Recently I dallied with an old ex. Our oh-so-brief reunion was amazing, but I regretted the slip almost immediately.
It was over a year ago that I ended our longstanding relationship. Breaking up wasn't easy. Things between us were great, and I still miss what we had together. But there came a time when I could no longer overlook a huge character flaw: Greed.
Despite the great times we'd had together over the years, I fought off my desires and once again shut Amazon.com out of my life. Why? Because it doesn't play fair when it comes to collecting and paying sales taxes.
It's beyond just the retailer keeping quiet as it sidesteps sales taxes. You see, state governments -- like Minnesota, all of them are strapped for revenue and are facing huge budget deficits -- have changed laws and tax codes.
So, instead of finding a way to use its amazing software to keep track of sales taxes on purchases, Amazon.com is aggressively purging itself of any physical presence in many states in order to avoid having to monitor and collect sales taxes on taxable items.
It's using threats to block states from requiring it to do what brick-and-mortar retailers have to do.
It's not as if keeping track of sales taxes is all that complicated with software in today's economy. If a company can keep track of the millions of items in its warehouses, it should be able to tie a delivery address to the sales tax rates of any jurisdiction.
Will Amazon.com notice my absence? Probably not.
I am one among millions of customers. At the peak of our relationship, I spent only about $500 a year on books, CDs, DVDs and Lego kits. I'm sure that thousands of customers spend way more than that.
But like they say in the songs and poems -- breaking up isn't easy. I miss my Amazon and the interface that helped me find just about anything I'm looking for. Its search function is amazing, as is the ability of its algorithms to anticipate my desires.
I'm sure there are plenty of readers thinking "this guy's a fool" for cutting his ties to a money-saving seller of books. Books are my life, after all. I read them both for work and for fun.
But I see this issue through an ethical lens; it's just plain wrong to cheat all the local businesses who do collect sales taxes on purchases.
Plus, there's more to life than getting the lowest possible price. There are more important things in my life than the pursuit of cheap books, anyway. I guess I shouldn't presume to speak for anybody else in this.
The way I see it, the point of sale is my computer, located in a physical space: Albert Lea, Minn. That's a real community, with houses and families. Books or other things I've ordered get delivered to an address in that same physical space.
Along with houses and families, Albert Lea has streets that need to be maintained. It has storm sewers, parks and a library that cost money. It has schools needing books, music classes and teachers.
There's a police department, a courthouse and a jail. There's a public health office. There are people of all ages here who need all of those things, here in this physical space in the real world.
Is that enough to make my point?
Legislators had a golden opportunity to fix this inequity during the last session. There was a consensus among business groups, the governor and many Republicans.
But the antitax crowd chalked up another victory for itself and another defeat for citizens and small businesses, including many online businesses with Minnesota addresses
. If taxes aren't collected on Amazon.com purchases (or eBay or Lands' End or any other online retailer), more of the costs for government services get pushed onto the people who live and work here.
So. I will keep away from Amazon.com and its fancy, useful interface.
Except when I cheat and use it to find books that I buy at Book World or Barnes & Noble -- both of whom collect sales tax on my purchases.
David Rask Behling lives in Albert Lea, Minn., and teaches literature and writing courses in the Humanities program at Waldorf College.