The New Oligarchs

From a MarketWatch piece on Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods, and what subsequent moves like this portend for the future:

Could Amazon actually kill more American jobs than China did? It’s quite likely. Economists David Autor, David Dorn and Gordon Hanson have estimated China’s manufacturing exports to the U.S. may have cost as many as 2 million jobs.

If Amazon can capture 40% of the GAFO market within five years (as seems likely), about 1.5 million jobs at brick-and-mortar stores could be lost. Add in the jobs Amazon will kill at grocery stores, drugstores, warehouses and delivery services, and the total would be well over 2 million.

And unlike the manufacturing jobs lost to China, which were clustered in a comparatively few counties, those retail jobs are located in every city, town and hamlet in America.

The always-good Joel Kotkin writes:

As one recent paper demonstrates, the “super platforms” of the so-called Big Five depress competition, squeeze suppliers, and drive down earnings, much as the monopolists of the late 19th century did.

Indeed for most Americans the once-promising new economy has meant a descent, as one MIT economist recently put it, toward a precarious position usually associated with Third World countries. Even Silicon Valley, the epicenter of the oligarch universe, has gone from one of the most egalitarian places in America to a highly unequal one where the working and middle class have, if anything, done worse, in terms of income, than before the boom.

On the related matter of ‘fake news’ as orchestrated by the Big Five:

Facebook is already the largest source of news for Americans, particularly the young. They, along with Google, seem capable of shaping information flows to suit their particular world view, one increasingly hostile to any dissenting opinions from the right. (One key to understanding post-election concerns about “fake news” is to realize that a staggering 99 percent of growth in digital advertising in 2016 went to Google and Facebook.) At the same time, those two, along with Apple and Amazon, increasingly shape the national culture, essentially turning Hollywood into glitzy contract laborers.

But no one practices the politics of oligarchy better than Bezos. Under his ownership The Washington Post has been transformed into the Pravda of the gentry left. Last year, for example, they worked overtime to undermine Bernie Sanders’ campaign, whose victory might have led to stronger antitrust enforcement and the confiscation of some of their unprecedented wealth. Once Sanders was dispatched, Bezos, fearing the rise of uncontrollable Trumpian populism, sank his editorial resources into supporting the big money favorite, Hillary Clinton.

The Big Five’s political endgame?

The founders of the big tech firms may embrace progressive ideas on the environment, free trade, and immigration, but have little use for unions or raising capital gains rates.

Overall, notes Ferenstein, they eschew nationalism, favoring global governance, want more immigration and embrace the notion of a government nanny state to tell the masses how to live. They also prefer highly unequal conditions of urban density over the more traditionally egalitarian suburbs. Largely childless San Francisco, impossibly expensive and deeply divided by class, is the preferred model of the future.

The primary obstacle to their vision?… People.

People, little or otherwise, now constitute the Masters’ biggest problem. Unlike the old moguls like Andrew Carnegie or Henry Ford, the new Masters do not promise greater prosperity, or even decent jobs for the middle or working class. Their vision, increasingly, seems to be a world where most people’s labor is largely superfluous, and will need to be satiated with regular basic income from the state, a position now widely embraced by such luminaries as Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk, supplemented by occasional “gig” work.

They imagine a future where few will ever own homes or control any real assets. Rather than being parts of a geography or even a country, the increasingly socially isolated masses can be part of Zuckerberg’s “global community” while ordering food from Amazon, delivered by a drone from an automated warehouse, employing social media and virtual reality to fill their long periods of idleness.

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