A few facts about Jeff Bezos, billionaire CEO of Amazon.com, the enormously profitable online department store that’s beating up on bricks-and-mortar retail outlets: 1) The price Bezos paid this week for the Washington Post was $250 million, about one percent of his net worth. 2) Bezos has sunk $42 million — about one-sixth of what he paid for the Post — into construction of a giant clock that reportedly will keep on ticking for 10,000 years.
The first fact is depressing, the second absurd. It’s a reminder that plutocrats (so glad that word is back in common usage) are prone to spending great sums simply because they can. It hardly matters whether the money is spent on a once-prestigious newspaper, a great artwork, or a clock that will last as long as a pharoah’s tomb. The more money spent, the brighter the purchased object glitters. To an obscenely wealthy egotist like Bezos, its glitter reflects the greatness of the purchaser. Greatness can be measured only in terms of purchasing power.
I first heard about the $42 million clock on Marketplace, a business news show on public radio that never fails to present free-market capitalism as gossipy and glamorous and exempt from criticism. You’ll hear cute little items about the antics of guys like Bezos but nary a word about the warehouses where badly underpaid workers had to endure brutal heat before Amazon was shamed into installing air-conditioning. Nothing cute about slave labor.
Footnote: Thanks to Alec MacGillis of New Republic for pointing out that President Obama, the plutocrats’ pal, thinks its great news that Amazon is creating more warehouse jobs that don’t pay a living wage.