We’ve heard for years about the hothouse conditions at Amazon’s warehouses. Now the New York Times reports that the company’s white-collar employees face a brutal work environment – long hours, a system that encourages coworker sabotage and a culture that warns a female employee not to let a miscarriage affect her performance.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has pushed against the report, saying it doesn’t reflect the company’s practices.
Should consumers care what goes on behind the scenes at the company that delivers their diapers? Joel Mathis and Ben Boychuk debate the issue.
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Sometimes, you don’t want to see how the sausage is made.
It’s an old truism that whatever product or service you purchase, you probably don’t want to know how it’s produced. The kitchens are often less clean, or the workplaces more exploitative, than you’d prefer.
Truth is, the Amazon story isn’t that unique. It’s the logical outcome of unrestrained capitalism. The main goal of nearly all capitalistic enterprises, after all, is to maximize profits and minimize costs. Employees are costly. Inefficient employees are especially costly. And what’s more inefficient than an employee who needs time to grieve the loss of a child or sleep overnight?
Capitalism doesn’t want workers. It wants widgets, each easily replaced and nearly cost-free.
It’s true that capitalism is responsible for the greatest increase of wealth the world has ever seen. But capitalism does its best work when there were other institutions to restrain and counterbalance it – a government to outlaw child labor, a union to demand 40-hour workweeks. Companies do not care about work-life balance. It’s up to workers – and the institutions designed to protect them – to claim it.
It’s never fun to see how sausage is made. But afterward, there’s still a question left: “Do I want to keep eating the sausage?” Amazon’s customers now have to decide that for themselves.
Unrestrained capitalism didn’t make Amazon the largest retailer in the world.
Amazon is enormously successful thanks to ambition, self-sacrifice, exploitation, backbreaking work, innovation and creativity – vices and virtues that long predate Adam Smith’s “The Wealth of Nations.”
Say what you will about Jeff Bezos, but he accepted years of losses in order to build the company to what it is today. Founded in 1994, Amazon didn’t turn a profit until 2009.
A company that survives and thrives on tight margins is one that cannot afford to be complacent. Which is why Amazon is apparently a human meat-grinder, not unlike many technology companies and Wall Street firms.
Nobody is forced to work for Amazon. It continues to attract high-performing talent. And although many Amazonians say the all-work-all-the-time culture is not as pervasive as it once was, it remains a high-intensity business.
That culture doesn’t just permeate big corporations. The work-first mentality has gradually subsumed the American Dream of a middle-class life balanced with family and leisure.
This should be a greater concern for conservatives than it appears to be. We believe hard work is quintessentially American. But we also believe faith, family and friendship are quintessentially human. We were not made to be cogs in a machine.
Amazon is great because Amazon is rare. Amazon is rare because its culture is unique. Let’s celebrate success – but let’s also remember the ends do not always justify the means.
Ben Boychuk is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal. Joel Mathis is associate editor for Philadelphia Magazine.