Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) is one of the best-loved companied in the United States, and with good reason. The firm offers an incredible service at low prices. It lets consumers get what they want when they want it, and if there’s any problem customer service takes care of it. Some people, however, see Jeff Bezos’ bookseller as a fundamental evil, and calls are coming from Washington D.C. to punish the firm.
Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, outlined such a complaint in The Hill on Tuesday morning. He reckons that the e-commerce giant needs to be stopped before it steam rolls over the entire US economy. The point of view may seem a little bit extreme, but ideas close to it have been espoused by all sorts of influential people among the elite.
Learning from the grand era of American corporate dominance, the gilded age which encompassed the closing decades of the nineteenth century, Amazon.com, Inc. only seems to have three choices. First, it can stop growing, something that seems anathema to its mission thus far. Second it can allow the government to shut off its growth, and possibly pull it apart. Thirdly, it can do what industrialists did after the Civil War and become a major influencer of the government itself.
Amazon is a labor destroyer
The big argument that Perrone made in this morning’s piece was about the effects on labor. Coming from a union leader that’s hardly a surprise. The key point is this:
“If Amazon’s dominance continues to be left unaddressed, politicians will one day have to explain to millions of displaced workers that their jobs and their children’s jobs weren’t lost because of unfair trade, changing markets, or true competition, but because they were unwilling to challenge an obvious retail monopoly that believes every job can be done better without people.”
The idea here is that workers rights are something worth caring about when it comes to anti-trust. Whether or not you agree with the argument being made by Perrone is immaterial. There is a growing coalition of forces lining up against Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN).
Amazon.com, Inc. is turning into a monopoly
The way things are going, it seems that Amazon may soon be classified as a monopoly. That’s not because the firm is becoming substantially more dominant in any single market, it’s because many people in power are pushing for rule changes that could affect the firm.
As an aside, be wary of the term monopoly. Though it can be technically argued all day long that Jeff Bezos’ firm isn’t really a monopoly, people using the term are doing as short hand for something else. Abusive market dominance is what the Federal Trade Commission would charge Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) with in a real case. The use of the words monopoly or “anti-trust enforcement” or anything else won’t sway the opinion of the court, though it might be a valid communications strategy if arguing against rule changes.
Fourteen Democratic lawmakers signed a letter to the FTC recently looking for the institution to deeply scrutinize the Amazon attempt to acquire Whole Foods. They’re looking for the trade regulator to look at the effect the merger will have on workers and suppliers. That would require a dramatic change in the way that the FTC has carried out anti-trust investigations for decades.
The paradigm in anti-trust regulation comes from the Chicago school of economics. It says that the consumer is king. Therefore if a merger isn’t likely to increase prices, then it should be allowed. Putting labor and suppliers into the mix makes the calculus more complicated, and likely works against Jeff Bezos’ favor.
What’s more, the Democratic Party has made anti-trust enforcement a central part of its “Better Deal” platform. The risk of enforcement against Amazon appears to be growing, and there’s only one force that’s likely to be able to stop it.
Government by Amazon
Despite what you’ve heard about the Trump administration, there has been a lot more corruption in American history than that displayed by the current residents of the White House. From James Buchanan to Calvin Coolidge, the White House has a history of intense corrupt influence.
The gilded age was likely the height of that sort of influence. It eventually ended with Theodore Roosevelt’s trust-busting. That broke both the market and political power of the United States. Though some economic historians may believe that the effects are overblown, there is a common view that this set up the country for a period of growth that lead to the US becoming the most powerful country in the world.
Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN), in order to battle against the forces looking to paint it as abusive, is going to have to involve itself in the influence game. The firm spent more than $3 million in lobbying in the second quarter of 2017. That’s a record for the firm.
As it grows, that is the firm’s future. It may have to spend more and more to keep anti-trust regulators from its doors. At the same time, it may have increased legal costs as it tries to prevent any cases against it that might crop up.
Amazon stock holders should be careful of these risk
The firm’s shares are valued based on outlandish earnings in the future. If the state steps in to put an end to its strategies, that could very well result in a massive destruction of shareholder value.
There is a risk of action against Amazon, and it’s going to have to do its best to work against it. If the Democratic Party takes power on an anti-trust message that may get a lot more difficult for the firm.
Douglas Kass, a short seller and market commentator, reckons these problems may raise their head sooner rather than later. In an email to clients he wrote, “At the core of my concern is that the disruptive impact of Amazon’s growth (and plans) could lead to government restrictions affecting that growth.”
That’s precisely what Amazon stock holders should be afraid of. It’s also why the company is involving itself more and more in government in order to convince lawmakers not to take action against its growing hold on the e-commerce market.