Ad targeting tax reform for online retailers invokes “Yellow Peril” fears | #PullAlibabaAd

December 7, 2014

Right now, Congress is considering the Marketplace Fairness Act, a bill that would change US tax law to allow states to collect taxes from online retailers, even if those retailers are physically located outside of the state of the sale. The Act is backed by the Alliance for Main Street Fairness, a public relations groups which argues that existing tax loopholes disadvantage the mom-and-pop brick-and-mortar small businesses of American “Main Street” by requiring them to pass the cost of state taxes onto their patrons, while online retailers can charge lower prices for the same goods.

Ironically, however, the Alliance for Main Street Fairness doesn’t actually just represent small business; instead, it includes among its members big box-store retailers such as Target, Walmart, Best Buy, Home Depot and JC Penney.

This month the Alliance for Main Street Fairness has set its sights on lobbying for the Marketplace Fairness Act using ads that specifically target Alibaba, a Chinese eBay-style online retailer. These ads draw upon Yellow Peril fears by casting a Chinese face as the destroyer of Main Street. In addition to the ad embedded above, the group has released a cartoon showing a red wrecking ball emblazoned with the name “Alibaba” and the yellow stars of the Chinese flag smashing the windows of an American Main Street shop (after the jump).

alibaba-coming-to-town
From the website of the Alliance for Main Street Fairness

Below the banner is the ominous headline: “Alibaba is coming to town”.

This imagery clearly demonstrates: the Alliance for Main Street Fairness isn’t just interested in tax reform, it is engaged in stoking the fears of the Yellow Peril.  It’s worth noting that Alibaba is China’s largest online retailer — operating similar to eBay — and accounted for over 80% of China’s online sales this year. Alibaba also just became an IPO on the US market three months ago. It’s also worth noting that Amazon.com, Alibaba’s primary competitor in America, is also member of the Alliance for Main Street Fairness and is theoretically one of the online retailers that are taking advantage of Main Street by exploiting tax loopholes. Thus it becomes clear: this is less about trying to make the marketplace fair, and more about eliminating competition from a behemoth of a foreign retailer. This is about scaring Americans into “buying American”.

stand-with-main-street-anti-china
From Stand With Main Street’s Facebook page.

Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian American Justice Center and The Minority Media and Telecommunications Council are calling upon the community to speak out against the Alliance for Main Street Fairness’ Yellow Peril ads. They released a joint press release earlier this week, reading:

“This type of advocacy preys on American fears of ‘foreign invasion’ and crosses the line,” said Mee Moua, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC. “These retailers deliberately chose to target a Chinese company as the ‘face’ of the competitor or challenger, rather than another American company. In doing so, they are feeding into anti-immigrant and anti-foreign sentiments. The ad revives the ‘Yellow Peril’ scare tactic that led to the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 and later, the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.  We demand that the Alliance for Main Street Fairness abandon this marketing campaign and pull this ad.”

Regardless of your opinion on tax reform for online retailers, I think we can all agree that “Standing With Main Street” shouldn’t involve standing with (implicitly non-Asian) American business owners against invading Asian-ness. The groups have launched a social media campaign —  #PullAlibabaAd — asking concerned readers to tweet @StandWithMainStreet asking them to pull their Yellow Peril ads.

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  • malik

    I wonder if America’s corporations like Amazon, Wal-Mart, Target, Home Depot will be subject to this online retail tax that the so-called Alliance for Main Street Fairness” is pushing.

    After all, these American corporations all have a massive online presence, with Amazon.com being the mother of all online retailers.

    And chain stores like Target, Best Buy, and especially Wal-Mart all have had a major destructive impact on small “mom and pop” stores long before Alibaba ever existed.

    Yet now American big business is shedding crocodile tears about these small businesses that they helped destroy!

    This ad is a corporate astro-turf campaign conceived by a Madison Avenue-style ad agency, designed to pander to American nationalism and anti-Chinese sentiment.

    But don’t think that the hordes of flag-wavers in Main Street USA won’t support this trash.

    They will.

    America instinctively resorts to nationalist demagoguery whenever their precious corporations face competition internationally. Playing the anti-China card is a favorite card that American capitalism plays these days.

    It’s pathetic as it is predictable.

    Remember America’s spasms of Japan Bashing in the 1980s that led to crimes like the murder of Vincent Chin? They have now mutated into America’s spasms of China Bashing today.

    What do you get when you mix anti-Asian xenophobia, jingoistic nationalism, slick corporate social media campaigns, and mindless populist slogans–all backed by American big business?

    That’s called the American Way.

  • I wonder if America’s corporations like Amazon, Wal-Mart, Target, Home Depot will be subject to this online retail tax that the so-called Alliance for Main Street Fairness” is pushing.

    Yes, their online sales would be subject to higher taxes under this new Act.

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