Amazon

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Amazon's monopoly must be broken up, writes TNR's Franklin Foer:

Shopping on Amazon has so ingrained itself in modern American life that it has become something close to our unthinking habit, and the company has achieved a level of dominance that merits the application of a very old label: monopoly.

That term doesn't get tossed around much these days, but it should. Amazon is the shining representative of a new golden age of monopoly that also includes Google and Walmart. Unlike U.S. Steel, the new behemoths don't use their barely challenged power to hike up prices. They are, in fact, self-styled servants of the consumer and have ushered in an era of low prices for everything from flat-screen TVs to paper napkins to smart phones.

In other words, we're all enjoying the benefits of these corporations far too much to think hard about distant dangers.

We worried about high prices and ignored the threat that the monopoly actually delivers to our doorstep--low wages:

In its pursuit of bigness, Amazon has left a trail of destruction--competitors undercut, suppliers squeezed--some of it necessary, and some of it highly worrisome. [...] In effect, we've been thrust back 100 years to a time when the law was not up to the task of protecting the threats to democracy posed by monopoly; a time when the new nature of the corporation demanded a significant revision of government.

This quote from Louis Brandeis is great:

In an essay he wrote for Harper's Weekly in 1913, he excoriated the consumer who cared only about short-term prices: "Thoughtless or weak, he yields to the temptation of trifling immediate gain, and, selling his birthright for a mess of pottage, becomes himself an instrument of monopoly."

Much like WalMart, Amazon's "Growing profit margins depend, therefore, on continually getting a better deal from suppliers." As a result, Amazon's share of all new books sold is 41%--a number that climbs to 67% for ebooks. Foer surmises that "publishers will continue to strip away costs to satisfy Amazon:"

And more attention will fall on a strange inefficiency at the heart of the business: the advances that publishing houses pay their writers. This upfront money is the economic pillar on which quality books rest, the great bulwark against dilettantism. Advances make it financially viable for a writer to commit years of work to a project.

But no bank or investor in its right mind would extend that kind of credit to an author, save perhaps Stephen King. Which means that it won't take much for this anomalous ecosystem to collapse. [...]

In confronting what to do about Amazon, first we have to realize our own complicity. We've all been seduced by the deep discounts, the monthly automatic diaper delivery, the free Prime movies, the gift wrapping, the free two-day shipping, the ability to buy shoes or books or pinto beans or a toilet all from the same place. But it has gone beyond seduction, really. We expect these kinds of conveniences now, as if they were birthrights. They've become baked into our ideas about how consumers should be treated.

These expectations help fuel our collective denial about Amazon.

The Nation discusses how Amazon legally cheats workers, a major component of this denial:

No other company embodies the mantra "Time is money" quite like Amazon, with its seamless mastery of "just in time" logistics and round-the-clock online retail hours. But inside the cavernous warehouses that ship its goods, there are real people, and their time is not so preciously valued. So the Supreme Court is weighing their right to fair pay against the profits of an e-commerce Goliath. [...]

From a worker's perspective, the dilemma is felt through what they sacrifice for that end-of-the-day security screening. How many kids' birthday parties or school plays were missed because mom got stuck on an unexpectedly long line that day? As Ross Eisenbrey of Economic Policy Institute points out:

The 25 minutes the Integrity Staffing employees spend waiting in line for their security check is time taken away from them and from their families. It might not seem like much, but it amounts to 2 hours a week and 100 hours a year, which would involve real money if it were paid at time-and-a-half for overtime. And what if the warehouse workers had to wait an hour to get screened? How long the screening takes is up to the employer.

As a former Amazon warehouse wage slave, I can attest that desperation can drive one to sacrifice quite a lot.

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This page contains a single entry by cognitivedissident published on October 13, 2014 1:46 PM.

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