The Guardian: At last, the regime that enabled Amazon’s monopoly power is crumbling

February 4, 2021 Anti-Monopoly Policies & EnforcementTech

This week, Amazon announced that Jeff Bezos will no longer be chief executive of the corporation but will instead take the position of “executive chairman”. Andy Jassy, who runs the highly profitable Amazon Web Services cloud computing division, will take the title.

It’s not clear what this announcement means, whether Bezos wants to genuinely give up power or whether he wants to continue making decisions while having someone else testify before Congress or in potential antitrust proceedings. But in truth, it doesn’t matter, because why Amazon exists in its current form, for good or ill, is a function not of one talented man, but of a legal regime that enables and encourages monopoly power. And that regime is falling apart.

The scale of Amazon’s empire is breathtaking. This week, the corporation announced that third-party businesses in the US sold 1bn products through Amazon’s marketplace. It is no longer just an online retailer, but is effectively an economy in itself, adding on to its cloud computing, retail and logistics arms everything from podcasting to low-orbit, satellite-delivered broadband to home security to microchip development to prescription drug distribution to trucking to military contracting. The corporation also mirrors the inequality in the American economy, with the world’s richest man presiding over more than a million workers, many of whom make minimum wage.

The corporation grew in the 1990s and 2000s when new digital technologies were rewiring the American economy, so a lot of people associate Amazon with technology and innovation. But this is not correct; Amazon happened to capture control over a whole set of emerging technologies it did not create, at a time when anti-monopoly laws had been weakened to allow such control. Fundamentally, Amazon is a political institution designed to consolidate wealth and power.