that taxation is "theft", do you believe that any such law you disagree with is "non-consensual" thus exempting you from having to comply in the name of "freedom"?

This time, I think you will go away and not respond...
I'm sorry, I am truly R-ing on the F L-ing my A off after reading the argument that the principle behind murder being wrong is that it would be a "violation of [the victim's] property rights." Too hysterical for words.
I just noticed that while I was entering my previous comment, Noel expanded upon the comment I was responding to and said the following outright:

I do not agree with the concept of a democratic representative government.

So there we have it. Libertarianism is founded on a fundamental break with the core principles of representative democracy. Even if the majority enacts a law, if he happens to disagree with it, it's labelled as theft, tyranny, or slavery - not because it actually fits the definitions of those words, but because ANYTHING a libertarian doesn't like is "without his consent" and therefore fits into those categories. What, if anything, WOULD a libertarian "consent" to that he happens to disagree with? It would seem that the answer is nothing.

And that, of course, is the immature behavior of a child. As Gabriel Winant put it in the article I linked to in a previous comment:

"[Libertarians are] like the teenager who, having been given a car, promptly starts demanding the right to stay out all night. Sometimes, someone else really is looking out for your best interests by saying no."

An adult recognizes this. A child does not. Someone I know is very fond of saying "I'm an adult, I can do what I want." More often than not, this statement precedes going out drinking and dancing the night before a big test or audition or interview, or even just going out to buy lottery tickets. Actual adults know that they CAN do what they want, but are mature enough to recognize when they shouldn't.

Libertarianism is "the belief system of people who have been the unwitting recipients of massive government backing for their entire lives." They were "born on third base, and think they hit a triple." But on top of the privileged thinking and rancid responsibilitarianism ("I'm responsible for my good fortune, you're to blame for your misfortune") is this fundamental immaturity and lack of grounding in the real world. I welcome the idea that these people, who proudly share nothing in common with the principles of American democracy, should get the chance to form their own country - somewhere else, of course - based on their principles. As I've said in the past, it will be the most entertaining season of Survivor ever. Though, most likely, the shortest.
+Tim O'Reilly And yet this is not an issue about exemption but rather about jurisdiction. If some states have laws "exempting" online retailers in other states from collecting sales taxes, they're pointless. California can't force a resident of another state to do anything unless they are located inside California.

Amazon may have an obligation to the State of Washington (and Delaware), but it has no obligation to California and it certainly has no obligation to every one of the 50 states. Making this into a moral issue is very dangerous territory which doesn't help your case.
+Rich Rosen, it's just simply amazing how you dismiss my points rather than addressing them.

Note that I, as an adult, haven't dismissed any of your points calling them childish and what-not. Such things aren't conducive to a good, constructive discussion.

You want government to be our collective parents and, at the same time claim that you want to be an adult. An adult takes responsibility for oneself and those around them. They don't pawn off that responsibility onto others. They may delegate some services to be done by others, but in the end, they are still responsible. Note that such responsibility extends not only to an adult's family, but also to their neighbors. The further someone is, figuratively speaking, the less responsibility they have towards them. This is consistent with your philosophy ending at the borders even if you don't want to recognize that.

Anyway, I've stopped reading your posts since they have added no value.
+Noel Yap : "So without government there'd be no cooperation?"

Not even remotely what I said. You've become tiresome. I've wasted my time here.
+Noel Yap No. I have no desire to argue these stale questions. My point is that here we have a discussion of a fairly important piece of public policy, initiated by a well-known pundit, and the discussion is being derailed into the same damn stupid questions of the nature and legitimacy of government (the same thing is happening in the broader political world -- that wasn't as true 30 years ago).

I myself am guilty in the hijacking of this thread into unproductive directions. I'll stop now.
+Noel Yap - I dismiss your points because they are abstract pontifications supported only by propagandistic tracts and not backed up by the real world. I will continue to do that as long as you make assertions without backing them up. To expect otherwise is... what's the word I'm looking for?

You have indeed attempted to dismiss my points, almost exclusively by ignoring them or deflecting the conversation away from them when you have no response to them; further you have whined that I have called you names when that is simply not the case. Yet you refer to ME as the one running to "collective parents" and avoiding responsibility? Hmmm...

And I am fascinated by your new psychic ability, to be able to respond to what I've said when you've "stopped reading my posts". Clearly the consensus is that it's your posts that have added no value here. But of course, that's an example of a democratic process where a majority reaches a conclusion - and you have made clear how you feel about those...

But I'm with you, Mike. Especially since Noel has claimed he's not reading my posts anyway, and even more especially since it's veering us onto a detour we don't need to be on here, I'll stop too.
+Bryce Anderson, what's the difference between 'There are limits to how much people are willing to sacrifice, especially when the people around them (who are benefitting almost as much as they are) sit on their asses and contribute nothing. Cooperation for mutual gain is in most everyone's mental toolbags, while self-immolation is not.' and 'without government there'd be no cooperation'? Note that my post was a question requesting clarification and elaboration.

Also, you're absolutely right that there are limits to how much people are willing to sacrifice. Libertarians leave that choice to those that own the property which is to be sacrificed. Non-libertarians end their philosophy at the borders.

But since you seem not to be like those other non-libertarians, how about sending more of your own money to those less well-off than you, even to the poor in the US?
+Rich Rosen, the same has been said of slavery when it was in vogue.

I have addressed pretty much every one of your points. If I have missed any, please point them out.
+Noel Yap : You're not discussing this with me anymore, remember? Frankly, I'm glad. +Mike Travers is right. You took an interesting and important policy discussion and ran it off the rails with PUBLIC POLICY IS OPPRESSING ME!!!
+Rich Rosen, I did not expand upon my response WRT how I feel about representative government. You simply missed it.

I think you're getting it. Yes, a libertarian wouldn't consent to something with which they disagree. I would even say that about non-libertarians. OTOH, it's very easy to consent to something when they pretty much know they'll get more from others.

I certainly restrict the freedom of my children while I teach them how to use their freedoms responsibly. You seem to think even adults need to be treated like children and that you know better than most adults.

Aah, now you're starting to imply what my life is and how I got here. FWIW, I grew up in an apartment that would likely today be condemned. My parents sacrificed a lot so they could save money for college for my brothers and me. My father came immigrated to the US from the Philippines so he can find a job before bringing my mother and me over. He was down to his last dollars and was about to give up when he found a job. So, no, I didn't start my life in third base.
+John Newlin - I know you're probably being sarcastic, but you're welcome. (Unless you're offering thanks for bringing this diversion to an end, in which case... you're still welcome.) Interesting that even though the majority has agreed to end running this already settled nonsense into the ground, Noel keeps going - responding to things he insists he isn't reading. That's consistent with his beliefs about social contracts and societal obligations, though, isn't it?
+Rich Rosen,

I have backed up pretty much everything I've said. You have not.

If you want to go with reality, the fact is that government has been growing and so has the influence of corporations and industries over it.

+Bryce Anderson, I'm sorry that's all you and others got from this discussion. It's really too bad that some simply take for granted that their beliefs are founded on not-so-much-as-whim. Perhaps you think fundamental property rights are just whim. But even if you do, you haven't formulated much foundation for your own beliefs.

FWIW, I've had some pretty good discussions before in which people actually considered each others points. Unfortunately, not this time.
Clearly you are working your way down the triangle rather than up. Saying "I have backed up pretty much everything I've said, you have not" as a baldfaced assertion without supporting that statement is a perfect example of that middle level, accusing the other person of namecalling as a "defense" is the next level down, and ad hominems and other forms of juvenile name calling are sure to follow.

You have an axiomatic basis for your opinion about government and society that is derived from trite simplistic philosophy which you offer to us in rote recitation from texts we have all seen before and rebutted before. When you asked whether you were asking "standard libertarian questions" and if there were ready responses for those questions - you were directed to the very place on the net where a catalogue of such responses was presented. Did you go there and make note of those responses so that we could be spared your pointless repetition?

This is a religious argument with a fundamentalist whose Bible dictates to him that the "free market" is the holy grail that is more important even than the well being of people (seems a lot of religions are about creating a deity that's more important than people...). It is pointless to argue with you because you have said plainly that you do not believe in democracy, that you believe instead that if you disagree with a law enacted by the elected representatives of the majority then that represents theft, tyranny, slavery, or some other such high-strung melodramatic label.

You cannot "win" an argument with a religious fundamentalist because they start from an axiomatic belief in the existence of God, in particular the version of God they believe exists, and they do the thing they're best at - circular reasoning - to validate their claims that God exists because the book they say he wrote says he exists. Your claims that taxation is theft, that any form of government is evil, etc., are woven of that same cloth. An argument with someone like you can never be "won", because it will go on forever with the same already debunked positions repeated. The best one can do is to point out the circular reasoning, the arguments from authority, the rote quotation from tracts taken axiomatically as true, and show them for what they are. And that's what we've done with you. Goodbye, Noel. You are done.
+Rich Rosen, it's interesting how you keep holding onto the belief that government benefits the people when I have pointed out real world events where government is certainly harming people (to repeat a couple, wars and inflation). I suppose you'll stick to those beliefs, though, despite what is plain to see when one opens one's eyes.

WRT the triangle, note that I haven't been the one calling another's arguments as childish, calling into question one's behavior or attitude, etc. Instead, I have been addressing your points. Again, if I have missed any, please let me know specifically which one(s).

Once again, you consider this to be an argument when I consider it to be a discussion.

At least you're consistent with your claim of authority insisting that I am done ;-)

Oh, and you still haven't explained why you think sterilization of those in generational poverty would not benefit their welfare.
"Here are examples of cases where government did things that are bad. This proves that government is bad. Why do you continue to believe that it's not? Corporations have excessive influence on government so the solution must be to get rid of government because I read that in a book. Why do you continue to disagree with me when I offer such obviously brilliant wisdom as this? Also, that question you already answered by acknowledging that people and not some abstract principle are your priority - I'm asking that question again."

I just thought I'd write your next post for you now to save us all some time.
Do you think that everything the Government does is bad?? Do you like it when water comes out of the sink? Or when the lights come on? Or when you drive down the road to get somewhere and you do? BAD GOVERNMENT!!! We should destroy all the infrastructure, go back to living in huts and using rocks as tools. WAKE UP!!! Are you ready for REALITY?
+Brandon hunt, I think whatever good may come from government pales in comparison to the bad it does. I also think that much of what government does can be done by the private sector. Imagine if grocery stores were run by the government -- everyone would claim that they must be run by government otherwise we'd be starving.

Reality -- government trained bin Laden. Reality -- government is killing thousands. Reality -- government isn't protecting us. Reality -- corporations influence government more than we can.

+Rich Rosen, in no way do I claim my wisdom is brilliant. That's why I, as do other libertarians, don't want to force our beliefs upon others. IOW, feel free to get a bunch of people who believe as you do to fund the government you want. Just leave my money alone. Again, I'll be glad to pay for stuff I use and even for stuff I want to support and don't use, just let me choose what that is. Anyway, no, libertarians aren't the arrogant ones.

Anyway, no, the fact that government does bad things doesn't prove that it is bad. The way to think about it is to weigh what good and bad it does and decide whether or not the good is worth the bad. To me, and I'm sure you'll disagree, the killing, wealth transfer from the poor to the rich, and corporatism it does greatly outweigh the good it does.

And, yes, I do base my philosophy on ideals. You seem more pragmatic. So, why do you think sterilizing those in generational poverty won't benefit them?

Ooh, here's another one since highways and global warming were mentioned before. How much contribution to global warming do you think happened due to the national highway system encouraging more sales and use of cars?
Shhhh... I'm busy writing your next post for you again. I'm not done yet. All I've managed to complete so far is the part where I list bad things that corporations have done and say this proves corporations are bad... oh wait, that was supposed to be government, not corporations! Damn, I have to go back and edit now.

And I haven't finished the part where you ask the same already-answered question for the nineteenth time. But I promise, I'll be done soon. Oh, and I have to make sure I include a declaration that taxation is theft because you say it is. So many fallacies, so little time...
+Rich Rosen, you've answered you wouldn't support sterilization of those in generational poverty because it wouldn't benefit their welfare. If you've read anything I've said, I explained why I think it would be beneficial for them (ie they can spend their time and money on improving their conditions rather than on raising children). You haven't explained why you think it wouldn't be.

Oh, and, of course, you haven't shown that government is actually beneficial. At the very least, if you're going to accuse libertarians of being religious, you should own up to being as religious.
Noel, shhhh! I'm not done yet writing your next post for you! Interrupting me by trying to put words in my mouth expressing a sentiment I don't share about a question I've already answered isn't helping. But it's nice that you've decided what would or wouldn't be beneficial for others (an action that would SEEM to go against your principles, but apparently doesn't), just as you've decided that taxation is theft: arbitrarily based on your own prejudices. That will be a help down the road. Thanks.

(Although it will be really difficult to come up with a way to claim that government provides no benefits to people or that no one has shown examples of such benefits time and again - even though fine examples are present even in the last five posts! Wow, I may have to leave that task to someone really out of touch with reality. I imagine only that kind of mind could invent such a tale.)
+Rich Rosen, I just searched, you haven't answered that one. Here's what you had said:

Did already. So again: the welfare of PEOPLE, individuals and groups, is more important than some larger abstract principle, like, say "the free market". This is a fundamental difference between libertarians and progressives: the latter sees people as the priority, the former adheres to an abstract principle and considers it far more important than people.

You had said something about welfare of the people but haven't explained why sterilization wouldn't benefit their welfare.

Again, my principle is that those in generational poverty would choose what they want to do. I'm just trying to get what your principle is.
+John Newlin - I believe this already exists. You have to go to the person's page and click Block. You get a dialog that looks something like this:

What happens if you block __ _

- You will no longer see this person's content in your stream.
- This person won't be able to comment on your content.
- This person will be removed from your circles.
- This person will still be able to see your public posts.

I'm sure many have already done this to our trollish friend, and to me as well. I refuse to do that except in cases of extreme abusiveness, having been the victim of institutionalized killfiling myself in the past (e.g., the man page of the netnews "expire" command circa 1987). But it's there if you want to use it. Ultimately it's a manifestation of enabling "I only want to hear from people whose opinions I like" syndrome and as such, I consider its usage counterproductive to the fostering of real discussion. More often than not, people use it as an empty threat: "I'm just going to block you because I think you're an a**** and a jerk..." followed a day later by "I'm not sure why I still managed to see your most recent followup but here's what I have to say about it..."

There are people who genuinely want to block out loud boisterous argument (with good reason), and then there are the ones that LOVE (and frequently instigate) loud boisterious argument who announce that they're going to block you, but never do, because that would mean missing an opportunity to hear someone else talking about them. :-)
Wow, somehow we managed to get back on topic. :-)

Apparently the agreement involves a "moratorium" meaning they won't actually start collecting for about a year. I guess they're hedging their bets about other possible outcomes that might occur during the interim (e.g., national online sales tax?).
I actually live in the UK now (originally from NY though). I truly believe sales tax to be criminally against the seller. It deincentivizes people to buy, and the person who hurts is always the little guy. The bigger companies find a way to get around it, and even when someone like amazon is held to the same standard, how does this help? Beyond amazon, this is becoming a greater problem on ecommerce as whole... ebay, etc. We're still essentially penalizing people for selling their wares or at the very least, penalizing people for buying things they need. But, of course, I'm for much smaller government, bringing our troops home, etc etc. I'm completely for user fees for public services. Want your bins emptied, pay the bin tax, want your mail delivered, pay the mail tax. Because, I believe that we are born with certain freedoms, and by being forced to pay for anything without our consent, we are not free, even if it's for the greater good.

Here's the example I use. We have a bit of a cat problem on my block. There's a lot of strays, and they need homes, and they keep soiling the street. I'd like to start a cat charity, find them homes, and clean up the streets. The neighborhood would benefit. So I've decided to ask all the neighbors to put in £20 to the cause. That sounds fine right? But, some neighbors don't want to pay. So I decide, under the cover of darkness, to go into their house, find their wallet and take the £20. I now have enough to rid the neighborhood of the cat problem and the cats have nice home. The greater good has prevailed. Too bad I'll go to jail for robbery...

I realize that we don't live in a perfect world. But I, for one, am tired of governments trying to save people from themselves, and for populations to knowingly letting them. I think, we all need to grow up, take responsibility for ourselves and our families, pay for what we need and what we think is important, and protect our liberties. I realize in the UK it's a little different... but at least in america... we're talking about a nation that was born out of being sick and tired of the lack of immediate control and lack of freedom.

I'm really a nice person, and maybe I haven't had my coffee yet - so please don't take offense. I think i'm still all revved up from watching the republican debates on youtube last night ;)
+John Newlin , I don't like blocking, either.

It's interesting to me that I'm asking politely and civilly delving questions yet others consider me a troll. Perhaps merely asking such questions earns me that label. Or, perhaps people generally just use labels in order to dismiss other people.

Anyway, the following is not a question. Two children, Anubis and Zeus, are in a playground. Anubis is playing with his toy. Zeus approaches demanding the toy. Anubis explains that he is still using it and would gladly share if Zeus would be patient and wait. Zeus then goes into a tirade about how selfish and childish Anubis is being and exclaims, "I want it! I want it ! Now give it to me!". Now, since Zeus isn't being so friendly, Anubis doesn't want to share the toy at all. IMO, Zeus is behaving more immaturely in this scenario.
This kind of reminds me of the pre-internet days in the world of photography. We used to order things over the phone from the New York camera stores because they were bigger than our local stores and, as a result, had a huge price advantage. It was a bonus that they did not charge tax and shipping was a small added expense that didn't even begin to close the gap. I live in PA and it wasn't possible or even practical for PA to try to impose a sales tax on the mail order concerns - I can understand that, but I find it interesting that New York City did not impose sales tax on out-of-state sales even though the business was almost entirely conducted in-state.

In the end, most of the local camera stores folded or went into some parallel line of business (film processing, etc) where out-of-state competition was less of a concern.

Amazon used to only be an issue for local book stores and most of those were destroyed by Borders and Barnes & Noble long ago. Now, though, I find that, now, Amazon competes against my local hardware, pet, and clothing/shoe stores. Those that weren't destroyed by Home Depot, Lowes, Pet Smart, etc. have to be feeling tremendous pressure from Amazon. Unfortunately, the price difference exceeds any sales tax rate by a large margin and shipping is rarely an issue since Amazon can leverage cheap rates and offers plenty of free shipping options. Amazon will become the new Walmart - blamed for sapping the vitality of America's small towns.

Failing to pay local sales tax is really a minor part of this. When you buy from a local store where ownership is local, the money goes back into your community in the form of employee wages and the expenditures of the owners. When you buy at Walmart, there are local wages, but the profit flees the state. When you buy at Amazon, there are few local wages (UPS and FedEx drivers) and the profits feel the state. In the end, what is lost affects all of us in ways that likely far exceeds lost taxes.

As for sales tax being regressive, just don't tax life's essentials - food (from a grocery store or restaurant), medicine, home power - oil/gas/electricity. What's regressive about taxing an ipad or an xbox?
R u a member of those projects??
I tend to agree. Old ways of thinking die hard
+Terry Hancock Legislating it on the federal level would be a huge waste of money. The money would go in then come out with some percentage drained off. 

Passing a federal law that mandated all local, county and state taxes be listed in a central registry, based on zip code, would make more sense. With data to be maintained by the taxing entity. 
This state sales tax on online companies is seriously foolish. If they have to pay taxes they may as well move into the state. With local shipping centers they can offer delivery the same or next day. 

No single store can handle the millions of products that amazon does.  The convenience factor will win out destroying local stores. 
What makes this difficult is the requirement to collect in the state that has nexus. If there were an easier way to assess a tax that Amazon could pass onto the consumer that was not burdensome on sellers--that would be welcome. The whole notion of nexus gets diffused when the order is placed in the "cloud"--which server in which state was responsible for the sale.  A different approach is needed but I agree fair is fair and the system is no longer fair.  Bezos likely doesn't like the administrative headache that this creates and so tries to dodge the bullet.
Change happens! The shipping zip code & country code the consumer enters allows us to select the proper nexus for VAT or Sales tax & append it to an order. The convenience of ordering online and the Gas savings more then offsets any sales tax charged
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