If I could get the attention of Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos for a couple of minutes, this is what I’d tell him:
This may sound crazy, but America needs you right now — to use some of your wealth and power to help save the republic. You’ve made a start, in a way that probably surprised you, and now I’m imploring you to go further.
I have two main suggestions: Double down on your support for serious journalism, and lead a campaign to preserve our democracy by ensuring that every adult citizen can vote in fair and honest elections.
As you’ve accumulated vast riches and influence, you’ve become a target. That’s partly thanks to the way Amazon operates: Your list of adversaries — even enemies — includes the many businesses that fear being crushed by Amazon, and the retail workers losing their jobs as the company scoops up market share in sector after sector.
Right now, though, your biggest risk looks like a bile-spewing president who considers you a political enemy because of the newspaper you own. Yesterday morning, Donald Trump published yet another (questionable, of course) complaint against Amazon — his 11th since being elected. It’s clear that he sees no distinction between the Washington Post, which you own personally, and Amazon, the company you founded and run.
When the president proclaims you a domestic enemy, you have two choices. Surrender, or find allies and fight for things you believe in — one of which, it seems clear, is the republic itself.
It’s time to step up, and use more of your money and power for purposes beyond simply accumulating more money and power. Last month, you briefly overtook Bill Gates to become the richest person in the world. Your wealth is a story now, and inevitably people are asking what you’ll do with it. Now is the time to stake your claim in American civic history.
This is about your staggering personal wealth and power, and what to do with it.
From my perspective, Amazon is a great company that has done wonders for its customers., And as an Amazon shareholder, I’ve benefited from your company’s spectacular stock performance — as have the beneficiaries of my stock donations, like the University of Vermont, my alma mater, and advocacy groups including the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the First Amendment Coalition (I’m on the board of the latter).
I should also tell you, as I’ve said publicly before, that I’m not a fan of some of Amazon’s business practices. The treatment of warehouse workers has sometimes been unconscionable. I wish Amazon would use some of the staggering amounts of cash it throws off every quarter to do better by them, and I believe that would be a wise business move, not just the right one. And while I don’t believe Amazon is a monopoly, it and other tech giants need more antitrust scrutiny.
But this is about your staggering personal wealth and power, and what to do with it. My first suggestion has to do with freedom of speech and freedom of the press, starting with the Washington Post. Under your and Editor Marty Baron’s leadership, it now plays an indispensable role in America’s public sphere. I recognize it’s not a charity but a potentially great digital-age business — I hope it can become that — but its existence, and especially its resistance to the forces seeking to undermine American norms and traditions, is a vital public good.
I trust that you’ll stay course with the Post. And I also hope you’ll continue to be generous with NGOs and advocates who are working tirelessly for freedom of expression in general, and freedom of the press in particular. A lot rides on this. Stay stubborn.
My second suggestion goes back to your Twitter callout for ideas on what to do with your money.