Author Describes Amazon’s Boom – and the Downsides of What It Does to Communities

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Enormous selection, good prices, quick delivery, the safety and comfort of shopping from home – what’s not to like about Amazon?

Mike Gousha put that question to Alec MacGillis, in an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program posted on the Marquette Law School’s web site on April 21, 2021.

“There’s a lot not to like,” MacGillis answered. He spells out what he means – as well as the reasons so many people love Amazon – in a broad and deep look at the company and its impact in his new book, “Fulfillment: Winning and Losing in One-Click America.” And he described much of what he found in researching the book in his conversation with Gousha, Marquette Law School’s distinguished fellow in law and public policy.

MacGillis, now a senior reporter for ProPublica, said in years of political reporting across the United States for several news organizations, he grew increasingly concerned about the way the country was being divided into places that were thriving, mostly on the east and west coasts, and places that were being left behind throughout much of the rest of the country. He said that in many ways, the two economic and social cultures didn’t understand each other and were growing more distant from each other.

That led him to undertake the new book. He described to Gousha how work at Amazon is isolating and physically demanding, even as the minimum wage at the company is $15 an hour. The jobs often are replacing manufacturing jobs or retail jobs that have been lost since the recession period in the late 2000s, and the vitality of many places around the US has waned. “There’s a cost to the social fabric” in  many communities, MacGillis said.

“The more that we make that move to the one-click life, the more those other options fall away,” MacGillis said, describing how commercial and cultural life is being changed. There is a curse that comes with the bigness and convenience of Amazon, he said.

MacGillis contrasted places such as the wealthy Washington, D.C., area, where small rowhouses are valued at high prices, with Baltimore, several dozen miles away, where poverty is so high and many rowhouses are being torn down. He talked about places such as Seattle, where “gentrification” doesn’t suffice to describe the changes connected to Amazon, and Nelsonville, a small town in southeastern Ohio that has lost much of what were once its strengths.

Amazon has boomed during the pandemic period, adding about 400,000 jobs in the US, bringing its total work force to about a million. It is second only to Walmart among private employers in the US.

MacGillis said that only the federal government is a threat to Amazon’s growth now. That is a big reason why the company is locating its second headquarters in the Washington area, he said, so it can aim for  warm relations with people who might be involved in deciding whether to rein in Amazon.

He said calls to take action to deal with Amazon’s power have more appeal in Congress than many realize, but such calls are creating divisions between Democratic reformers who regard the company as a monopoly and many lower income or working class Democratic voters who use Amazon a lot and like it.

MacGillis said he had hoped that the COVID-19 period would bring trends that would help correct some of forces dividing America between haves and have-nots. But, he said, he does not see that happening. Unless huge companies such as Amazon disperse the locations where they have huge positive economic impacts, “I don’t see any reason why the concentration (of wealth) won’t keep getting worse. . . . You’re going to end up with this bifurcation, these disparities growing and growing.”

Video of the program may be viewed by clicking here.

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