Amazon drives down wages, avoids taxes and destroys intellectual life, while profiting from government subsidies
Franklin Foer, editor of The New Republic, has weighed in on the Amazon controversy with a piece titled “Amazon Must Be Stopped.” The subtitle reads “It’s too big. It’s cannibalizing the economy. It’s time for a radical plan.”
I, for one, am feeling a little less alone as a result. We proposed our own “radical” approach to companies like Amazon and Google back in July, which was to treat them as public utilities if we’re not willing to apply antitrust law. It’s good to have Foer’s company in this effort.
Public utility theory proved remarkably adaptable to corporations like Amazon and Google, at least in theory. But, while the suggestion provoked a predictable string of derisive right-wing responses, there was almost total silence on the left. It’s good to see someone else recognizing the fundamental challenge posed by a company like Amazon, as well as the harm caused by the long-term erosion of our ability to respond to monopolistic threats when they are amplified by the impact of technology.
Foer’s essay has provoked a certain amount of long-overdue discussion in left/liberal circles. The question is, where does that debate go from here?
Perhaps from an excess of caution, Foer opens with a paean to the company’s accomplishments. “Before we speak ill of Amazon,” he writes, “let us kneel down before it.” Foer tells us that “the company began with the stated goal of creating a bookstore as comprehensive as the great Library of Alexandria,” adding that it “quickly managed to make even that grandiloquent ambition look puny” and “could soon conjure the full text of almost any volume onto a phone in less time than a yawn.” He adds that Amazon’s catalogue “comes damn close to serving every human need … as cheap as capitalism permits.”
Amazon hasn’t earned those kind words. As Barnes & Noble pointed out in a 1997 lawsuit, Amazon isn’t a bookstore at all. It’s a “broker” of books, most of which it did not have directly on hand in its early years. It couldn’t “soon conjure” books onto phones. The Kindle platform wasn’t rolled out until 2007, 12 years after Amazon.com went online. And, as Foer himself later suggests, its products are as cheap as monopolistic practicespermit.