“Real Time With Bill Maher” was off last week, and Maher returned on Friday by taking a big swing at Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. This rant, which came as part of the New Rules segment at the end of the show, was prompted by the news that Bezos is on pace to become the first-ever member of the trillionaire class.
“New rule: you can’t have so much money that my computer’s spellcheck doesn’t know what to call you. Jeff Bezos is poised to be the world’s first trillionaire, the headline says. Even my phone was like, ‘That can’t be right,’” Maher quipped. (Sidenote: the spellcheck in my web browser also doesn’t think “trillionaire” is a word.)
“We now live in an age not of innovation but of domination,” he continued. “Startups are in a 13-year slump and financing is down 22% from eight years ago because, in the online marketplace, Amazon has become the only game in town. And that was before an event happened that made everyone stay home and order everything online. Yeah, I mean, predictably, once the virus hit and America locked itself upstairs like a babysitter hiding from a slasher, sure, of course, the rest of the economy cratered. But Amazon’s stock price is up 25%. That’s what I call asymptomatic.”
Then Maher got serious: “If we don’t do something, we’re gonna come out of our holes and discover that there’s only one store and it knows where you live.”
Now there’s the question, what can be done about it? Maher’s got some ideas.
“You might be surprised to learn that Elizabeth Warren had a plan to break up Amazon. And I say let’s go for it,” Maher said. “Like Sen. Warren, I’m a capitalist to my core, but when a company gets so big it smothers all competitors in the crib, that’s anti-capitalist. Like when Amazon destroyed the startup Diapers.com by cutting Amazon’s own diaper costs below cost. By one estimate, Bezos lost $100 million in his quest to corner the online diaper market. But he owns it now. Which raises the question: What is wrong with this man?
“OK, you had one brilliant idea that when people get drunk at home they’ll go online and buy s— they don’t need. Great, congratulations, you won; you’re the best at making money. But one of the rules of the game of capitalism is you can win big, but not so big there’s no game.”
Maher discussed a precedent: when the Supreme Court ruled that John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil violated the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1980 and the company was broken up into dozens of small, regional companies. But he also stressed that Amazon is worse because it sells so many different things.
“When one supplier brings you everything, you’re not a customer. You’re a dependent,” he said. “And look, I use Amazon. Of course, everyone does. I’m not saying Amazon is pure unadulterated evil. That’s Wells Fargo. But Amazon does prey upon the Achilles heel of the American character: we will sell our soul for convenience.”
He noted that many consumers don’t even consider Amazon’s environmental impact.
“Liberals are supposed to be environmentalists. They must notice how wrong it is for us to do so much of our shopping in such a wasteful piggish manner,” Maher said. “Does anyone really need a grill cover to get to you overnight and in a separate box from something you ordered the day before from the same warehouse? When I was a kid getting a package was a rare event. Now kids think the UPS man is their dad. Why do socks need protective air cushion? I’m gonna shove my foot in it and stomp on it all day. They ship a disposable razor in a box the size of a coffin and enough plastic to choke a whale. Which it eventually does.
“And I haven’t even mentioned that Amazon often pays no taxes, and bathroom breaks for their workers are so infrequent they have to pee into bottles… which are then resold as Kombucha.”
Maher ended his rant with advice for viewers: “Maybe this is just the hunter-gatherer in me speaking, but someday I hope to leave the cave again and I’m gonna want to shop somewhere in person. So this weekend, be a hero and go out to an actual store and patronize some other business besides Amazon. And let’s see if we can’t get America back on its feet again. Because we’re looking pretty raggedy, and you know the old saying: if the shoe fits, you probably didn’t get it online.”