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Posted on Jun 22 2017 in Economy Working Group

Anything increasing the power of Amazon reduces the power of people to shape their future

Anything increasing the power of Amazon reduces the power of people to shape their future


by Wayne Roberts

Amazon will ultimately fail.

Humans can not act on food as if food is inanimate. So the biggest and most powerful of capitalists cannot dictate to food as if it were an obedient employee, and cannot entirely have their way with food.

Reducing competition, and eliminating small and upstart competitors, is not a good way to make better food choices available to shoppers.

Agribusiness: Food as business.

Food as Culture: Agriculture


We need to protect food as meeting a fundamental set of human needs, including nourishment and companionship (which comes from the Latin roots of with and bread), built, managed and owned on a human scale that expresses sovereignty of the people.


A deal that is bad for farmers and farming deserves to be seen as a deal that starts off by violating the public interest and human needs. Perhaps worth a pause for reflection before going headlong down a path of disruption?

It is distressing that in this era of global warming and unprecedented species extinction that high techers would show so little awareness of the fact that economies as well as people are embedded in the environment that provides all of us with the essentials of life — by which I mean air and water and food, not doodads, gadgets and books sent to my doorstep.

In a reasonable world, most jobs in the food sector would have an artisanal, professional or entrepreneurial quality. Growing and processing food properly (with a minimum of toxins, and a optimum of nutrient-retention and sustainability) requires extensive brain-hand coordination, which is the hallmark of artisanal occupations. Educating producers and consumers for the level of food literacy required of a knowledge-intensive and knowledge-worthy part of life requires many who owe their training to professional, as distinct from corporate, training. And the hundreds of thousands of local and independent companies needed to bring producers and consumers together in value-enhancing ways opens the floodgates for entrepreneurship.

That, at least, has been my vision.

The point about artisans, professionals and entrepreneurs is that they do not fit well with commercial algorithms that drive automated software applications. Knowledges and interactions required by these groups are too complexly human for that.

Amazon, already a giant employer, is heading in the opposite direction.

Anything that increases the power of Amazon reduces the power of working people to shape their own, or the world’s, future.

The demise of Whole Foods tells us that a purpose-built (ie promote health and wellness as the purpose of the company) food company cannot withstand the demands of shareholders for increased profits, which aren’t to be found in food because food is such a low-margin business. To seek higher margins and profits to satisfy investors Mackey referred to as “greedy bastards,” food must be aligned as the entry point to a series of higher-profit transactions.

Food retail is not a viable or sustainable business; food is only viable as a loss leader to get people in the door. It’s hard to make a more damning indictment of food industry viability in today’s food regime.

Knowledge of the laws governing life on the planet tells us that to increase the healthfulness of food, we need to move to shorten, not lengthen, the food supply chain.

That means a healthy food system will be based on prioritizing food grown at home or in the community (through urban agriculture for example) and food from a territorial (bio-regional) food system sold through farmers markets — both of which keep food, nutrients and jobs (themselves a cornerstone of social determinants of health) in the community.

Rather than living in a virtual world of the head, we need to embed ourselves in the real people-centered society we live in, and draw strength and nurturance from. That means we eat more slowly, more often enjoying meals with friends and family and expressing gratitude and grace for the world all this health and joy are embedded in.

The Amazon lifestyle is not supportive of such a food culture.

The Amazon model is designed to disrupt (bankrupt is a better word) local main street businesses, most of which pay a hefty portion of the property tax in most cities. Since their customers come by foot, public transit or light car, the road damage they cause is minimal. By contrast, Amazon-style companies, which ship truckloads of packages from out-of-town warehouses, pay no local retail business taxes, even though their heavy trucks give local roads a heavy pounding.

This is not just another innovative and disruptive business practice. This is externalizing business costs of a non-resident business onto the city. The Amazons of the world disrupt local businesses that pay for services provided free to the disruptor. Just a little externalized salt to rub into the disruptive wound.

If cities want to have vital and pedestrian-friendly main streets, they will find a way to prevent externalization of retail costs and allow main street businesses to compete on level playing fields.

Love is not a commodity and anything that commercializes it debases it. Religion and spirituality are the same.

Health, education, culture and food are slightly different. They are human services that people provide for money, without defiling the service in the slightest — indeed, often enhancing it. But their purpose is not to make money or profit, but to meet human need and advance the public interest. If moneymaking becomes their purpose, they are degraded.

Widgets are another matter altogether. They fulfill a personal need. They have no mandate to serve the public interest. This is a world where the Amazons might do what they want, as long as they play by basic rules of fairness and social responsibility — no pollution, no child labor, and so on.

But the Amazons disrupt the very meaning of health, education, culture and food services by making them strictly commercial. They do not even make a pretence of being a purpose-built company in the way that Whole Food and other supermarkets did and do.