Jeff Bezos and the United States of Amazon
<music> today a closer look at billionaire Jeff Bezos and his Amazon Empire and what is the feature for T._v.. News I'm very famously by the time that he was working on Wall Street. He was lonely. He didn't have a girlfriend and he started to try to apply the same kind mindset that he would apply as dealmaker he started to try to apply that to dating. You have an investment banker who thinks about deal flow you know the number of opportunities that come up keeping that flow going going and then making the right choices he similarly came up with a model that he called woman flow he had certain standards that each woman needed to meet as far as intelligence and resourcefulness and different characteristics that he was looking being for and he let it be known among his circle. You know that he was looking to increase his women flow ironically that or not ironically because I think that most people would agree that making a personal relationship is a little bit different than a financial ordeal that is not how he actually met his longtime wife in fact Jeff Bezos met his now ex wife when he was working on Wall Street in one thousand nine hundred four before they moved to Seattle to set up Amazon a business that would eventually make bays the richest man on earth buying from Amazon is fast convenient cheap and becoming practically unavoidable but Amazon's reached doesn't stop online shopping from the Guardian and I'm indirection today in focus. Should we be worried about Jeff. bezos says Amazon Empire so he kind of here he liked he liked to system. We like to see the world in kind of solvable equations. He has a mind that really looks. I think to the structure and you know kind of the infrastructure of how things work Julia Carrie Wong has been following the rise of Amazon as technology not reporter for the Guardian U._S. so even when he talks about his decision to leave behind very high powered job he doesn't talk about you know that he had a dream he doesn't talk about you know taking a risk he thought about it as a regret minimization mutation framework as if he himself were business that he was managing <hes>. I want to have lived my life in such a way that when I'm eighty years old I've minimized the number of Congrat- that I have I ice in the absence sold online with books why that was was absent here interest to him. I don't think that he had any particular interest in books. What he has said is that he drew up a list of twenty types of goods that he could get started in because books are incredibly unusual in one respect and that is there are more items in the book category and there are items than any other category by far but his ambition was always that he would sell everything everything that could be sold would be sold on Amazon and many of these things that he imagined have have come true so he ended up going to Seattle because the major distributors of books? I had their warehouses in Seattle so despite Amazon being you know this digital company. That's you know of the future the Internet it was also very much from the beginning he had his eye to the nuts and bolts of what you need to do to physically move goods around the country and understanding that it needed a lot more than just a nice looking website and why the beginning when started it was the kind of sort of legendary tech startup beginning getting that we all picture wasn't it exactly so the business was set up and they ran it out of the garage famously. They used a door for a table to hold their computers on and he realized that it was actually cheaper to buy a door and two by four pieces of wood and hammer them on and create a table. It's a symbol of spending money on things that matter to customers and not spending money on the things that don't it's kind of emblematic of his very kind of frugal approach to what the business should be you know to spend all of their money are things that are going to affect the customers and if it comes to to your own employees personal comfort those are the places where he's tended to cut corners and be much less willing to to splash out Amazon's philosophy has always been deeply deeply focused on the customer experience <hes> it's described as being kind of Amazon's North Star that everything focuses on the customer. It's not scary <hes> and is very very fast Amazon.com discount so many books that even it was a shipping you end up saving money. It's fun is vast piqued my interest he's always had a very long range vision as a business leader thinking about things when he thought about his own decisions he was thinking on an eighty year timeframe them as opposed to on US three year timeframe the five year timeframe you know the the way that most people starting out in their career might think for the customer Amazon only exists on the computer screen but Bazo does have an office so we wangled angled an invitation and in one thousand nine hundred nine this amazing today with him for sixty minutes and it was kind of I look inside the Amazon offices. He's kind of saying that Russell faced with Amazon Dot Com spray painted on a big sign sticky ball three checking light sticky bowls at the wall and giggling over time yes. He has a very famous and very kind of particular laugh at this point in five years old. What did the world make of Jeff Bezos at this point? Many people saw him as just another dreamer. I mean the number of people that thought that Amazon was was just riding for a fall. You know just kept growing. People just thought that this was crazy that you would never make money selling books on the Internet I was in becomes more than books they start selling CDs and it doesn't stop that. What areas does the company start to expand anti it might be easier to talk about the areas that Amazon hasn't expanded into because this is a company that has its fingers in almost every aspect? Aspect of the economy days to twenty three days CDs electronic goods clothing homegoods almost anything the thing that you can put in a box and ship thanks to Amazon Dot Com. I started making their own T._v.. Shows making their own movies as a studio Amazon web services has become a massive part of their company. They run the cloud for huge sections of the Internet. They have very strong artificial intelligence services they sell facial recognition products that can be purchased by local police forces. It's it's hard to think of a product area. That Amazon hasn't moved into Alexa. What do you do? I can play music answer questions. Get the news on whether create to do lists and much more awesome they were Amazon's web services to go down. You would find huge numbers of the websites that you might go to on a daily basis simply cease to work even net flicks which is a a strong rival of Amazon when it comes to web streaming entertainment uses Amazon web services to host their content it is under girding a huge amount of the infrastructure of our economy and and increasingly of the U._S.. Government has recently been protests over Amazon's relationship with U._S.. Immigrations Immigrations Customs Enforcement or ice and the Department of Homeland Security because Amazon hosts that databases and some of those allow agencies to track into poor immigrants there also talks at the moment to host biometric trick data for homeland security that sensitive personal data including Aikawa and skin markings so their relationships really do go beyond commercial and into the heart of government they manage the of cloud services for the C._I._A.. Which is some of the obviously some of the most sensitive and important to protect data in the world? They are competing to become the cloud service provider for the entire U._S.. Department of Defense this all of Thomason the cloud computing sevices. How worried should we be about the control by have if they're controlling one third of the world's cloud computing <hes> that is is actually less than what they're controlling of the United States e commerce which is almost fifty percent in both of those cases it is concerning because that is a massive massive concentration of power that doesn't really have a counterweight in the United States? There are signs that our government is starting to look into an investigate whether or not there is an antitrust case to be made against Amazon as far as some of its monopoly power so this was the announcement last week that the U._S. government would investigate complaints that tech giants including Amazon facebook Google Apple with squashing out the competition focus of this inquiry will be on the size and might of the firms how they've expanded the reach into additional businesses and how they've leveraged the power of having large networks of users on it's GonNa look at that hold on things appetizing online sales and cloud competing but so far we haven't really seen <hes> regulators and public officials really putting forward a framework to start to reduce this amount of power our they have one of the ways Amazon has been able to grow and to expand into so many different areas is through bases business strategy of buying the competition and back in two thousand nine. There was the acquisition of the online shoe companies apples awesome what happened there so ZAPPA's was another up and coming ECOMMERCE company when they focused on selling shoes wanna put a smile then experienced your shopping is apo sway Zappa's would but you order two pairs in different sizes and then send back the one that didn't fit which took a lot of the uncertainty out of buying a pair of shoes online for people that grew up going to a shoe store and trying them on. I we're not happy with our shoes until you are Amazon was struggling to get its own strew selling organisation off the ground. It's been said that they then started to really go after cutting prices and because Amazon had this great amount of investor backing from Wall Street it was able to really really challenge ZAPPA's at that level until the Zappa C._E._o.. It seems basically said all right and he sold zepos to Amazon. Amazon spent a lot of money acquiring brings apples it costs them nine hundred million dollars in stocks and the have also over the years bought up other companies like audible in two thousand nine they bought the video game streaming site twitch in two thousand fourteen whole foods in twenty seventeen many anymore and these acquisitions have always been driven by the need for instant prophet and that has been one of the things that Amazon has been consistently willing to do and that Amazon's investors have given it the the runway to go for with the understanding that if we become monopolists if we can really own this entire market we will not be taking losses forever you know in the past four or five years as the rest of the competition mission in many cases has fallen away or been acquired or being pushed out of business. We have seen that Amazon's prophets have been shooting up. Let's talk about some some of the stories that come out with the Amazon warehouses the stories of the conditions the people who work for Amazon because that's a bit of a controversy inside the business isn't it there has been great amounts of reporting of how these workers are treated as if they are the precursors to automation while Amazon is still working on perfecting the robots that will eventually replace them. They are constantly timed for every task that they do when it comes to pulling things off the shelves putting them into the box and getting those boxes ready to go. They are constantly monitored and tracked at every step you had Tom. You got the bathroom if he wasn't al the bathroom within that time period. Then they were looking for you one of the most disturbing aspects of the New York Times investigation into Amazon's corporate workplace practices in Twenty fifteen was the number of people who said you know I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I suffered a miscarriage carriage. My Dad got cancer and very very quickly felt that they were pushed out. When Jeff bezos responded to the New York Times allegations he said quite the optical doesn't describe the Amazon I know how does he respond? Criticisms of the treatment of his workforce in the past year or so Amazon has become more aggressive about pushing back against criticism especially from elected leaders or we're seeing this incredibly large company getting involved in almost every area of commerce. When Senator Sanders started to to forcefully criticize Amazon <hes> Basil's did respond and they did agreed to increase the minimum wage for directly employed warehouse workers to fifteen dollars an hour as of November twenty eighteen but for the most part for for many years of Amazon's they basically just almost ignored the criticism because they knew that it wasn't changing customers decisions even for many kind of progressive liberal minded customers who might philosophically know that there is exploitation going on behind the scenes of receiving the toaster oven that you want in forty eight hours after you order it people are still ordering it was in his Osa? I faced criticism for the amount of tax pays in two thousand eighteen. They made eleven point two billion dollars in prophets in the U._S. but they didn't pay any federal income tax for that year they maintain that they pay all the taxes are required. Pay The U._S. and every country where they operate what's going on. Amazon is like any other American Corporation or probably Global Corporation in that they do everything that they can to pay the the bare minimum that is required them Amazon set itself up in Washington state and for years you know enjoyed this advantage of not having to pay sales tax for Non Washington State <hes> purchases when they decided that they needed it to open a facility on the east coast they chose Delaware which has no state taxes as opposed to any of the other states on the east coast where it might have set up and been subject to higher taxes so they're they've always waste from the beginning looked to minimize their tax bill and so that's part of it is Amazon. Being very intentional part of it is also that you know the U._S.. Government has not taken up the challenge to say actually we we should tax this company. More a large percentage of these workers are actually on forms of federal assistance because they don't make enough money to support themselves in their family and at the same time our laws are not requiring Amazon to pay. It's fair share towards funding those public assistance distance <hes> programs so it goes both ways and there's definitely blamed co around so I'm one hundred this quite terrifying image of Jeff bezos. This guy who sees the world in equations. He's a ruthless businessman he kind of wakes up AIDS competitors for breakfast but then on the other hand you know in twenty thirteen he bought the Washington Post and that feels quite different. Doesn't it most of his other acquisitions what happened there. Why did he by the paper Jeff bezos purchase of the Washington Post is a strange outlier when you look at the rest of his career? This is the richest man in the world and he has shown up until a few years ago almost no no interest in philanthropy. There is a giving pledge among these incredibly wealthy billionaires that <hes> Many others including Bill Gates Warren Buffett Mark Zuckerberg have all signed onto that they will give away at least half of their fortunes by the time. Did they die but <hes> Jeff Bezos has not so when he decided to purchase the Washington Post I. I don't think anybody really understood what was going on he he he was able to buy it for two hundred fifty million dollars which to somebody like Jeff. bezos is probably the equivalent I was kind of doing the math myself and I think it might be the equivalent of me as a guardian reporter buying a new sweater so it was no money off his back a big lump yeah maybe splashing out and having a nice cocktail but by most accounts he has been a really great steward for this legendary newspaper that like all newspapers has had been very much struggling under the new economies of the news business. You know I've always believed and I think a lot on us a rare. It's not a rare belief. I think a lot of us believe this that democracy dies in darkness that certain institutions <hes> have a very important role in making sure that there is light and I think Washington Post has a seat an important seat to do that. It's an interesting and frankly very voluble thing that he's done and it's also interesting thing because I do think that it has placed target on his back towards Donald Trump to do him credit does not seem that Basil's has done anything to put any pressure on that paper to back off in reporting on the trump administration `lustration or generally reporting on on Amazon itself. We should say that he used his own money to buy the Washington pastes not part of Amazon and he also used his own money to pursue his own big space ambitions with his company company blue origin with a view toot saving humanity when our descendants looked to the stars perhaps more rocky moon or calling his floating and Open Space Bill. Remember this time you might have a picture picture of his rocket if you haven't you should but at the same time Amazon shareholders recently rejected proposal from about eight thousand of their employees to create a climate strategy. Why do you think that that's aw priority forbe's capitalism requires constant growth right and the point where we are with the earth with climate crisis with global heating is a point where we're realizing that there is a limitation on growth for many of us? This has inspired a look inward to say what do we need to do to change the economy to make the sustainable and for some small number of billionaires. There has been a looked skyward to say well actually. Chile we can continue to grow we can continue to expand infinitely Jeff. bezos is not alone in this. There's also you know Richard. Branson Elon Musk other billionaires day that actually this experiment of constant growth with little thought ought to sustainability to me. It seems a bit mad because even if we can get some small number of people into space colonies. There is going to be untold suffering on Earth if we don't address the problems here here but again Jeff Bezos is somebody that takes a very long view knowing what we know about Jeff Bezos now. What do you think his vision is for the future of Amazon? My personal theory of Amazon is that they are in many ways looking to replace the state and be kind of the primary institution that people interact with on a day-to-day basis fifty percent of U._S.. Households already are members of Amazon prime which means that on a monthly basis half of American households are paying a kind of tax to Amazon twenty dollars a month in order to receive the benefits of being kind of citizens of Amazon nation and it's really kind of division of the world where people are not so much citizens as they are consumers and customers and Amazon will serve more and more of their needs. They're moving into healthcare. They're moving into insurance. You know we're kind of at a point where you can start art to see that that we might be the United States of Amazon as much as we are the United States of America Juliet. Thank you so much. Thank you as great talking with you. <music> we contacted Amazon about this episode with regards to work conditions. I'm and said it simply not true to say the Amazon fulfillment centers are in safe. They say that employees can and take short breaks at any time to use the restroom to drink or snack and that there are multiple bathrooms and break rooms on every floor they added Amazon announced. It's fifteen dollar minimum wage increase because we wanted to lead on this issue on the topic of tax. They stated that we've paid two point six billion dollars in corporate taxes since twenty sixteen we pay every penny we owe in response to recent protests over the hosting of Homeland Security data. They told us we believe strongly companies and government organizations need to use existing a new technology responsibly and lawfully we remain eager for the government to provide this additional clarity and legislation they also commented on Jeff Bezos as a desk saying today the door desk is more symbol of our humble roots and a reminder of our frugality leadership principle which reminds us that constraints breed resourcefulness self sufficiency and invention pension coming up why younger audiences have turned their backs on T._v.. Knees now young audiences are sitting down in front of the television to watch the news less and less Jim Morrison is the gardens media editor and has been looking what this might mean fifty generations nations a lot of people in the U._k.. Still Watch T._V.. News seventy five percents of the population still get some of their news from television but that figure is falling and among young people oh they've almost entirely deserted the format which raises all sorts of interesting questions because the average person aged sixty five plus in Britain is watching about thirty three minutes of T._v.. News Day Young People Those Age Sixteen Sixteen to twenty four a watching between two and three minutes a day. There's a complete disconnect between these two audiences and how they can seeming the news young people on what Shing T._V.. T._V. News because they're not watching TV. They're abandoning the format for all but love island and a few sporting events young people who aren't watching T._v.. Bulletins you want shooting into the B._B._C.. One ten o'clock bulletin of instead increasingly getting it from from all manner of places. The main thing is actually in some ways. We don't know we think getting it more from what's up instagram. Even snapchat is backed out by some of the stats but the main thing is it's more indeterminate access. That's the Internet with stories just flying around in isolation one sent by a friend one from the Guardian out one from the thing that they just sort influence opposed on instagram it results in a very strange media environment for the news because we just don't know all of the time <music> I'm what people are consuming this massive disconnect between that group of the population and older viewers who is still stuck in that habits and show no sign of changing when we talk about the media in this country we often do in an odd way where when we talk about it as if there's a transition for some audiences to online that sort of thing we were talking about ten years ago. This is now happened for launch. Chunk of the population. The Internet is their news source and that is a thing that politicians have to be aware of in particular previously the target of someone who was working number ten communications was to get on the news at ten and get their stories the top item and get it presented how they wanted now they have to try and reach the same size audience through disparate number fool Matt's reaching out to young people through all manner of ways and that's a lot harder 'cause a lot more thought and inevitably that's going to change how politics works the sort of policies are chosen and the messaging around them and at the moment stuck in the very difficult position and trying to balance the traditional audience who is still tuning into a bulletin and trying to reach a younger audience who just on this is going to change society politics wchs is reflected through a media and shapes the issues the policies the get highlighted this no way back from this. It's happening. It's one of those generational shifts that happens such as when the first radio stations came along then the first T._v. stations the Internet is bigger than all of those terms of it's transformational effect and we still don't really know where we're going to end up. This is still early days. That's all for today my thanks to do more to send and Julia Keri. One dookie has posted on what you think of today infocus. We'd love to know. Leave us a review wherever you are listening. Today's program was produced by Elizabeth Cussin' Coney Yousef. I'm Razi. jillette sound design is.