ZDNet headlined that the US Senate passed the legislation to require Internet commerce companies to collect state sales taxes and I think it’s about time. The line against the bill has more to do with political doctrine than with sound financial management.
Who likes taxes? I don’t. But it doesn’t make a lot of sense to let some retailers completely off the hook. Historically, the feds have given special incentives and deals to groups to incentivize their behavior. When we built railroads the government paid for the work and gave the railroads free land along the lines to foster construction and settlement. Subsidies were taken away like training wheels on a big boy bike once new industries got going and that’s where this legislation is coming from.
If we look objectively at the situation, the online retailers have had a sweet deal. No sales taxes to worry over, no bricks and mortar, fewer employees, centralized distribution and the customer paid the shipping. Online retailers saved a bundle over their traditional competitors. And while it’s true that they had systems to build, data centers and logistics hubs to spin up, they had access to venture capital that mom and pop never even dream about when they’re running their store.
So now the playing field will be a bit more level. People will still shop online for all of its convenience and lower costs and mom and pop will still have to deal with all of the vagaries of brick and mortar retail. They’ll all have to collect and remit taxes to appropriate states and I can’t see what the big deal is.
I have been a little slow in commenting on many of the important happenings as we start the year. A month ago, there wasn’t a lot of good meaty news and now there is too much. And then there is the matter of doing real work of the kind that pays the rent.
This item caught my eye the other day in the New York Times. Seems there have been some legal challenges to using social media in the workplace or even on one’s own time to discuss the workplace. The National Labor Relations Board or NLRB got involved and enforced a New Deal era law governing free speech for employees. Nice going as far as I can see though there are some appeals pending.
The crux of the issue was whether employees kibitzing on social media about work and working conditions, even if the talk is less than complementary to the boss and the business, have a right to do so. To me this looked like an effort to both limit people’s exposure to social and to buff a company’s reputation by hindering the free flow of information.
A wise man, I think it was Marshall Lager once told me, information needs to be free. He was, of course, right. Maybe in some Soviet era organization of Fidel’s failed fiefdom that logic holds sway but not here in the good old U.S of A.
Aside from my jingoistic tirade though, social is not just a technology or method it is a movement. The free flow of information through social has toppled tyrants much bigger than a shabby boss. We’re still trying to figure out where the bumpers are on the social track and that’s a certainty but it’s nice to know that the NLRB could dust off a law from the last time we were as communally oriented and pop it into the later stages of the information age.
This story caught my eye in the New York Times and I can’t get it out of my mind. The title says it all — Number of Protestant Americans Is in Steep Decline, Study Finds. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life did the research and discovered that white Protestants from liberal Episcopalians to right leaning “born agains” were leaving their faiths and replacing them with…nothing. Young people are not engaging in religion as they once did.
This loss is measurable and steep. Over the last five years the percentage of Americans expressing no religious preference rose from fifteen percent to nearly twenty, according to the piece, a gain of five percentage points on the overall demographic. While you can point to forty years ago and see seven percent of American adults expressing no preference for religion, the drop over the last five years appears especially precipitous.
The report speculates that the reason both Protestants and Catholics became disenchanted with organized religion came when those religions took a right turn and became more active in conservative causes like opposition to homosexuality, gay marriage and abortion.
To back up this contention, the article quotes Phil Zuckerman, a professor of sociology and secular studies at Pitzer College in Southern California. “The significant majority of the religiously unaffiliated tend to be left-leaning, tend to support the Democratic Party, support gay marriage and environmental causes,” he said.
Ok, I don’t want to get into politics and I dislike talking about religion much more than this so here’s my point. Five years ago (2007) social media was embryonic. LinkedIn launched in May of 2003, Facebook in February 2004 and Twitter in March 2006. So, does the evolution of social media have anything to do with the decline in religiosity? Consider that the biggest group of non-believers is “younger millennials,” people between 18 and 22 — the same people who led the social medial wave. Fully one-third of this group checks off the “none of the above” box when it comes to religion.
So, did right leaning religion leave an opening in the hearts and minds of young people? Did disaffected young people gravitate to social media to access the feeling of community once the exclusive province of religion? I am not asking this to hurt anyone’s feelings. Maybe I am making too much of this but that’s how my curious mind works.