When the news of Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods broke, some wondered whether Amazon owner Jeff Bezos was flying too close to the anti-trust sun, teetering on the verge of an unfair monopoly.
Tim Wu, a Columbia Law School professor who specializes in such questions, tweeted:
Wu did not immediately respond to inquiries, but further Twitter-digging showed varied theories about the business deal:
The goal of antitrust is protect *consumers*, not competitors. Lower consumer prices are a feature, not a bug.
— Kostya Medvedovsky (@kmedved) June 16, 2017
It’s notable that the news broke alongside The New York Times’ report on Bezos’ lack of philanthropic giving. As ProPublica’s Alec MacGillis highlighted on Twitter, Bezos is the second-wealthiest person on the planet and has given away a mere .1 percent of his wealth.
Bezos, worth $84 billion, 2nd most in world, has given away only $100 million, one tenth of one percent of fortune. https://t.co/pyZd3fudYh
— Alec MacGillis (@AlecMacGillis) June 16, 2017
After the Times questioned Bezos, he turned to Twitter with a “request for ideas.” As the Times noted, Bezos is a hero of sorts for some in journalism since he purchased The Washington Post in 2013. The Post is, of course, a for-profit business, so the purchase hardly makes him a philanthropist. But in an industry where the editorial rank-and-file are being laid off in droves, up against ownerships that devalue deep work who are intent on repeating the same failed strategies in floundering attempts to turn a craft into a viable business, the fact that the Post has been on a hiring spree and Bezos has appeared to value good, hard-won journalism is a bright spot in a bleak landscape.
And, for what it’s worth, he threw $1 million at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press last month, an organization that seems increasingly vital as journalists face decades in prison for covering protests on U.S. soil.
Of course, the flipside of that is Amazon. Amazon has:
- devastated book retailers,
- gutted brick-and-mortar retail and contributed to a staggering loss of jobs on a local level,
- “a record of shredding young businesses… just as they begin to pose a competitive challenge,”
- excluded predominantly black ZIP codes when they rolled out same-day delivery service, and
- consistently maintained well-documented bad labor practices at all levels of the corporation.
In The New Republic in 2014, Franklin Foer accused the company of “cannibalizing the economy,” insisting that it “must be stopped.”
Good deeds by Amazon include providing a space to a homeless shelter in Seattle — which could indicate this Whole Foods deal is a chance for Bezos to use his new properties for good in cities like New York and San Francisco, where homelessness is a chronic, persistent issue and housing costs have become prohibitive for many. And while the company is often criticized for lowering prices to a point that is deadly to their competitors, if Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods makes home delivery of healthful groceries affordable for low-income people — who tend to struggle more both with health issues and access to transportation — that would be a good thing.
For now, it’s unclear what Bezos will do with Whole Foods, though Amazon’s foray into brick-and-mortar bookstores may provide a clue.