Blow-out earnings from Facebook and Amazon have cheered Wall Street, but institutional owners might want to focus not just on blow-out earnings but rising blowback against the tech superpowers (Facebook, Google and Amazon).
The blowback is social and political: people are starting to question the social and political costs of these tech darlings’ dominance and the billions in profits they reap.
The typical corporation can buy political influence, but Facebook and Google are manipulating the machinery of democracy itself. That’s a much more dangerous type of power than buying political influence or manipulating public opinion by openly publishing biased “news.”
We all understand how Corporate Media undermines democracy: recall how every time Bernie Sanders won a Democratic primary in 2016, The New York Times and The Washington Post “reported” the news in small typeface in a sidebar, while every Hillary Clinton primary win was trumpeted in large headlines at the top of page one.
But this sort of manipulation is visible; what Google and Facebook do is invisible. I recently addressed these invisible (but oh-so profitable) mechanisms in a series of essays:
Here’s a selection of recent articles on related topics:
Don’t Fix Facebook. Replace It. (New York Times)
The Infuriating Innocence of Mark Zuckerberg (The New Yorker)
Amazon is the embodiment of numerous destructive dynamics:
1. Zero-sum cannibalism being passed off as “growth.” Amazon is growing its sales by cannibalizing the retail, distribution, transport, computer services and advertising sectors. How many jobs have been lost as Amazon has consumed its victims? Shall we guess that Amazon’s 560,000 employees replaced 1,000,000+ retail/distribution employees who lost their jobs?
It isn’t just jobs, of course: it’s local taxes, local retail stores that attracted pedestrians and other enterprises–the built environment and social spaces of our cities and towns. As those are gutted and replaced by Amazon warehouses in the boondocks, much more is being lost than retail jobs.
Amazon’s “growth” is not actually “growing” the economy in any useful way; it’s simply consolidating a number of sectors into one quasi-monopoly.
2. Amazon is now flexing the political power of its wealth. Anybody with cash can buy political influence. But few organizations have the billions of profits to spend on political favors and protection that Google, Amazon and Facebook have.
3. The founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, is now likely worth more than all his 560,000 employees combined. Divide $134 billion–Bezos’ personal stake in Amazon stock– by 560,000, and you get $239,285. How many of Amazon’s employees (average pay is around $28,000 annually) have a net worth of $240,000 or more? Vanishingly few below the top layer of techies and managers.
The theory of the happy union of capitalism and democracy rests on capitalism creating secure middle-class employment for millions of citizens. Once capitalism only creates a peon-debt-serf class and a 5% technocrat / manager / financier / entrepreneur / speculator class that harvests 70% of the wealth and income, then democracy dies by the slow poison of rising inequality and ever greater asymmetries of wealth and political power.
No wonder we read that Jeff Bezos Booed By Amazon Workers.
I am sure there are thousands of well-paid tech/managerial employees of Amazon, but there are also thousands of part-time employees like the Camperforce: Meet the Camperforce, Amazon’s Nomadic Retiree Army (Wired)
The blowback is just getting started, as people awaken to the dangers posed by these fast-metastasizing tech quasi-monopolies. The most dangerous dynamics in America are the erosion of the mechanics of democracy by wealth/corporate power, and the erosion of middle-class employment in favor of maximizing corporate profits by any means available.
This is how we end up with a neofeudal society that benefits the Protected Few at the expense of the powerless, exploited Many. Facebook, Google and Amazon are each accelerating this erosion not by accident, but as a direct consequence of their business model and sources of profit.
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