Amazon emerges as tech industry villain in Democratic debates

In the cumulative four hours of Democratic primary debates this week, just one tech company was mentioned by name.

Amazon was name-checked in both nights of debates by candidates competing for the Democratic nomination in the 2020 presidential election.

Who said what: In the first debate Wednesday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s ambitious proposal to break up Big Tech was the subject of one of the questions, though it was aimed at Sen. Cory Booker.

“I will single out companies like Halliburton or Amazon that pay nothing in taxes and our need to change that,” Booker said when asked about his previous reluctance to single out specific companies.

Warren added, “There is way too much consolidation now in giant industries in this country.”

During the second debate on Thursday, entrepreneur Andrew Yang echoed the refrain when asked about the feasibility of his signature universal basic income policy.

“It’s difficult to do if you have companies like Amazon, trillion dollar tech companies, paying literally zero in taxes while they’re closing 30 percent of our stores,” he said. “We need to put the American people in a position to benefit from all this innovation and other parts of the economy.”

What Amazon says: Earlier this month, former Vice President Joe Biden made similar comments, calling on Amazon to pay more in taxes. Amazon responded with a tweet claiming, “We pay every penny we owe.”

However, it’s well-documented that Amazon effectively paid zero dollars in federal income taxes in 2017 and 2018.

Background: Though Big Tech wasn’t a major topic of discussion during the debates, Congress is making a lot of noise about regulating the industry. As part of her candidacy, Warren has floated a plan to break up tech giants like Amazon, Google, and Facebook. Even more moderate candidates like Biden are taking swipes at Amazon, which has become emblematic of corporate dominance. Amazon isn’t taking it lying down. The notoriously private company has started publicly calling out critical politicians on Twitter.

Why it matters: Facebook may be generating the most scandal-soaked headlines, but Amazon has emerged as the tech industry boogieman. The debates established income inequality as the bedrock of the progressive push for the presidency in 2020. It’s easy to see how a company that does not pay federal income tax, helmed by the richest man in the world, has become a villain in that story.