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Reading List November 30, 2018

Amazon’s Empire

Our best writers take on the retail giant.

It’s hard to avoid Amazon these days. Almost 100 million Americans are Prime subscribers, and our news cycle is dominated on the regular by the company’s latest feats: it accounted for 45.5 percent of all book sales last year, for example, while Jeff Bezos recently toppled Bill Gates as the world’s richest man. Now, after the company’s well-publicized search for its second headquarters, Amazon’s empire continues to expand.

The pieces below examine this power and influence from a variety of anglesfrom Amazon’s effects on housing markets to workers’ rightsbut they all, at their core, engage with what Amazon’s increasing power means for our democracy. The fact that Amazon provides “enormously popular and useful goods and services is indisputable—but also beside the point,” K. Sabeel Rahman notes. “The central issue here is not simply the value for the consumer. Instead it is vast, unaccountable private power over the foundations of contemporary society and politics. In a word, the central issue is democracy.”

—Rosie Gillies

Books After Amazon
by Onnesha Roychoudhuri

Consumers may benefit from lower prices, but when you sell a book like it’s a can of soup, the future of literature is called into doubt.

• • •

Cities on a Hill?
a forum with Richard Florida

“With its large footprint and employee base, Amazon has contributed to Seattle’s urban crisis by driving up housing prices and rents. While the company pays its knowledge workers well, its service workers suffer from low wages, which are often undercut by outsourced contract labor.”

• • •

Basic Income in a Just Society
a forum with Brishen Rogers

Amazon uses technology to track the efficiency of its workers, thereby exerting power over them and keeping labor costs down. But workers cannot appeal to a computer’s emotions in asking for more or less time, a raise, or a slower pace of work.

• • •

Monopoly Men
by K. Sabeel Rahman

When power is increasingly concentrated among a handful of tech platforms, the survival of our democracy is challenged.

• • •

Will Amazon Take Over the World?
by Frank Pasquale

“Uber, TaskRabbit, and Amazon have triggered the platformization of work. But is there any emancipatory potential here, for labor to either demand better pay and conditions, or take over the platforms themselves?”

• • •

Curbing the New Corporate Power
a forum with K. Sabeel Rahman

“Uber and Airbnb operate in a manner similar to Amazon: they provide an online platform that links buyers and sellers. In so doing, they have accumulated a greater degree of economic power, not just over prices, but also over labor standards, wages, consumer risk, and access.”

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