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What The Rise Of Amazon Has To Do With The Rise Of Trump

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Danielle Kurtzleben reports at NPR:

Amazon was already an economic behemoth before the start of the coronavirus pandemic. But when many Americans ramped up their shopping from home, the company saw explosive growth. In short, ProPublica journalist Alec MacGillis writes in Fulfillment, its fortunes diverged from the nation’s economic fortunes.

The book looks at the American economy through the lens of Amazon — the forces that made it, the trends it accelerated, and the inequality that he argues has resulted from the growth of Big Tech. The NPR Politics Podcast spoke to him about America’s “winning” and “losing” cities, what Amazon has to do with former President Donald Trump’s election, and how much it matters when consumers decide to boycott huge companies like Amazon.

Fulfillment was the latest selection in the NPR Politics Podcast Book Club. Join in the book conversations at the podcast’s Facebook group. The next discussion, in late June, will be about Elizabeth Hinton’s America on Fire: The Untold History of Police Violence and Black Rebellion Since the 1960s.

The following are excerpts from the full interview with MacGillis, with answers edited for clarity and length. [Audio of the interview here. – LG]

DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN: Your book isn’t exactly what I was expecting. I sort of went into it thinking, “this is going to be a book that’s, ‘Amazon [is] bad — it has bad labor practices and it hurts small business, etc.’ ” And while Amazon doesn’t come off as quite a hero, the book is much more about the American economy and American economic history through an Amazon lens. How would you describe what you were trying to do?

ALEC MACGILLIS: Yes, I actually came to Amazon secondarily within the book. I wanted to write a book for years now about regional disparities in America — the sort of growing regional inequality between a small set of what I call sort of winner-take-all cities, cities like Seattle, San Francisco, New York, Boston, D.C., and a much larger set of cities and towns that have that have really been falling behind.

We’ve always had richer and poorer places, but the gap between them has gotten a lot bigger in recent years, and it’s really unhealthy for the country. I especially wanted to write about it after Trump got elected; it was so clear just what a big role these regional disparities had in Trump’s election.

I chose Amazon as the frame for two different reasons. One is that the company is so ubiquitous now in our life, just so omnipresent, that it’s a handy thread to kind of just take you around the country and show what we’re becoming as a country in kind of a metaphorical kind of way. But it’s also a very handy frame for the story of racial inequality, because the company is itself helping drive these disparities. The regional concentration of wealth in our country is very closely tied to the concentration of our economy in certain companies.

DK: I’m not sure what the timeline was of you working on this book, but when you saw the big HQ2 contest happen — it’s like your book’s thesis on steroids. What was your reaction to Amazon holding essentially a Bachelor competition for where its next headquarters would be?

AM: It was quite serendipitous in a way that they embarked on this process while I was working on the book. I actually chose Washington, D.C. as one of the two “winner” cities that I was going to focus on before it got chosen by Amazon to be the second headquarters. [Amazon chose the D.C. suburb of Arlington, Va., as a new headquarters site in 2018.]

I knew that I wanted to focus on Seattle because it already was the Amazon headquarters. And I wanted to focus on Washington because it was so clear that Washington was another winner-take-all city that had been completely transformed by this kind of hyper-prosperity. And then, lo and behold, they go ahead and pick Washington as their second headquarters.

Another reason I wanted to have Washington as a second winner-take-all city is that I found the contrast between Washington and Baltimore so compelling for me.

The sort of spiritual heart of the book is the contrast between Washington [and] Baltimore, these two cities that are just 40 miles apart. I’ve moved between these cities now for the last 20 years, working and living in both places. And it’s just been so striking to watch the gap growing between them, and to me, just really upsetting and disheartening to watch that happening.

You have one city that’s become just incredibly unaffordable for so many people, where it costs, you know, seven, eight, nine hundred thousand dollars to buy a row house, if not more. All these people, longtime residents, mostly longtime black residents, being displaced by the thousands. And then just up the road in Baltimore, you have such deep population decline that you have rowhouses, that are going for seven or eight hundred thousand dollars down the road, being demolished by the hundreds.

That just is not good for people in either sort of city, and Amazon is really at the core of that. They chose Washington as their headquarters. It’s going to get only richer or more expensive.

DK: There’s so much to get at here in terms of the economic forces at work — the way that city government works, NIMBYism in action, de-unionization, companies getting preferential tax treatment, that sort of thing. How did we get here? Is there an original sin that sort of led to where we are, or is it just that we went from a goods-based to a tech-based economy, and this just sort of inevitably happened? . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

30 May 2021 at 1:32 pm

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