The Ruthless Tactics Keeping Amazon on Top
And why tech titans are thriving in a pandemic.
Welcome back to Pattern Matching, OneZero’s weekly newsletter that puts the week’s most compelling tech stories in context.
As the world wheezes through a pandemic, its richest are profiting as never before. Since mid-March, America’s billionaires have seen their wealth spike 25%, a gain of $755 billion in a four-month period that has left 150,000 dead and put tens of millions out of work. Tech companies and their founders have gained most of all, led by Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and Larry Ellison. Shares of Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and Netflix have hit record highs. Bezos — the world’s richest man — got $13 billion richer on July 20 alone, thanks to an Amazon stock bump.
This illustrates the degree to which Big Tech’s fortunes have decoupled from those of the rest of society. When times are good, they fend off or buy up rivals and make piles of money. When times are awful, they consolidate their market power and make even more. When you control the software platforms that dominate online communication, productivity, and commerce, you can’t lose.
That control is what’s at issue in a series of antitrust hearings in the U.S. House, the next of which had been scheduled for Monday but has been postponed. When the hearing does take place, Bezos will testify to Congress for the first time, alongside Zuckerberg, Apple’s Tim Cook, and Google’s Sundar Pichai. I’ll have more on what to expect from that landmark hearing once the new date is announced, as well as an interview with Stacy Mitchell, co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and an influential critic of Amazon.
In the meantime, it’s worth a closer look at some of the specific ways that a company like Amazon wields its size in the marketplace. As Mitchell notes, the consumer-focused approach to antitrust policy that has prevailed in the United States since the 1970 and ’80s holds that big does not equal bad, as long as companies harness their scale to keep prices down rather than to jack them up. No doubt Amazon does that. But a series of reports have made clear over the years that Amazon, like Apple, Facebook, and other top tech…