Is it a stretch to call Amazon “anti-family”? Not at all. Even if one chose to ignore Amazon’s notorious lobbying efforts in the states opposing pro-family policies, it’s easy to argue that Amazon’s business itself poses a threat to the family. Despite the material benefits to consumers the Big Tech giant would appear to provide, there is something to be said for the cost of expediency. Consider what happens when we outsource all of our basic needs to a distant, corporate behemoth and what American families stand to lose from Amazon’s digital monopoly on everyday life.
Retail is the primary place that everyday Americans enter the stream of commerce. In the past, that happened at a physical store. Now, it happens online and on mobile devices. But brick-and-mortar matters. It’s part of the built environment of cities. The conversation between customer and owner, the familiarity of faces across the counter, the chance meetings with a neighbor — these are elements of civil society. These interactions make up a significant part of the warp and weave of communities, and we should care about their survival.
Amazon and other monopolies present an enormous threat to this way of life. More than that, Amazon and other big tech monopolies are an existential threat to every small business in America, whether they do business online or in a brick-and-mortar store. Its business practices are something not even the best-managed retail operation can compete against. Amazon has a documented practice of copying third-party sellers’ products, producing a competitor product at a lower cost, and then demoting the original product in search results below its own. Sometimes, Amazon will even buy out the company that it has destroyed through discriminatory business practices to obtain its trademarks and reputation. The Antitrust Subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee did a sixteen-month investigation of these behaviors, some of which are criminal, and in the process uncovered countless abuses just like this. The firm has left behind it a trail of wrecked businesses and financial ruin.
We should also not underestimate what price this goliath exerts on the entrepreneurial spirit of our country. The founders of advanced technology firms and high-productivity manufacturing concerns are often those with high degrees of social capital. Retail is a sector that allows access to the market for anyone with enough grit and work ethic. Many small retail businesses represent a ticket into the middle class for immigrant families, or social mobility for native-born Americans. If the only profitable retail businesses in America are those that operate at a titanic scale, then that ladder into ownership won’t be available for future generations.
And so, we arrive at Amazon’s effect on the American family if its practices are allowed to continue. That family is stripped of the beauty and community of its mainstreets, and the happiness that comes from familiar places and rituals. A well-designed user interface has never made anyone feel belonging. That family also loses a roadway to prosperity that is as old as human civilization. Its life is poorer and more miserable, no matter how high Amazon’s stock climbs.