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Jeff Bezos Is the World’s Most Dangerous Politician
You can’t amass extreme wealth by playing by other people’s rules
You can’t amass extreme wealth by playing by other people’s rules
Six Ways to Get Rich
A few years ago, I read a book about how to become a billionaire. The author analyzed the Forbes 400 and discovered that there were essentially only a handful of ways that every single person on the list became extremely wealthy.
The first and most popular way is to inherit money and avoid taxation. Think: the Waltons, the Basses, the Koch brothers, the Barclays. Other ways included conglomerating an industry, monopolizing a technology, exploiting a natural resource or vulnerable population, and engaging in cronyism — manipulating government and the judiciary to extract advantageous personal systemic benefits.
If this list seems sad and depressing, you’re not alone. While ideally most of us would like to live in a compassionate meritocracy where the best and brightest reap the greatest rewards without leaving the masses to languish, the facts are incredibly clear: you have to leverage an advantage and hurt others in order to control extreme wealth. Extreme wealth is simply never merited.
And it’s always been this way: John D. Rockefeller’s Cleveland refinery was on its way to bankruptcy until he extracted his illegal railway kickbacks. Nikola Telsa got absolutely screwed by Thomas Edison. Andrew Carnegie literally murdered his employees for asking for a pay-raise.
So which strategy did Bezos use?
Jeff Bezos has used almost all of these wealth-amassing strategies to some extent, except inheritance, (His parents, who are still alive, gave him $245,573 to help start the company.)
Many fanboys believe Bezos is rich because of Amazon’s “innovative business model,” but they couldn’t be any further from the truth. In reality, Jeff Bezos has become one of the world’s largest hoarders of extreme wealth because he was the first person in online tech to fully weaponize financialization in order to destroy his competition and decimate democracy.
The cold hard fact is that Amazon wasn’t and isn’t significantly better than all the other online shops of the past and present, he just had access to more capital, and the discipline to use it to strangle them all to death and then leverage their position to extract additional gains from the commons.
It’s a model that many tech companies are now using to devastating effect.
How to monopolize an industry
Jeff Bezos was the first person to really perfect the insidious art of financialization. The lethal gambit is simple:
Find a way to “disrupt” an industry of real producers. (IE Amazon went after book retailers, Uber/Lyft went after taxi drivers, Airbnb went after house owners, Facebook went after content creators, etc.)
Create an attractive site/app, drive a massive wedge between suppliers and customers, then charge a fat broker’s fee to re-introduce them.
Build a huge amount of media hype to attract colossal amounts of debt and private equity across several rounds of funding.
Rather than paying a dividend to shareholders, use their original investment and their annual profits to strengthen your team and strangle your competition. Make sure the story of your rapid expansion overshadows your mounting losses.
Once you’ve destroyed the competition and have finally started to turn a profit, use the money to swallow up-and-coming competitors and coerce democracy to extract advantages that small companies can’t get.
This is exactly what Amazon did. For 58 quarters — 14 years from its IPO — Amazon lost money year-on-year in a bid to destroy real businesses.
Another example of an extremely predatory company is Airbnb. They lost $135 million in 2015, $136 million in 2016, $70 million in 2017, $16 million in 2018, $674 million in 2019, and $696 million in 2020, with total cumulative losses since 2008 totaling $2.8 billion.
In previous generations, such a dismal record would make a company worthless, with investors avoiding it at all costs. In today’s fairy tale/nightmare of destructive financialization — paired with huge amounts of hype and publicity — Airbnb is seen as a brilliant and important investment, with stock speculators assigning them an initial public market “value” of nearly $100 billion. In Amazon’s case, it’s now “worth” $1.5+ trillion.
Amazon and Airbnb aren’t anomalies. Lyft lost $1 billion the year before it went public and is now “worth” $15+ billion. According to one IPO specialist, “In 2018, 81% of U.S. companies were unprofitable in the year leading up to their public offerings.”
To be clear, these aren’t ground-breaking companies with brilliant original patents on world-changing inventions. They’re marginally better innovations with a metric ton of debt and private equity to crush all comers.
John D. Rockefeller was the first to do what Jeff Bezos has now perfected:
“One of his favored methods was to give competitors “a good sweating.” A good sweating consisted in lowering prices in selected markets to such an extent that all competitors either went broke, sold out to Standard Oil or otherwise agreed to abide by the rules set forth by Standard Oil, i.e. John D. Rockefeller.”
If this sounds like a giant, anti-meritocratic unethical fraud, it’s because it is.
And it only gets worse from there
Now that Amazon is a public company, Bezos doesn’t have as much access to an ongoing war chest of new funding with which to shatter lesser-capitalized companies. But his unethical options are many:
He can continue acquiring profitable companies like Whole Foods, IMDB, Zappos, Goodreads, Audible, and dozens of others and use their cash to fund his endless expansion.
He can continue to degrade civil society by evading taxation and offshoring huge amounts of company revenue. (Amazon is now considered the worst in the world.)
He can pull an Elon Musk and continually dilute shareholder stakes through multiple rounds of stock-splitting and secondary offerings.
But that’s not enough for Jeff Bezos.
Despite already controlling a vast amount of the online retail market, and the grocery world, and web services — Amazon has run the CIA’s servers for years — Bezos has shifted to a very old, but new-to-him strategy:
Ida Tarbell, the courageous female journalist in the early 1900s, was sick and tired of watching John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil monopoly shred apart thousands of small businesses, crush competitors with financialization, secure illegal advantages, evade taxation, amass immoral amounts of personal wealth at the expense of labor and the masses, and undermine democracy by lobbying politicians and running their own puppets in every judgeship, senate seat, and congressional position. Tarbell decided to drag his shadowy company into the light.
Rockefeller’s attack on democracy was legendary: senators beholden to Rockefeller lobbied the President to lease them drilling rights on Osage Indian lands. Rockefeller helped his business partner Johnson Camden get elected to the Senate; the man then quit the company but kept his stock. Rockefeller helped get Senator Payne elected, even though his son was Standard Oil’s treasurer.
In the end, it took Ida Tarbell scathing exposé and Teddy Roosevelt’s people-first administration to start the decade-long process of unwinding Rockefeller’s sprawling monopoly.
Like Rockefeller, Jeff Bezos knows how to use politics to destroy his competition, wrest power from the public, beat the courts, rent politicians, and slowly but surely destroy democracy on a scale Rockefeller never could have imagined:
He bought the Washington Post and Business Insider, just as Rockefeller bought and funded the trade journals of his day.
He moved to Washington to join the social circles of power, just as Rockefeller moved from Cleveland to New York as his company grew.
His lawyers are some of the best in the world, crushing all comers as did Rockefeller’s when he hired legendary lawmen like Samuel Calvin Tate Dodd and Joseph Hodges Choate.
And Bezos is just getting started. Amazon’s numbers are still growing exponentially.
Ida Tarbell, to her credit, acknowledged Rockefeller’s genius where it was due. She stated clearly that the Standard Oil Company was legitimately great, but that it was also illegitimately great.
The same can be said of Amazon.
Amazon is legitimately great. It is also illegitimately great.
What is Jeff Bezos?
At first, he was a brilliant innovator.
And then he became a successful capitalist.
And then he became a predator corporatist.
And now he has become an anti-democratic statesman.
Jeff Bezos is, undeniably, the world’s most dangerous politician. Why? Because, like John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil, Jeff Bezos’s Amazon has set a foul template for those who follow.
When you look at the big picture, you see that corporatism now runs the world. So-called “democracies” have been corporate-captured, the majority of legislatures and statehouses and court benched occupied with the well-funded puppet politicians of the corporate state. No one does it better than Big Tech, and Bezos is king of the sector. Bezos perfected the art of financialization as a way to ruin competition in the Internet age, and now he is doing to democracy what Rockefeller attempted in his day. And hundreds of other companies are happily following suit.
Jeff Bezos built an interesting company, but then he crossed a line — went over to the dark side if you will — when he decided to engage in menace economics and democratic destruction.
When Will Jeff Bezos Stop?
Saint Augustine said that the human heart can only fully be satisfied by one thing aside from God himself: everything. All the sex, all the money, all the power, all the glory, all the possessions. All of it. Nothing short of everything could ever fully satiate the human heart. We are wired for more.
Sadly, people like Jeff Bezos simply will not stop until they are stopped.
There are only three ways to break the power of politicians like Jeff Bezos
The first way is to legislate change. This was a nearly impossible task in Rockefeller’s day, and it took independent-minded Thor-like politicians like Roosevelt and Taft to shatter the monopoly. Let’s not pretend there’s a mainline leader in the Democrat or Republican party who cares half as much for democracy today. Teddy famously returned a check from Standard Oil for $100,000. By contrast, the Donald was backed by 99 billionaires, and Joe Biden is backed by 131. The partisan system simply will not save us this time around — Joe Biden seems like a very kind man, but he is clearly a corporate shill. Until America wakes up and finds a way to vote in a third party leader who will remove corporate money from politics, this avenue is effectively closed.
The second option — and it should never be an option — is violent insurrection. In Rockefeller’s day, out-of-work oilmen lit his refineries on fire, blew up his oil depots, derailed his oil cars, and attempted to bomb the gigantic mansions of his board members. Violence, of course, is not an option today — not only is it deeply immoral, but corporate elites control the police, military, and surveillance apparatus and will continue to use them to violent effect when uprisings start.
The third option — which is almost certain to fail — is to defund predator companies themselves. This is extremely hard to do when they’re the only option because they’ve bankrupted or bought out all the other brands. The reality is that most of us are co-conspirators in the rise of Jeff Bezos and oligarchs like him, in the same way that earlier Americans had to warm their houses with Standard Oil because Rockefeller controlled 90% of the market. This is why the future needs to be local. Perhaps the only thing that can depose the global corporatocracy is sustained radical mass economic resistance, including:
The widespread use of cryptocurrency.
The mass adoption of cooperative business models.
A global boycott of predator companies.
State and city-level laws that protect individuals, small businesses, and local democracy from the assaults of multinational conglomerates.
A mass tax strike.
In all likelihood, we may have already reached escape velocity — there may very well be no way to stop Jeff Bezos and the corporatocracy from destroying democracy and consuming the planet. In fact, that’s almost certainly part of Jeff Bezos’s long-term master plan.
But one thing is for certain: if companies like Amazon and politicians like Jeff Bezos use capital and technology to bankrupt billions of workers, there may be no force on earth that can protect them from the fury to come. Snakes tend to bite when there’s a boot on their neck.
Our first step is to help the world understand how dangerous Jeff Bezos and his class have become. Only when we’re aware of the problem can we change our global trajectory.
As Bezos’s own newspaper says: Democracy dies in darkness. This is true — and he should know it — because he’s the one with the knife to its throat.
But the opposite is also true…
Corruption dies in the light.