Tuesday, August 18, 2015

New York Times Does Hatchet Job On Amazon

Over the weekend the New York Times published a hatchet job about the company culture at Amazon.com. You can tell it's a hatchet job--meaning an article intended to unfairly and one-sidedly attack some one or thing--because the article goes on at length about the terrible employee morale at Amazon. For example, the article says:
The internal phone directory instructs colleagues on how to send secret feedback to one another’s bosses.
Now there's a revelation. The company encourages employees to fink on their fellows to get in tight with management. The problem here is that every company in the world has employees who rat on their fellows. Nothing new or different here.

A more serious charge is the following:
Some workers who suffered from cancer, miscarriages and other personal crises said they had been evaluated unfairly or edged out rather than given time to recover.
But this is the sort of thing that happens in many large corporations, including Apple and Microsoft. The fault lies not with the company, but the law. The law says employment is "at will", which means the company can fire you at any time for any reason.

The Times could have written an exposé of personnel practices in American corporations and shown how only unionization could protect the workers from these practices, since just having the CEO say he'll take care of it will not cut it. But this is not about personnel practices. This article is about how bad Amazon is, no matter how little the company differs from every other capitalist company.

The underlying reason for this hatchet job is the print media's anger, frustration, and hatred of digital media. Amazon happens to be the focal point. The anger felt by members of the print media against Amazon is real and unreasonable. I recently self-published my own book with a print-on-demand publisher who is affiliated with Amazon. I went to an independent bookstore in Washington, DC, and asked them if I could have a book-signing event at their store. They told me it was their policy not to hold book-signings for books published by Amazon.

"Wait a minute," I complained. "Your policy is not going to hurt Amazon, but it will hurt me and other authors like me who need a chance to bring their work before the public."

The management than assured me that if anyone ordered my book, they would be glad to fill that order. In other words, they were throwing a roadblock in my path to success, but if I ever, somehow managed to succeed, they would be glad to share my profit with me.

Thanks, guys. Your generosity is overwhelming.

But anger against Amazon is justifiable because people in the newspaper and bookselling industry are losing their livelihood with no possibility of recovery. The anger is not going to help, though. These jobs are going away and will never come back. These white-collar, salaried positions are not being moved to Singapore or China. They are vanishing. Automation is destroying them.

There is a hatchet job that could be done about that, but it's not one that the New York Times wants to write. It's a story about how capitalism is failing to provide jobs for the people that automation is making obsolete. This automation is making big profits for corporations like Amazon and its ilk, but it isn't doing much for newspapers like the Times, which has laid off hundreds of employees in recent years. (Question: How many of those layoffs harm the employees who were fired through no fault of their own?)

We need a serious examination of what this country is going to do right now to help people made redundant by automation. Tomorrow will be too late. Today is too late, already, frankly, as we have the spectacle of billionaires running the country for their own benefit without a single sincere concern for the people who must pay for their abundance.

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