By Jacob Vito
He is the richest man alive. He funds rocket ships and owns entire media operations. And with his company, Amazon, Jeff Bezos is easily one of the most influential Americans that’s ever lived. But now, he’s leaving behind the position that got him there in the first place.
Bezos is leaving his role as the CEO of Amazon, the New York Times reports. Come this summer, he will hand over the top position of the company he founded back in 1994.
Over the nearly 27 years of its existence, Bezos’s Amazon moved from an online bookstore to a shopping giant, which today accounts for half of all e-commerce alone. Bezos is leaving behind a behemoth, as his departure from the role of CEO certainly signals a yet-to-be-seen change in the direction of one of the most influential companies in modern history.
But don’t be fooled.
Bezos isn’t actually “quitting” Amazon. His position has merely shifted, and instead of CEO, he will now simply be the executive chair of the company’s board. He will continue to hold his shares in the company, making him the largest Amazon owner. What’s more, his successor will most likely be handpicked by him.
Through his position, through his shares, through his legacy, he will continue to exert control.
Considering his continued influence on Amazon’s direction after his immediate “departure,” it may be worthwhile to take stock of his legacy so far.
Amazon means different things to different people. For some, it’s just a way to get reasonable two-day shipping. However, for many others, it’s the hulking behemoth of online shopping, something so large that one must either purposefully avoid it or meticulously engage with its platform.
However, if an organization like a local business attempts to work with Amazon, they must do so carefully because Amazon does not play fair in business affairs. As Fox Business states, it steals the ideas of those who sell on their site and undercuts their products, running their smaller stores out of business with tactics similar to gilded-age monopolies.
But as it kills smaller businesses and the jobs they come with, Amazon simultaneously takes every action possible to prevent its own employees from receiving fair pay. NPR found that the company has viciously fought against calls for worker unionization in its warehouses, creating misleading propaganda and hiring the literal Pinkerton agency from monopolies past to surveil and destroy any attempts to organize.
According to The Guardian, Amazon doesn’t just starve individual enterprises and employees; instead, it can disrupt entire local economies. Brick-and-mortar stores, large and small, cannot compete with the sales giant’s prices and scale. As people find better prices on Amazon’s website, the money they spend online is pulled away from local and regional economies with no hope of return.
For anywhere outside of Seattle, money spent on Amazon is an economic black hole that never makes its way back into the community.
This is all directly observable. As both local businesses and large physical chains like Sears go under, Amazon has thrived. The company has seen record profits during the COVID-19 pandemic, only speeding up the rate at which they can strangle their physical competition.
Physical, local businesses are a vital part of American communities. They are a point of congregation and connection for many people and are often an avenue out of poverty. But Amazon, and more specifically Jeff Bezos, has been at the helm of their disempowerment across the United States.
If you want a symbol of Jeff Bezos’s legacy, you need not look far. It exists in every closed storefront and dying downtown, every crackdown on protests asking for only a living wage and every small town dismantled and compartmentalized by the whims of a transnational monopoly. Mr. Bezos’s America is the one that exists in front of us today, and frankly, it’s disgusting.
So please, don’t venerate Jeff Bezos. I implore you, don’t believe that his creation of a business empire has helped more than it’s hurt. When Amazon tries to brand itself as progressive or forward-thinking, be reminded of the damage they’ve done.
Jeff Bezos is no longer the CEO of Amazon, and though he still commands a lot of power and his company will continue to thrive, in this one small instance, I think I can say:
Jacob Vito is a first-year Community and Regional Development major at UC Davis. He is from western Pennsylvania.
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