Shortly after completing his eleven-minute sojourn to the edge of space, a euphoric Jeff Bezos proclaimed his gratitude for those who work for and purchase items from Amazon, without whom the suborbital mission would not have been possible. Speaking at the post-flight press conference, the Amazon founder drew laughs from the assembled journalists but has provoked ire among a number of commentators.
"I want to thank every Amazon employee and every Amazon customer, because you guys paid for all this. Thank you from the bottom of my heart very much," said Bezos. Yet his comments have irked several members of Congress, who have been quick to point out that Bezos and Amazon have historically avoided paying taxes.
In a tweet, Senator Elizabeth Warren retorted that “Jeff Bezos forgot to thank all the hardworking Americans who actually paid taxes to keep this country running while he and Amazon paid nothing,” before announcing her intention to push for reforms that would “make billionaires and mega-corporations start paying their fair share.”
Similarly, Oregon Representative Earl Blumenauer tweeted: “We pay taxes on plane tickets. Billionaires flying into space — producing no scientific value — should do the same, and then some!”
Blumenauer went on to announce that he has introduced new legislation called the Securing Protections Against Carbon Emissions (SPACE) Tax Act, which would impose taxes on space tourists in order to offset the environmental impact of rocket launches.
Much of the criticism leveled at Bezos relates to a recent report which found that he – along with several other billionaires – pays a staggeringly low amount of income tax. According to IRS documents, the Blue Origin founder saw his personal value increase by $99 billion between 2014 and 2018, yet paid less than $100 million in taxes during this period – a tax rate of less than one percent.
Contrastingly, the average American household earned around $70,000 a year during that period, and paid federal taxes at a rate of 14 percent.
In both 2007 and 2011, Bezos paid no federal income tax at all, while Amazon also avoided paying any tax in 2017 and 2018, despite making billions of dollars in profit.
Responding to these criticisms, Bezos insists that his recent trip to space was anything but a joy-ride, and that by developing reusable rockets, Blue Origin is helping to reduce the cost of space travel so that future generations can find new solutions to the environmental crisis. “In order to preserve Earth, Blue Origin believes that humanity will need to expand, explore, find new energy and material resources, and move industries that stress Earth into space,” proclaims the company’s mission statement.
For what it’s worth, Bezos was also the leading charitable donor in the US last year, pledging $10 billion to launch the Bezos Earth Fund while also contributing $100 million to Feeding America, which provides vital supplies to food banks around the country.
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