The above quote is just one of the great one-liners from Joel Kotkin's June 19 piece for Daily Beast headlined Amazon Eats Up Whole Foods as the New Masters of the Universe Plunder America: "Unlike our old moguls, the new Masters don’t promise greater prosperity but a world where most people are to be satiated by a state-provided basic income and occasional ‘gig’ work."
Posted in red letters above the headline is the ominous question: "Democracy or Oligarchy?"
You really should read the entire thing but to convey the mood emanating from Kotkin's keyboard:
“We must make our choice. We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” —Justice Louis Brandeis
With his $13.7 billion acquisition of Whole Foods, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos has made clear his determination to dominate every facet of mass retailing, likely at the cost of massive layoffs in the $800 billion supermarket sector.
But this, if anything, understates the ambitions of America’s new ruling class, almost entirely based in San Francisco and Seattle, as it moves to take over industries from entertainment and transportation to energy and space exploration that once thrived and competed outside the reach of the oligarchy.
Brandeis posed his choice at a time when industrial moguls and allied Wall Street financiers dominated the American economy. Like the oligarchs of the past, today’s new Masters of the Universe are reshaping our society in ways that could, if unchallenged, undermine the foundations of our middle-class republic.
This new oligarchy has amassed wealth that would impress the likes of J.P. Morgan. Bezos’ net worth is a remarkable $84.7 billion; the Whole Foods acquisition makes him the world’s second richest man, up from the third richest last year. His $600 million gain in Amazon stock from the purchase is more than the combined winnings of Whole Foods’ 10 top shareholders.
The Emergence of Oligarchic America
Founded two decades ago, Amazon revenue has grown eightfold in the last decade. Bezos now wants to “reorganize the world,” as one tech writer put it, “as an Amazon storefront.” He has done this by convincing investors that despite scant profits, the ample rewards of monopoly await. Kroger, or the corner-food store, enjoys no such luxury. With a seemingly endless supply of capital and the prospect of never-ending expansion, the Silicon Valley-Puget Sound oligarchy now accounts for six of the world’s 13 richest people, and virtually all billionaires who are not either very old or merely inheritors.
As far as I can see the new oligarchs aren't doing much more than transferring real-world routines and brick and mortar enterprises to the internet. They're more Masters of Marketing than Masters of the Universe. As such they can't be called robber barons because they're not thieving, they're selling. If the public keeps buying their sales pitches, whose fault is that?
The situation reminds me of complaints that China has taken over America's manufacturing sector -- as the complainers wheel their shopping carts around Wal-Mart.
Or the ones who wring their hands about cyber theft of military secrets while they post top-secret stuff to the internet.
For crying out loud if you're worried about Amazon taking over the world, why not just stop buying so much stuff from the store? But no no that's a common-sense approach, banned in the United States of America by people who can't think outside the viewpoint of politics.
So it doesn't take a crystal ball to gauge where Joel Kotkin's observations will be taken.
There's plenty more in his rant/report. Kotkin, according to his bio at Daily Beast, is "a Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University in Orange, CA and executive director of the Houston based Center for Opportunity Urbanism."