SocraticGadfly: Jeff Bezos is Mao

October 05, 2018

Jeff Bezos is Mao

As in Mao Zedong, circa Cultural Revolution era.

That's my ultimate takeaway from this long NYT piece about Amazon's corporate culture in action.

The relentless self-criticism, the employees spying on each other, management fueling both of those?

That was written three years ago.

Now, Bezos agreeing to people getting at least $15 an hour, even temp/contract employees? It may make that culture even worse. We'll see how many people stay that long.

One thing I simply do not get is why Bezos welcomes the turnover rate this causes. (He and other top brass denied for the record Amazon has unusual employee attrition, even in the face of stats showing it does, and Bezos is VERY statistics oriented.) Business management surveys, etc., consistently show that employee training is a high cost that should be controlled.

On the other hand, the Amazon corporate style, where the massive Maoism seems to be a main part of training, may be cheaper than elsewhere. And, perhaps part of it is an expectation of self-training, otherwise.

And, even where Bezos seems to be doing good in the terms of being a good corporate citizen, he isn't. Yes, he collects online sales taxes for states. But only for products he directly sells. His third-party vendors (like you or I selling a used book there)? Nope, he doesn't. And, David Dayen says this is more than half his business. (Three states require Amazon collect these taxes for its third-party vendors.) Per that link, here's the Amazon letter to shareholders that notes that. Oh, and that percentage was on the rise up to that point. Expect Amazon to try to knock the likes of eBay out of business at some point.

More here in a great piece from the Verge on how the Amazon third-party sellers market is a Wild West, and why Amazon encourages it.

Related to that, as the Verge now points out, is that Amazon has generally been exempted from liability for defective product sales by third parties in its Marketplace, but that this is slowly starting to change.

At the same time, Bezos keeps the third-party vendors in line by "juicing" its own products, allegedly. And, speaking of juicing? The claims of Amazon Prime shipment times are more and more flat-out lies.

Also, despite complaints from former Amazon buyers like me, Bezos doesn't care about Chinese, Indian or Nigerian scammers muscling into its third-party vendor world. If it makes a sale and gets its cut off the purchase price, fine. If fraud actually happens, it's up to you to prove it, or to fight with the vendor if you don't think a scammy sale can be proven fraudulent. (Been there, done that, and Amazon won't let you rate an individual sale based on vendor/sale problems, just the product.) If this forces all third-party vendors to cut prices, and thus drive yet more business to Amazon, great!

As for paying contractors more? If you're one of its delivery drivers, living in Uber-like employment, you've still got your own insurance overhead, and just like with driving for Uber, Geico or State Farm will leave your ass high and dry if you have a wreck as a corporate employee and get sued. (Amazon and Uber will also leave you high and dry. You're on the hook for health care, of course. And, arguably, Amazon is breaking the law by counting employees as independent contractors.

So (Update, July 28, 2019) Kevin Mims at Quillette? You can decry tourist journalism on reporting on Amazon drivers all you want, from your anecdotes. You're not a driver, even as you reference a fellow employee taking Uber to work. You are right that, for all we know, Starbucks may be worse. You do admit that Amazon itself used to be worse.

Otherwise? Your freelance writing, if you depend on it for more income than Amazon, may be worse, too. Mental health stresses.

Finally, if Bernie Sanders thinks he has a "win" with Bezos agreeing to $15 an hour, I wouldn't count those chickens yet. Indeed, the pay hike is already confirmed to be at the expense of other Amazon employees with company service time.

AND, updating Oct. 13, there IS a huge fucking catch. Amazon contract delivery drivers, who have already been subject to wage theft by Amazon, DO NOT QUALIFY. Read that full link for the full rip-off info and more.

There's a whole laundry list of other complaints against Amazon, anyway, like its providing web services to the CIA, and, related to that, the long tentacles in general of Amazon Web Services. Oh, and a reminder that Chairman Mao's company helps ICE just like it helps the CIA.


And, somehow, National Enquirer got a hold of some selfie pics of Jeff's "Little Mao," to which he responds on Medium.

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