It’s Jeff Bezos's World; We’re Just Living In It
By Amelia Reuben
More than often we hear about the “self made man” who rose from a handful of pennies to a vast fortune because he/she worked hard and that despite unpromising circumstances, the effort one puts in is ultimately more telling than one's schooling, upbringing or class. This notion, is what has brought tens of thousands of immigrants to the US every year, what some politicians base their political views off of and what makes many Americans proud to be American. In the early 1800’s Benjamin Franklin pioneered this notion otherwise known as the American Dream and in 2017 Jeff Bezos destroyed it.
Jeff Bezos fulfilled his own American Dream - he built a multi-billion dollar company, rose up the socioeconomic ranks, and became the richest man in the world despite being born to a mother who was the same age as those in class of 2018. And for that, I commend him; it takes hard work and determination to build a company like Amazon. But what separates his success and that of others who have similarly achieved the American Dream is that his success has undermined the ability of others in the future to do so.
America has always touted itself as “the land of opportunity.” I can think of no phrase more ubiquitous in our culture. This defining part of our American pride is slowly slipping away into the hands of Amazon. There are so many immigrants who come to the US to make a better life for their family or Americans who are born into poor families and have a dream to work their way up the rungs of society. More often than not, these people do not have access to a reasonable education and, consequently, lack the opportunity to earn a college degree. Accordingly, many are left with blue collar jobs. Working their way up the rungs of society is determined not so much by hard work, but by luck. We can't assume that they will find better opportunities; many will continue to work those jobs for years. But, if we continue to move towards e-commerce, will those jobs be around for much longer? And, even if Amazon does create jobs, will it be able to create enough jobs to compensate for those it destroyed?
I'm not saying every single sector of our economy will be affected by this. Plenty of people will have still have their jobs. Amazon can’t help you if you're sick, if you are in a lawsuit with someone, or if your house is burning down. But this doesn’t create a very good threshold nor does it take into account that the people who need these jobs most: blue collar workers. By destroying an essential part of our economy, like retail, we lose a source of opportunity for so many and a hallmark of American ideals.
E-commerce presents a difficult situation for the consumer as well. On the one hand, items are cheaper on Amazon but, on the other, we want to support our local economy and keep stores in business. The issue is that there is not a lot of incentive to boycott Amazon when there is free two-day shipping and cheaper prices for the exact same item. As humans, we are inclined towards the more convenient and cheap option. It's also hard to believe that a personal decision to shop at a store instead of Amazon is going to keep that store in business. But it's this sort of thinking that creates a domino effect. Everyone reassures themselves that their one decision isn't going to make enough of a change to keep stores in business. Therefore, they should continue to support e-commerce because it makes their lives easier and keeps them wealthier. The collective impact of this thinking is what will impact local economies the most.
Amazon does have its advantages; there's no denying that. But we can't continue to separate it from the negative consequences it could create. Retail is one of the most important sectors of our economy. Can you imagine a world without stores? Me either.