ART BY MEGAN LIEN
About ten years ago—when I was still going around with pigtails and light-up sneakers—my geography teacher taught me about the Amazon Rainforest, a big chunk of biodiversity growing somewhere in a place south of America. It sounded pretty useless to me.
A few years later, I decided the Amazon wasn’t that useless after all, especially when my Christmas present came in the form of an e-reader, courtesy of Amazon.com, the e-commerce giant, not the rainforest. Semantics really—any ‘Amazon’ sounded good to me at that point—because my first Amazon Kindle was a childhood revelation. That said, I promptly took it to school the next day to show it off and broke it.
Now, much older and much wiser , I’m very much familiar with Amazon. They don’t just sell me books anymore; they sell me groceries when I walk into Amazon-owned Whole Foods to pay for overpriced nutrition, they sell me shoes when I scroll through Amazon-owned Zappos, and they sell me everything else through their ever useful flagship website. This, of course, never occured to me until Amazon recently announced its plans to jump into the healthcare business.
So when Amazon’s new initiative—medical clinics—popped up on my radar, I started digging. Turns out, Amazon the company really is as diverse as Amazon the rainforest. In the past few years, 30 percent of the United States’ retail sales growth has come straight from the hands of the corporate giant, with investments in clothing, web production, and everything else you could possibly think of.
This should be scaring the pants off of America. Except, it’s not. Despite Amazon being the perfect example of centralization—a vertical monopoly owning a majority of the supply chain—very few people have raised concerns about the company’s rapidly growing power. I’d like to think most of us are aware of the market power Amazon currently has and that we’re just slow on the uptake or too lazy to sound the alarm. But, as I’ve quickly learned, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Because when it comes to Amazon’s expanding empire, public awareness seems to be frighteningly minimal.
This probably has to do with Amazon’s incredible talent at buying competitors without attracting too much buzz. Under CEO Jeff Bezos, the company has managed to acquire and invest with relative ease, and its numbers have a lot to say for it. In fact, Forbes’ recent release of 2018’s billionaires has Jeff Bezos sitting soundly at the top—in the biggest one year gain in wealth for an individual since the inception of the magazine’s ranking—with 112 billion dollars in his piggy bank. To put that into perspective, Bezos now owns the equivalent of what 2.3 million Americans own. Or, to put that into further perspective, Bezos is now more than twenty billion dollars richer than Bill Gates. That’s right. Bill Gates. The same Bill Gates that has been swimming in money for the past few decades. The same Bill Gates whose name is basically a synonym for money and being rich and owning a 66,000 square foot mansion. Now, Bezos is the king of the hill.
Part of the reason behind Amazon’s meteoric rise is its digitalization; with most of its work online, the current government regulations against physical monopolies have yet to catch up. As should be pretty obvious by now, this is a big problem. If the federal government doesn’t decide to jump into the party soon, if the Securities and Exchange Commission doesn’t take the first step and start scrutinizing Amazon’s acquisitions with more care, the company may soon grow into a rainforest much too big to control. And I’m not saying Amazon will rule the world in classic movie villain fashion, but that’s exactly what I’m saying.
Call me dramatic or a tad too paranoid. And to be fair, I’d like to give Amazon the benefit of the doubt when they say their primary goal with jumping into the healthcare field is to lower medical costs for the general populace. It’s a chivalrous endeavor. But, as most people know, businesses aren’t built off of being chivalrous and billionaires aren’t made off of compassionate charity (unless you’re Bill Gates saving the world, one malaria vaccination shot at a time). So Amazon’s newest little project has me nervous, and rightfully so.
Moving forward, there’s not a lot you or I can do. And in fact, the implications of a free-reigning digital monopoly monster are major and severe; with traditional retailers like Barnes and Nobles or even Walmart losing their market, the Amazon giant is a beast to be tamed. Knowing this, the Federal Trade Commission has its work cut out.
I’m not saying I hate Amazon or Jeff Bezos or shopping at Whole Foods. I really like the convenience of buying things off of Amazon.com, I think Jeff Bezos seems like a nice guy, and Whole Foods, while kind of overrated, is where my mom gets her chia seeds. But, the next time I turn on my TV and try to decide on a movie, I really hope I don’t only find Amazon produced films on Netflix, powered by Amazon Web Services. I mean, biodiversity is great. But, let’s keep it to the rainforest.