Scratch just beneath the surface of any of the multiple lawless stays on President Trump’s travel ban, and you will find one thing in common: certain tech companies back all of them. The leading example, so far, has been Airbnb, which, incredibly, signed on to both the lawsuit against the travel ban in its original form, and against it in its revised and even more legally impregnable form. I say “incredibly,” because while 100 tech companies opposed the first form of the ban, some 40 percent of them gave up when the second one was released.
But Airbnb, not done pushing the saccharine and pathetic #WeAccept message from their Super Bowl ad, would not permit a little thing like whether the law is actually, you know, legal to get in the way of their Social Justice-infused agenda.
I would say we should be scandalized, but really, at this point, expecting anything else from Airbnb would be a waste of everyone’s time. The travel ban is simply the most gratingly sanctimonious example of their expecting one set of rules to apply to them and another to everyone else. It is, however, far from the most serious or troubling. To know what that is, you have to dig a little deeper than the company’s public pronouncements into their actual approach to public policy.
What am I talking about? Well, imagine the following scenario: Imagine you tried to go to your local tax office and asked them to cut you a special, secret, sweetheart deal on how you do your taxes, which no one else will know about, but which would advantage you over other taxpayers. How do you expect that would turn out?
If you’re a normal taxpayer, the answer is obviously “not well.” But if you’re Airbnb, you can apparently get away with this kind of thing. Don’t believe me? Consider a study recently released by Dan R. Bucks, former director of the Montana Department of Revenue, whose findings regarding Airbnb’s practices are anything but pretty. According to Bucks’ study, multiple state and local tax authorities have cut secret deals with Airbnb to let them and their hosts off the hook for any number of taxes.
Twelve of these deals have since become public, and they are, indeed, just as unfair as you’d expect. Among Bucks’ more colorful turns of phrase, the agreements are not only “wide-ranging special rules benefitting Airbnb and its lodging operators,” but actually grant Airbnb the unbelievable authority to partially police themselves and their users for tax violations. In many cases, Airbnb and its renters are even excluded from audits by the agreements! In other words, if you’re an unscrupulous property owner — especially a commercial one — who wants to avoid paying lodging taxes, or even just to cheat on them, your best option is to rent through Airbnb.
Now, let’s be clear about something. There is plenty of room for a libertarian argument that regulation and taxation of lodging businesses is too strict, and that undermining or outright gutting it is a good thing. But this kind of policy is nothing of the kind. Rather, it appears to be state and local governments deciding to pick a winner (Airbnb) and leave every other lodging business either to pay a tithe to its new masters in exchange for more favorable tax status, or be a loser. In other words, it’s an almost feudal level of corporate welfare, and one that Airbnb shows no sign of repenting over.
This blatant favoritism should outrage every American. More to the point, it should also put Airbnb’s specious complaints about the travel ban into perspective. If you wanted a better example of the worst elements of techie millennial culture animating a corporation, you could not find one. Put simply, Airbnb does not want the rules of their country, their state, their locality, or their culture applied to them. They don’t care if their preferred policies put fellow citizens, corporate or otherwise, at risk. They’re want to do what they want to do, and everyone else should applaud them for it, no matter what.
Hopefully, not just President Trump, but the state and local authorities bullied into accepting this naked entitlement will finally put enough heat on these corporate snowflakes to make them melt.
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