IF YOU LIKED WAL-MART, YOU’LL LOVE AMAZON
Amazon is Wal-Mart on steroids. When companies with a global reach and supply chain move into town, their anti-competitive nature destroys the possibility of running successful local businesses. Companies like Amazon rely on corporate welfare and government pay-offs to undercut local retailers, and we’ve already seen how Amazon’s original platform as an on-line bookseller forced thousands of independent bookstores to close down. The more successful Amazon is, the more we will see farmer’s markets, neighborhood hardware stores, and clothing boutiques boarded up. It’s hard to compete with a company who’s predictive data analytics tools have not only determined which products you’re most likely to buy next week, but have already shipped those products to the distribution center closest to you, all without you ever having to think about it.
SURVEILLANCE IS THE COST OF CONVENIENCE
How is it that Amazon can overnight a package to you from across the world at a price lower than retailers in your own city? If Amazon is offering you an astonishingly good deal, it’s because your consumer habits are an astonishingly good product. Amazon profits not directly from the purchases of its customers, but indirectly from gathering their information. Amazon is at the forefront of Big Data: tracking, predicting, and “nudging” people’s interests into favorable marketing opportunities. What they offer is not merely a monopoly over the retail and shipping industries, but an ever-expanding grasp on data about people’s behaviors, curiosities, and desires. The convenience and cheapness of Amazon products ensures that people buy into their platform today, paving the way for their total control over the markets of tomorrow.
Amazon’s conquest of information will not stop until your entire psychological profile is documented, and their marketplace expands across your entire economic periphery. In Orwell’s 1984, citizens are left without the words to describe freedom. In Bezos’ 2018, citizens freely and voluntarily declare their preferences to Alexa, to be stored forever in Amazon’s data-centers and eventually to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. A population whose citizen’s habits are tracked and quantified at every turn is a population that is entirely vulnerable to both subconscious social manipulation and overt political control. In opposing Amazon, we are directly challenging the idea that our lives are reducible to sum of data attached to a user ID, and instead, stake our future on the possibility of freedom, cooperation, and independence.
FIFTY THOUSAND JOBS… FOR ROBOTS
One of the biggest incentives HQ2 offers to its prospective cities is its promise to create 50,000 new jobs. This couldn’t be more false. We already know that the high-paying tech positions will not be filled by local residents, but by highly-qualified professionals imported from across the country and around the world. As for the few less-skilled positions, many of those who are currently ‘employed’ by Amazon do not work directly for the company itself, but are hired by third party agencies for temporary contracted labor. This way, Amazon shirks responsibility for providing benefits and worker’s compensation, and workers can be terminated without reason. Temporary work agencies also help Amazon quickly hire new workers to replace those who have been fired, injured, or who have quit, as most employees don’t last more than a few months. This practice of “hire and fire” means that Amazon doesn’t have to worry about giving their workers advancements or raises, and the rapid turnover rate makes it difficult for those who last with the company to organize for better working conditions.
Inside Amazon’s warehouses, workers are treated like prisoners on parole. They are strapped with tracking devices that monitor their productivity in calculated units. These devices link performance measuring algorithms to an automated disciplinary system, where workers are docked “points” for not working hard enough, getting sick, or spending too much time in the bathroom. Amazon has more data regarding its workers than any employer in history, and they use this data to constantly optimize the process of production, quickly terminating and replacing those not operating at maximum efficiency. Maybe this is why Jeff Bezos was recently voted Worst Boss in the World.
Of course, Amazon is in the process of automating it’s warehouses, and in Bezos’ perfect world, he would only employ robots. Just as Taylorism and Fordism were the defining principles that changed the nature of work in the 20th century, Amazon is a global leader of restructuring the future of work for the emerging information economy: an economy without us.
AMONG THE PERKS OF BEING AN AMAZON BLUE-COLLAR WORKER: HOMELESSNESS
Amazon, like all major corporations, depends on a stratified division of labor. The typical salary of a white-collar Amazon worker is $100,000 per year – a blue collar worker, $24,000. The model office environment of the new digital economy demands the blurring of the lines between “work” and “home,” and downtown developers will charge a premium for apartments and condominiums a street-car’s ride away from the new headquarters. Companies that rent or sell residential properties will charge more to these well-paid tech workers, who make nearly double Atlanta’s median income and can afford to pay extra to live in-town. While gentrification in Atlanta is already an issue, HQ2 would permanently cement this disastrous transformation.
Those who will work the blue collar jobs at Amazon – the custodians, warehouse stockers, delivery drivers, and service workers catering to the new gentry – will be forced to commute long hours from outside the perimeter to work low wage jobs in the neighborhoods that they used to call home. Those who manage to eek out an existence in-town will inevitably jump from apartment to apartment, year by year, as they are priced out of each successive neighborhood. With every $100 increase in median rent resulting in a 15% increase in homelessness, many who remain in the city will be forced to live on the streets. For an idea of what this process might look like, we can follow the road map of the California Bay Area’s transition from a diverse, working class cultural Mecca to an increasingly sterile and expensive tech hub, where the city of Oakland has seen a 25% decline in its African-American population over the last ten years, and surveillance robots monitor homeless encampments on the outskirts of San Francisco.
Amazon hopes to lead the way in redesigning city infrastructure to suit their unique corporate vision. Those who control the architecture and layout of city geographies decide how our lives are organized, structuring our social and economic possibilities. In Seattle, Amazon lobbied for privatized transportation plans that benefited their employees, rather than for the public transportation we all deserve. Their attempts at lobbying for the legal clearance to use drones as delivery robots set a worrying precedent for the expanded use of drones for all sorts of anti-social purposes – those of us who paid attention to the array of technologies used to suppress Native Americans in Standing Rock have not forgotten that drones were first and foremost designed as military weapons.
As the legitimacy of electoral politics continues to dissolve, and as the hyper-connectivity of the Internet renders existing institutions increasingly irrelevant, mega-corporations like Amazon will step in to fill the void left by traditional governmental structures. As political and social divisions within the so-called ‘United’ States of America multiply, companies like Amazon are seizing the opportunity to network fragmented populations together into new demographics and political constituencies, enclosing us into neatly organized and manageable social bubbles. Amazon and the other technology giants are not just new business models for the digital age: they represent an entirely new paradigm of governance and control. Just as industrial factory owners and mercantile trading companies formed the parliaments that replaced the old kingdoms, so too will the advanced algorithms created by today’s technology conglomerates outmaneuver traditional representative governments. As their ever-increasing number of legal battles reveal, Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Apple are already in many ways more powerful than D.C. and Congress. And the courts, too slow to keep up with the advancement of technology, and will soon be rendered subordinate as well. Amazon doesn’t need a government, since it provides an array of services whose task is to govern. Compared to advanced AI and data analysis, democratic government doesn’t stand a chance.