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1. Ok, let's talk quickly about Amazon and what I'll call the gangster-ification of American business. In the 1980s, mobsters dominated the gas station business in NY and NJ by not paying taxes their competitors had to. telecomsense.com/2018/01/the-in…
2. Jeff Bezos built Amazon explicitly around a loophole in the tax code created by the Supreme Court in 1992 that allowed him to skip out on paying sales taxes. It's why he located in Seattle. The tactic was legal, but not technologically driven. Or fair.
3. There is a big difference between legitimate commerce, and coercive tactics masquerading as commerce. We have a long tradition of distinguishing between the two, centered around our antitrust laws but extending outward throughout the administrative state and localities.
4. Hundreds of years of this tradition embedded a basic understanding that crime/monopolization and commerce are different. Crime when it becomes dominant in a culture creates aristocracy/authoritarianism. One way to see the American Revolution was a revolt against monopoly.
5. The populist tradition in America, which passed through the revolution to the whiskey rebels and into the 1790s Democratic-Republicans, was oriented to protect free commerce from aristocrats, who used bank charters, tax laws, and monopolies to impose authoritarian conditions.
6. The rise of Amazon directly reflects the intellectual breakdown of the protections we used to ensure that we had free commerce rather than coercive crime masquerading as commerce. This is the genius insight of @linamkhan's paper from 2017. yalelawjournal.org/note/amazons-a…
7. Since the late 1970s, policymakers on the right and left have accepted that power, not liberty, structures commercial arrangements. Predatory pricing, tying, refusals to deal, coercive terms, surveillance, usury, etc - all of these are seen as just business. But they are not.
8. Many of our financial and corporate institutions are now built on a legal environment sanctioning coercion and authoritarianism. This is relatively new, only 40 years old. Not only is this not inherent to American commercial traditions, it is rather alien to it.
9. Anyway, Jeff Bezos is worth $150B not because he has a bunch of gold coins in a swimming pool, but because he owns a massive toll booth. Dealing with inequality means you don’t scoop the gold coins out of the pool and give it to poor people, you blow up the toll booth.
10. A lot of people get that there's something wrong with low wages matched against a guy worth $150B. But inequality isn't about mismatched numbers on a spreadsheet. The mechanism for transferring the wealth is monopolization, which is a variant of organized criminality.
11. The Sherman Act of 1890 isn't just a civil statute. It is a *criminal* statute. Monopolization is a *crime.* There are plenty of experts who will say I'm crazy, ignorant, etc. They want the tax and redistribute model. They want to scoop out a few coins and give it to the poor
12. They have restructured the law by convincing experts that being smart means accepting fancy terms for coercion and then sitting on top of the aristocratic system large-scale criminality produces. The left-leaning ones want to dole out scraps to the poor and call it justice.
13. Redressing inequality, which really just means building liberty in commerce, means stopping the gangster-ification of American business. Jeff Bezos is an incredibly innovative gangster. Martin Shkreli is a gangster. The Sackler family are drug-dealing gangsters. Etc.
14. People who want to stop the subsidization of Amazon or want to crack down on monopolistic hospitals that hide their prices aren't anti-business. We are pro-business. We are anti-gangster and anti-organized crime masquerading as business.
15. We have a word for what happens when organized crime fully takes over a society. It starts with an F. The way to prevent that is to make sure that we have fair commerce, not coercive commerce, to protect our markets and our communities with democratic institutions.
16. Anyway, when you really dig into the details of how Amazon, Google, or Facebook make money, it's a mix of technological deployment combined with tying, imposition of unfair terms, gouging, predatory pricing, and other forms of coercion. Not all bad. But a lot of bad.
17. Different parts of the spectrum get different parts of this dynamic. To over-generalize, the right cares about commerce but doesn't see non-state monopoly power. The left often sees all commerce as coercive, and so wants to regulate and tax crime rather than eliminate it.
18. In the business world, a lot of business people are happy to complain about government regulations, but see complaining about Amazon-imposed (or other forms of monopoly-imposed) regulations as weakness or failure. They are ideologically captured, or scared, or on the take.
19. Last point. Since the crisis of 2008, we've been re-learning our old traditions, that we can do fair commerce free from interference by private banks or monopolists. This was called the New Deal in the 1930s. It's a long process of learning. But we're ten years into it.
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