Why Does Jeff Bezos Get to ‘Earn’ in One Year Twice as Much as All of His 560,000 Employees, Combined?

I’ve done blue-collar and white-collar labor of all sorts in factories, farms, offices, and roads before, but honestly, no job I ever had in my 60+ years compares with the exhausting pace of work that I hear about going on at Amazon “fulfillment centers” today.

According to this review, there is an entire YouTube genre of videos where people describe what their first, exhausting and dehumanizing day of work was like at an Amazon warehouse, often followed up by a later video describing why they quit. (The workers are not permitted to bring their cell phones to work, so we can’t see actual pix or videos of the work being carried out.)

The scientific precision of Amazon’s success at speeding up the process, and the constant surveillance reminds me* of how American slaveowners were able to use scales, math, and ledgers to manage to squeeze three times more cotton-picking labor out of every single enslaved worker in 1860 than they had been able to do in 1820. Former slaves described how incredibly dehumanizing the pace of work was, and how each of them was forced to reduce themselves to a pair of hands and fingers picking cotton boll after boll, filling the bag over their shoulder with today’s and this week’s quota, lest they be physically tortured by savage whippings with rawhide …. knowing that next week’s quota would be a bit higher still… This process is described by Edward Baptist inThe Half Has Never Been Told (using the slaveowners’ own documents) and is also featured in 12 Years a Slave (both the movie and the original book from the 1850’s).

One positive thing I took from this article is that Amazon warehouse workers do seem to be organizing themselves. But it’s a tough fight!! Bezos being by far the richest human in the history of the entire planet.

To give you some idea of his wealth: in the past year, despite the massive drops in the stock market last month (Dec 2018), I calculate that Bezos’ wealth increased by an amount greater than DOUBLE THE EARNINGS OF ALL HIS WORKERS, PUT TOGETHER.

Can anybody with a straight face claim that Jeff Bezos’ contribution to getting your packaged orders, last year, was equal to twice the contribution of ALL AMAZON WORKERS COMBINED?

Perhaps Bezos’ contribution is really amazing, and is equivalent to the work output of twenty, or 200 workers. (Not sure how you’d measure that, but still, dollars are the usual criterion). And he should definitely be rewarded for having bet correctly on the Amazon delivery system and model. But his contribution to the system is NOTHING LIKE THE contribution of all of those other folks all put together!!!!

Here are the computations:

An article in Time magazine says that Amazon reports having about 560,000 workers world-wide and that their median total compensation (including overtime, stock options, etc) is about $28,000 per worker per year. Multiplying those two numbers gives us $15,680,000,000 in total worker earnings at Amazon per year, according to the company’s figures (that is, 15.7 billion dollars)

Bloomberg has data on rich folks’ estimated wealth, and they say Bezos is worth about $140 billion as of last Friday, January the 17th, 2018, mostly thanks to his ownership of his company’s stock, which is $31 billion more than it was one year earlier ($109B on 1/21/2018).

Notice that $15.7 Billion, the amount earned by ALL of the employees at Amazon combined, is almost exactly HALF of the wealth gained (you can’t say “earned” with a straight face here) by their boss, Jeff Bezos.

Or in other words:

If he were to be truly magnanimous and donate to his workers his entire gain in wealth for the year, THEN EACH ONE WOULD SEE HIS/HER EARNINGS 💥💥💥TRIPLE💥💥💥.

(He could afford it, I think. Do you think that such an act of capitalist generosity have any chance at all of happening? Personally, I doubt it. But anything that the workers could do to reduce Bezos’ share should be applauded!)

Or, you could say that one individual, Jeff Bezos, earned two-thirds of all the income generated by his company. The half-million or so other Amazon employees split up the rest.

Meanwhile the workers, who earn basically a pittance, are instead sped up and dehumanized for the benefit of one Jeffrey Bezos.

Has Such a level of extreme wealth disparity ever occurred in history? Did kings or emperors or 1890’s Robber Barons have, individually, more wealth and income than all their subjects or employees, combined?

Is this new?

It’s certainly shocking.

I wonder if maybe the Amazon workers could wage a sit-down strike where they occupy the warehouses to improve their wages and working conditions, as did the brave GM workers led by left-wingers in the United Auto Workers union in 1937 in Flint, Michigan? There are real advantages in waging an effective sit-down strike, taking over the warehouse etc, as opposed to picketing peacefully (and often vainly) outside while scabs are escorted past the picket lines by police.



* it is MLK’s birthday, after all …

“And forgive our debts, as we forgive those who owe us!”

The title of this post might remind you of part of the so-called Lord’s Prayer, which in English is usually rendered “And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who have trespassed against us.”

This sounds like forgiving sins, but in Latin, which I studied for about six years, the prayer is really about forgiving debts:

“et dimitte nobis debita nostra sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris”

I don’t know enough Greek to be able to comment on the original meaning of the words as apparently written down in the New Testament in that language, but it is generally accepted that Jesus (if he really existed) spoke Aramaic – but only a few of his (alleged) words were recorded in that language, since the entire NT was written in Greek, not in Hebrew or Latin, and definitely not in English!

The following book makes the argument that forgiving debts, wholesale, was essential if you wanted to avoid stratification of society into a class of oligarchs and a class of everybody else, who were essentially little better than slaves. They make the point that compounded interest grows exponentially and without limit, but economic growth does NOT: it follows a logistic curve at best, which means that there are certain limits.

For example, while bacteria growing in a petri dish appear to grow exponentially for some hours, perhaps for a few days, eventually, there is no more uncontaminated agar for the bacteria to eat, and they start drowning in their own waste products. So despite what one learns in most Algebra classes (including my own), bacterial growth is in actually logistic, not exponential. However, unless debt is periodically forgiven – which seldom if ever happens these days – the debtors end up drowning in debt, as you might be able to discern from this little graph I made:

logistic versus exponential growth

I haven’t read the book, but the review is most interesting. Here is a quote:

Nowhere, Hudson shows, is it more evident that we are blinded by a deracinated, by a decontextualizedunderstanding of our history than in our ignorance of the career of Jesus. Hence the title of the book: And Forgive Them Their Debts and the cover illustration of Jesus flogging the moneylenders — the creditors who do not forgive debts — in the Temple. For centuries English-speakers have recited the Lord’s Prayer with the assumption that they were merely asking for the forgiveness of their trespasses, their theological sins: “… and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us….” is the translation presented in the Revised Standard Version of the Bible. What is lost in translation is the fact that Jesus came “to preach the gospel to the poor … to preach the acceptable Year of the Lord”: He came, that is, to proclaim a Jubilee Year, a restoration of deror for debtors: He came to institute a Clean Slate Amnesty (which is what Hebrew דְּרוֹר connotes in this context).

So consider the passage from the Lord’s Prayer literally: … καὶ ἄφες ἡμῖν τὰ ὀφειλήματα ἡμῶν: “… and send away (ἄφες) for us our debts (ὀφειλήματα).” The Latin translation is not only grammatically identical to the Greek, but also shows the Greek word ὀφειλήματα revealingly translated as debita: … et dimitte nobis debita nostra: “… and discharge (dimitte) for us our debts (debita).” There was consequently, on the part of the creditor class, a most pressing and practical reason to have Jesus put to death: He was demanding that they restore the property they had rapaciously taken from their debtors. And after His death there was likewise a most pressing and practical reason to have His Jubilee proclamation of a Clean Slate Amnesty made toothless, that is to say, made merely theological: So the rich could continue to oppress the poor, forever and ever. Amen.

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