Voltaire said, "The best government is a benevolent tyranny tempered by an occasional assassination." When the founders set about designing our democracy, they chose to avoid using an assassination in favor of citizens voting to rid ourselves of an overbearing, under-performing, and totally incompetent idiot with orange skin, but then who could I possibly be referring to.
As we learned in 2016, even our democratic approach does not guarantee that the victor will in fact govern benevolently or even competently once in office. Voltaire's point, I believe, is that with a dictator of any stripe, be they royalty or simply the guy with the most guns, is that if they care about the people they are to govern, if their focus is always on the 'customer' chances are they will make a good leader and governor.
Which brings me to the point of this piece, Amazon. Amazon, the nation builder. Amazon, the slayer of businesses small and large. Amazon, the tyrannical behemoth of commerce. Is it good, bad, or something else?
I am an unabashed Amazon customer. I think what Jeff Bezos, as much as I might distrust him has built is a better mousetrap. He has created a towering and overpowering online business model that (a) caught most people by surprise and (b) has ballooned into only the fourth company in history to have a wealth in excess of $1 trillion - I believe that is twelve zeros as in, $1,000,000,000,000. And, they have done that in just twenty-five years. The other three are Apple, Google's parent company, Alphabet, and Microsoft. That's some pretty heady company.
People don't seem to be as concerned with Apple, Alphabet, and Microsoft as they are with Amazon - have you noticed that three of the four names all start with an 'A'? I'm not sure that that has any bearing on anything - it's just an interesting observation or bit of trivia.
I've heard people railing on the radio about how Amazon is too big and somehow that makes them evil. I'm not convinced of that. Concerned? Perhaps a little, but not panicked, yet. When I look at what Amazon has put together, they are to be admired. First of all, they employ some 800,000 people, give or take a couple. Do they have some labor issues? You bet they do. And while they have put enormous pressure on companies like Nordstrom and Penney's, they have also opened up worldwide markets for small business whose previous customer base was limited to Des Moines, Iowa.
I have no idea what the vetting process might be to get on Amazon, but it appears to me that if you have a food chopper unlike anything else on the market, instead of trying to sell it at the state fair, if you can get it on Amazon, your customer base can now include places like Novosibirsk, Siberia. That alone opens you up to almost 1.5 million customers that you would never have reached in a thousand years.
I'm not naive. I know that companies like Amazon can lose the focus that made them what they are. They can become so obsessed with profits and stockholder dividends that they start screwing everyone in sight. That is why there must be regulations and consequences for bad corporate behavior. This applies to companies like Boeing, Facebook, Ford, and Cartier and many others.
Any company, large or small that engages in dishonesty and deceit needs to be taken to the woodshed. That, notwithstanding the conservative cries of "big government" and socialism and communism is why we have regulatory committees and laws. A few companies or products that went astray are;
Takata: Forced to recall millions of automobile airbags from 19 automakers because some of the airbags could inflate explosively
Wells Fargo: 2 million phony accounts to meet company sales quotas
Monsanto: Has taken a lot of heat in recent years related to its genetically modified seeds and the environmental impact of several of its products
Volkswagen: Automaker’s diesel emissions cheating scandal
Those are just a few examples of corporations behaving badly and without government oversight, regulations, and investigations, who knows how much more harm they might have done.
Back to my point. Just being big like Amazon, Apple, Alphabet, and Microsoft is not a bad thing. Being big and misbehaving by lying, cheating, and intentionally doing harm is a bad thing. The bigger the country and economy, the bigger the government. Just try to run a university with 30,000 students with a staff for a university with 5,000 students; it just can work.
So far, Amazon has more or less behaved like a benevolent tyrant. As long as they continue to balance their efforts between success, profits, and serving the public good, they'll be okay.
So, for now, I'd say the balance is in favor of Amazon for all they have contributed to the world, but we can't go to sleep at the switch and look the other way. When you are the owner and guardian of over $1 trillion dollars of value, you may be tempted to pull some shit and we will have to take you down a notch.
The theme song of democracy is: "We will, we will regulate you!"
Discussing life, politics, and philosophy in the language of the bar.