Jeff Bezos of Amazon is the world’s richest man, with a personal fortune of about US$120 billion. Amazon avoided about $5.2 billion in US corporate federal income taxes in 2021. With more than $35 billion in profits (75 percent higher than its 2020 record) it paid just 6 percent in taxes.
Nomadland by Jessica Bruder (now a movie) chronicles the lives of ordinary, older Americans who lost their homes and took to the road in vans following seasonal work around the country. Amazon employs these non-unionised grey nomads in their warehouses. The work is menial and physically demanding for old folk, with time pressure to run about stacking shelves and packing boxes. Pay is bare minimum and productivity ruthlessly enforced. Exploitation on steroids.
In a new book, Chokepoint Capitalism, we learn of Amazon audiobook company Audible, which has been caught screwing its authors out of royalty rights on ebooks through a policy of unlimited returns for its customers. The ‘loyalty’ of customers is bought at the expense of writers or ‘content providers’, thus ruthlessly exploiting its supply chain and killing off competition. The power of monopsony.
Now big-hearted Bezos says he will give away his fortune in magnanimous $100m plus dollops of philanthropy, which is a massive reputation-burnishing scam and scandal. Join the dots of cynical efficiency in the Amazon business model: from labour and supplier exploitation to anti-competitive pricing to tax avoidance to super profits to unethical corporate ethos.
If you’re a customer then of course you’re a beneficiary of Amazon business practices, and a cog in the machine.
If Bezos had his company pay its proper share of taxes, then elected representatives of the people could decide what social programs to spend the money on, rather than be grateful for his generosity and wisdom in choosing for them. But his self-justification has a rich U.S. pedigree.
The modern equivalent of infamous 19th century U.S. robber barons in the Gilded Age of unbridled capitalism, when Carnegie, Rockefeller and others ruthlessly carved out their empires, and then as pillars of society endowed educational and other social institutions with their generous bequests. Bezos philanthropy is fundamentally hypocritical, full of hubris and self aggrandisement.
As a consumer cog you can always buy your stuff elsewhere. Just be prepared to pay a little more to keep your conscience clear. Oh yeah folks, nobody said consumer heaven would be easy to navigate up your Amazon.