Amazon is a specter, by definition: " something widely feared as unpleasant or dangerous." But we don't yet see it that way; Amazon is still not "widely feared." We treasure the convenience of buying from Amazon, failing to discern its threat.
Jeff Bezos founded Amazon in Seattle in 1994, a company to sell books online. Today the company is a towering conglomerate, selling every imaginable item of consumer goods and services to nearly half of all American citizens: 150 million of us are members of Amazon Prime. If Amazon's size alone does not threaten the American way of life it clearly has th at potential, and nothing is standing in its way.
Bezos would still be selling books if not for Ronald Reagan's stupefying blunder in the 1980s.
Ronald Reagan was infatuated with free market capitalism and deregulation. His obsession would empower Jeff Bezos ten years later to create the apex predator, the corporate Tyrannosaurs Rex of our contemporary economy.
Reagan had not slightest acquaintance with the formal economics of free markets, first described two centuries before his time. (See Smith, Adam, The Wealth of Nations, 1776.) He was simply a knee-jerk ideologue: the free market is a good thing and needs to be deregulated and government is the problem, not the solution.
Reagan unleashed a tsunami of deregulating American corporations. In the process he eviscerated antitrust legislation: the laws prohibiting corporations from "restraining free trade" by acquiring other corporations.
This was th e seedbed for Amazon. Jeff Bezos' avarice would eventually plant the seed, but he was still in college.
Reagan' s action licensed a ny corporation in the country to be come an economic black hole, devouring other corporations of any description, competitors or otherwise, friendly or hostile, public or private, domestic or foreign. T he owners of th e predator corporation would amass immense personal fortunes , along with the raw power and privilege great wealt h provides .
Amazon is such a corporation and Jeff Bezos is today a person of great wealth, power, and privilege.
Bezos recently commissioned a 420' sailing yacht, to be built in the Netherlands for five hundred million dollars , exactly twice what he paid to buy the The Washington Post . Built in a shipyard up river from Rotterdam, the craft is too massive to clear a beloved historic bridge in the city, in order to reach the sea . Bezos is asking the city to dismantle the bridg e , a t his expense . The bridge was dismantled in fact in 2017 for r enovat ion , a project wildly unpopular, and the C ity Fathers promised never to do it again. T hey will. Bezos' yacht will float in saltwater. Everybody has a price. Rotterdam's should be astronomical, a fifty million surcharge say, added to the cost of the yacht . A pittance to Bezos he'll pay it and set sail.
A few years after Reagan' s hacking of anti-trust Bezos incorporated Amazon in Seattle in 199 4. . A small down-home company with books as its single product. Bezos was hardly a savager predator , but he had the potential.
His progression in the business world was indicative. It was asymptotic: flipping hamburgers for MacDonalds while in high school ; offered jobs after college at Bell Labs, Intel, and Andersen Consulting; then a Wall Street gig as a hedge-fund gunslinger. Finally on to Seattle. Bezos was 30.
After four years of selling books he bought his first three companies, one in Germany, two in the UK, book-related. Then he exercised Reagan's license and diversified: rampaging was underway a s his company turned metastatic .
Today Amazon owns and operates 10 5 corporations , spanning the spectrum of economic activity M etro- G oldwyn- M ayer , Whole Foods, Zappos and around the world, in the United States, Germany, China, France, Canada, Spain, U.K., Poland, the Netherlands, Israel, Italy, India, the United Arab Emirates, and Sweden. Amazon owns commanding blocks of stock in 22 more.
Wh at Bezos coul dn't buy he created . His rocket company, Blue Origin , competed with Elon Musk's Space X to put Americans back on the moon. (Musk won the NASA contract. Bezos is suing.)
Amazon's website is the storefront for 9.7 million retail merchants selling online, offering 75.1 million products, and paying usurious commissions for the privilege10%--20%, up to 60% for an author in the U.K. to sell his book. Every conceivable item of consumer goods is available, from electron microscopes to condoms, with a simple One-Click.
C lick. Your purchase will be on the way. A Boeing air-freighter, from a fleet of 81, will fly it nearby, to be loaded into one of 100,000 electric delivery vehicles Amazon deploys nationwide. It will be on your doorstep often the next day, two days max. This snappy service is f ree for member s of Amazon Prime 150 million of us in the U.S., nearly half the country's population.
This irresistible convenience has a sinister consequence : Fed Ex, UPS, and likely the U.S. Postal Service will eventually succumb, undercut in price or performance, or purchased outright . That's for starters. E very local small-business retail store in the country is in mortal danger from Amazon's website and/or from Amazon's 606 physical retail stores in the US. Big box retailers can't escape Amazon's power , either, to buy them out in heartbeat . Heads up, Walmart.
The Antitrust Act s prevented one company from monopolizing an industry. Amazon is monopoliz ing the whole retail sector of our economy.
Probably not in the nation's history has a single person and the company he created amassed the purchasing power of Jeff Bezos and Amazon.
Jeff Bezos can buy anything he can afford not a serious handicap . His net worth at the moment (February 8, 2022) is $ 200.92 billion. To protect his yacht from pirates he c ould buy a Ford Class aircraft carrier for $14 billion and pay cash. But a side from a repugnant display of opulence, his buying power is harm less . Maybe not to the citizens of Rotterdam".
F or his company Amazon, a ffordability is irrelevant, and its buying power is savag ing the global economy to a degree never before imaginable. Amazon can buy literally anything for sale in any market on earth. As of the third quarter of 2021 its net assets were $382.41 billion. Amazon could buy the world's most valuable single asset, currently the International Space Station valued at $150 billion, without hyperventilating.
$382 billion is just Amazon's grubstake: o ver time the company's purchasing power grow s without limit: its wealth compounds yearly , powered by a revenue stream locked in a positive feedbac k loop .
Will Americans look back, say in fifty years and ask: when did Amazon buy the mega-banks on Wall Street? The nation's utility companies? Easy pickings. The home-building industry, the brokerages, the oil companies, the hospitals, the shopping centers? When did it buy all the farmland in the Midwest? When did Amazon come to employ all the nation's workers, who now live in Nomadland on minimum-wage jobs? When did Amazon become the American economy?
Amazon's presence in our lives is seemingly benign. It is troubling only to its competitors, its unwilling takeover targets, its savaged suppliers, its overburdened underpaid workers trying to unionize, and a few cranky writers (hat tip to Brad Stone for his book, Amazon Unbound: Jeff Bezos and the Invention of a Global Empire ). Their numbers are far outweighed by those who are not at all displeased. T he business media : the company is discussed with awe and admiration. T he Federal Trade Commission: long ago neutered . And those 150 million American cardholders in Amazon Prime: we cherish the doorstep convenience.
Can Amazon become the global economy? Amazon reaches an online market of 1.2 billion people, one-eighth of the global population. It operates fulfillment centers in 75 countries around the world. Amazon Prime memberships are sold also in Austria, Italy, Germany, Spain, Japan, Australia, Belgium, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Luxembourg, Sweden, Singapore, Canada, China, France, India, Mexico, the Netherlands, and Turkey.
Amazon will outlast Jeff Bezos. Corporations are the only persons on earth who live forever, fully protected by the Bill of Rights. Nothing stands in Amazon's way. Nothing. Will it dominate the globe? Will Amazon become the arbiter of the human condition? No one knows.