In Congress, former Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Vermont’s Sen. Bernie Sanders each called for Amazon to be broken up because of its size and dominance of e-commerce. Sen. Josh Hawley (R., Mo.) in April urged the Justice Department to “open a criminal antitrust investigation of Amazon” after a Wall Street Journal report detailed the company’s use of third-party seller data to develop its products.
Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, the former vice president, was asked last week on CNBC whether Amazon should be broken up. “I don’t think any company, I don’t give a damn how big they are, the Lord almighty, should absolutely be in a position where they pay no tax and make billions and billions and billions of dollars,” Mr. Biden said.
Amazon has paid income taxes somewhere, albeit at a low rate, likely helped by deductions and incentives related to investment, research and employee compensation.
Mr. Trump also has been a frequent critic of Amazon and Mr. Bezos, related, in part, to the CEO’s ownership of the Washington Post. The president last year also questioned some of Amazon’s actions in pursuit of a massive Pentagon cloud-computing contract, since awarded to Microsoft Corp. Amazon has challenged the award, in part claiming Mr. Trump had pressured the Defense Department to not give the company the contract, potentially worth $10 billion.
Amazon is now the third largest public company by value. Its stock is up around 33% this year, driven, in part, by booming sales, as consumers have flocked to the online retailer to stock up during the pandemic.
Mr. Musk’s rise in the clubby world of the tech industry has run almost parallel to that of Mr. Bezos. Their rivalry is rooted in a space race currently playing out as a corporate version of the Cold War-era rivalry between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union. Mr. Musk, who also runs Space Exploration Technologies Corp., or SpaceX, has been critical of Mr. Bezos’ own passion project, a rocket company separate from Amazon called Blue Origin.
SpaceX last week successfully sent U.S. astronauts into space in the first-ever private spacecraft to attain orbit with people on board. The mission was the culmination of years of work as part of the entrepreneur’s broader dream of colonizing Mars.
Last year, Mr. Bezos took a not-so subtle swipe at Mr. Musk’s Mars ambitions and his vision of the planet as a backup for life on Earth. “My friends who want to move to Mars?” Mr. Bezos said during a talk at the Wings Club, without naming Mr. Musk. “I say, do me a favor: Go live on the top of Mount Everest for a year first and see if you like it, because it’s a garden paradise compared to Mars.”
While Mr. Trump has been critical of the Amazon founder, he’s shown increasing ties to Mr. Musk, especially as both men have pushed to reopen the U.S. economy.
Last month Mr. Musk won the president’s support, as the CEO pressured local authorities in California to allow electric-car maker Tesla to resume production at his lone U.S. car plant. Manufacturing had been halted in March, as the Bay Area tried to combat the spread of the coronavirus. Mr. Musk fought a high-profile battle to restart production, eventually doing so in apparent violation of the local government’s orders.
In an excerpt of his book, Mr. Berenson writes that the virus is more deadly than the seasonal flu in most years, though the fatality rate is far lower than last century’s Spanish Flu pandemic.
He and Mr. Musk have engaged on Twitter in recent weeks. The Tesla CEO has repeatedly questioned the risk of Covid-19 and argued the threat of economic shutdown is greater, making him one of the highest profile business executives to question the government’s response to the crisis.
After Amazon told Mr. Berenson his book was published, the author tweeted: “Of course I don’t know what anyone who doesn’t have @elonmusk and so many others pushing will do, but at least this time they backed down.”