Our extreme wealth inequality isn’t just caused by economic exclusion; we are also struggling with the concentration of corporate power. Simply put, most of our money flows directly into the pockets of a few wealthy individuals. This week, Baratunde learns how it’s possible for Amazon to receive one out of every four dollars spent online. He speaks with antitrust reformer Stacy Mitchell who breaks down why concentrated power like this is a threat to our businesses, communities, and democracy.
Please show your support for the show in the form of a review and rating. It makes a huge difference with the algorithmic overlords!
We are grateful to Stacy Mitchell for joining us! Follow her at @stacyfmitchell on Twitter, or find more of her work at ilsr.org.
Why do you shop at Amazon?
Is it the convenience? The prices? Are you a working family and don’t have many other options? Or do you not have access to local shops? Can you seek out alternatives? What would that look like for you? Challenge yourself and find one item that you regularly purchase on Amazon and commit to buying it locally.
What does the research tell us about Amazon?
In Fall 2020, the House subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative law released a historic investigation into monopolies like Apple, Facebook, Google, and Amazon. The report calls on Congress to restore antitrust laws of the New Deal era and to finally start regulating these companies. Check out The Institute for Local Self Reliance’s summary of the report, The People vs. Amazon, available at bit.ly/peoplevamazon. Bonus points if you then call your representative to tell them you care about this issue.
Join the fight against monopoly power
To take on monopolies like Amazon we must flex our citizen muscle, not just our consumer muscle! Check out ilsr.org/fighting-monopoly-power to learn ways you can join the fight locally and nationally. If you're a small business owner or entrepreneur, consider joining Small Business Rising, a coalition of independent businesses that are banning together to urge policymakers to take on Amazon.
If you take any of these actions, share that with us - firstname.lastname@example.org. Mention But They Make it so Easy! in the subject line. And share about your citizening on social media using #howtocitizen.
Visit the show's homepage - www.howtocitizen.com - to sign up for news about the show, to learn about upcoming guests, live tapings, and more for your citizen journey.
Also sign up for Baratunde's weeklyRecommentunde Newsletter and follow him on Instagram or join his Patreon. You can even text him, like right now at 202-894-8844.
How To Citizen with Baratunde is a production of iHeartRadio Podcasts and Dustlight Productions. Our Executive Producers are Baratunde Thurston, Elizabeth Stewart and Misha Euceph. Stephanie Cohn is our Senior Producer and Alie Kilts is our Producer. Kelly Prime is our Editor. Original Music by Andrew Eapen. Valentino Rivera is our Engineer. Sam Paulson is our Apprentice. This episode was produced and sound designed by Stephanie Cohn.
Special thanks to Joelle Smith from iHeartRadio and our community voices Elizabeth Silva, Kim Swann, Mike Fraietta and Michael Cartwright.
Baratunde Thurston 0:00
Hey, I'm Baratunde Thurston and this is How to Citizen with Baratunde. In season two, we're talking about the money. Because to be real, is hard to citizen when we can barely pay the bills.
Yo, I have a confession. I'm addicted to Amazon. Yep, it's true me Mr. Baratunde Mr. shop local Mr. Man with a show called How to Citizen with Baratunde. I can't stop shopping at the behemoth that is Amazon. But I also kind of love it. I mean, I love the next day delivery, the next hour delivery, sometimes Amazon anticipates what I want. They're just like, you know, you want it. We know you want it literally we know because we have all the data about you. So just click the button. And I'm like, I don't want to click the button. It's convenient. But I'm also trying to quit. That's right, I'm trying to slow down the habit. I take deep breaths before these purchases. I'm even in a text group with some friends, who are also self admitted Amazon attics. And we're trying not to be we're working together to slow the spread of the Bezos, throughout our wallets and bank accounts and attention spans. And we're finding other ways to spend our money other places to get soap or computer monitors, or gardening gloves, or, well, anything because they sell everything. And it's been nice to not feel so alone. And I think you can relate. So I split from Amazon in July of 2020. But it was difficult because you know, if you're part of a working family, you know, you're going to be susceptible to the convenience of a platform like Amazon.
Unknown Speaker 1:55
But Amazon is just such a morally terrible company. So it's something that I really want to get off of. It's just so enticing with their prime shipping and their prices. And especially during COVID.
Unknown Speaker 2:08
One of the few places I'm able to defeat my Amazon habit is with books. Now for those $10 shoe laces that you don't need to tie. I'm still using Amazon, especially if you're looking for something that's unique and different. I go to Amazon.
Baratunde Thurston 2:24
Seriously, in the minute it takes me to complete my Amazon purchase reluctant as I may be, they've already sold over 1000 products to other people. This company is so much bigger than our individual resistance movements. In 2020, Amazon killed it killed it financially revenues up 38% to a record $386 billion. And founder Bezos founder, Jeff Bezos richest person in the world, he is now worth way I look this up all the money. Yeah, yeah, just I carried the one. And it comes out to all the money. Now in the past few episodes, we've been talking about exclusion, and how leaving people of color out of the economic system has contributed to massive wealth inequality and our division, how ownership, whether in business or in real estate can help solve this problem. But that alone is not going to cut it. If you just bring more people into an unfair system, that doesn't necessarily make the system more fair. So we're going to talk about this concentration of power that contributes to our wealth inequality and to our division. And we're going to talk about what we can do about it. But first, I need to understand what we're dealing with. How does a company like Amazon get so big in the first place? Why does their size even matter? And how can we as citizens, stop? So I needed some help, I needed to talk to somebody about this, that tried my therapist, and they were like, I can't help you with this. I'm sorry, I can work with a lot. But your issues with concentrations of corporate power that's a bit beyond my license. So I reached out to somebody else, someone taking on Amazon head on someone who saw Amazon's hostile takeover coming before most of us did.
Stacy Mitchell 4:29
More and more of our commerce is moving to this online arena that is not at all a market. It is a private arena controlled by Amazon. It gets to regulate in essence commerce.
Baratunde Thurston 4:42
And that's coming up after the break.
Hey, stay How are you?
Stacy Mitchell 5:00
I'm well, it's so nice to see you.
Baratunde Thurston 5:02
Nice to see you, too. So Stacy, I'd love to start if you could introduce yourself.
Stacy Mitchell 5:09
I'm Stacy Mitchell. I'm the CO director of the Institute for local self reliance, where research and advocacy organization that builds local power to fight corporate control. So we do a lot of in depth research, looking at how the economy works and doesn't work, and what are the ways that we could make it more democratic, more sustainable, more locally rooted?
Baratunde Thurston 5:29
So what's the story of your relationship with Amazon,
Stacy Mitchell 5:33
I began to notice Amazon, maybe more than 15 years ago now as a company that was kind of quietly taking over more and more of our commerce. And really, the first thing I noticed about Amazon was that they didn't have to collect sales tax. You I happen to live in a neighborhood and in a community where there are lots of local businesses within walking distance
Baratunde Thurston 5:57
with neighborhood, what community are we talking about?
Stacy Mitchell 6:00
I live in Portland, Maine. So I guess I first started noticing Amazon and sort of hearing from those local business owners when I was out running errands, picking up books, or whatever it might be. And, you know, in many cases, they were, you know, beginning to sell online and to have like another way for people to shop with them. But they were having to add this sales tax on top of it and finding that customers, you know, to save that 510 percent, were migrating to Amazon. And so that was, I guess, really the first time I paid much attention to the company. And it seemed outrageous to me that government would tilt the playing field that it would sort of put its thumb on the scales in favor of this distant company that didn't even have a presence in the community, over the businesses that were working really hard to keep their communities employed and vibrant and happening. Why would we do that? That didn't make any sense.
Baratunde Thurston 7:02
Most of us did not feel a sense of outrage or alarm. But you did. So why did you care so early? What was it about this situation that so animated you,
Stacy Mitchell 7:16
I don't entirely really know where it comes from. And honestly, if someone wondered that might myself, and this partly maybe comes from growing up in Maine, because at the time that I grew up, it was really devastated economically, you know, there had been, particularly these like timber companies, big fishing operations that had come through and like devastated a lot of the state's economy, the city, Portland, where I grew up, by the time I was a teenager, you know, downtown was half vacant. It was a place that was hard for people to make a living, that had no life to it, and was at the losing end of a lot of decisions that were made very far away with no consideration for the impacts that they were having here. And certainly not being made by the people who felt those impacts. So as a teenager, I think I felt that injustice very much and was a punk rock kid who, you know, spent a lot of time downtown in these sort of vacant places wanting to re animate them, you know, and this, of course, does an error when most of the other kids were at the mall, which was one of the things that had done a lot of devastation to the to the downtown.
Baratunde Thurston 8:27
I'm having this picture in my mind. I want you to help me fill it in. Punk Rock, Stacy Mitchell. Tell me tell me about teenage punk rock. Stacy, what are you wearing? woody? Where are you hanging out? And how are you interacting with this half vacant downtown port?
Stacy Mitchell 8:42
Oh, my goodness. Yeah, I mean, you know, all the stuff the ripped up nylons, and the dyed hair and felt leather jackets, or Jean jackets, with safety pins, all that good stuff. And we took over empty spaces for music and for, you know, sort of gatherings of that sort. You know, it was self invented because we were in New York or any place that mattered. So it was kind of a sort of bottom up local version of punk rock.
Baratunde Thurston 9:13
Your punk rock was local and self reliant. It wasn't New York. That's fine. It was yours. You invented? Yeah. So what's the leap from this punk rock, social justice teenager to working more formally against the influences of big businesses?
Stacy Mitchell 9:36
I am, I moved out to St. Paul, Minnesota and went to college. And I decided to study history. And I think particularly because I was interested in how things change if you don't like the way things are, how do they shift and what are the forces that make them shift, but then after college, I am, you know, was looking for someplace to work and was sort of torn between on the one hand one To be an activist, and on the other hand wanting to do like research, like maybe be an academic. And I ran across an ad for this organization, the Institute for local self reliance, looking for a research assistant, and it was a good marrying of those two things. And so I've now been at iosr for about 20 years. Yeah.
Baratunde Thurston 10:21
So you get to the Institute for local self reliance. When do you decide to take on Amazon,
Stacy Mitchell 10:28
we fought on the sales tax fight for a while. And ultimately, it took many years and was way too late, in some sense, don't even matter. But we ultimately won. And along the way, I just kept being struck by where this company was going. I remember thinking around 2015. I mean, it felt like when you're on the tarmac, when you're on a plane, that's about to take off, and you're and you're moving down the runway at this huge speed, and you're about to get airborne. And at that point, you take off completely, and it felt like we were at that moment. And that the implications of this were really far reaching. And so in 2015, we set out to try to do an in depth look at the nature of Amazon's power and the scope of this company, and what its implications were in AI together with a researcher here, Olivia vecchia, we wrote this big report called Amazon stranglehold that looked at Amazon's monopoly power, sort of analyze the nature of what, exactly what is Amazon? It's not a retailer, it's something different, you know, so analyzing what that was, how it gained that sort of power. And then what are the impacts for independent businesses, for producers and creators and authors, for working people and ultimately, communities. And then we use that report to go around and talk to journalists, talk to policymakers, talk to other advocates and say, this is something you really need to be paying attention to. And that helped to begin a conversation that I think brought much more attention to the implications of Amazon.
Baratunde Thurston 12:05
You say, Amazon is not a retailer, it's something else. And I hear dramatic music in the background. What is what what is what is Amazon?
Stacy Mitchell 12:19
You know, what makes Amazon more dangerous than other monopolistic firms like Walmart is that Amazon doesn't simply want to dominate markets, you know, Walmart dominates the food industry. And that's a serious problem with lots of implications. But Amazon isn't about dominating markets, it's about being the market is about being the underlying infrastructure that other companies need in order to reach customers. So their online platform, their website captures about two thirds of online shopping traffic, when people are looking to buy something online in the US, two thirds of them start at Amazon, which means that if you're not selling on Amazon's platform, you're giving up two thirds of the market right out of the gate.
Baratunde Thurston 13:07
It's kind of like the Google search result. You know, people start their internet searches through Google primarily, Amazon is like that for online retail.
Stacy Mitchell 13:15
Exactly. And it didn't used to be this way, you can go back six, seven years ago, you're looking for a pair of running shoes, you would type it into a search engine, maybe Google which has its own problem, but you would get a bunch of results that would include Amazon, but it would include maybe your local independent running shoe store or a manufacturer. Now people just started Amazon. You know, there's the online shopping platform. But then to that Jeff Bezos has added these other sort of core pieces of infrastructure. One is cloud computing, Amazon controls about 40% of the world's cloud computing capacity. What that means is that more and more companies of all kinds, governments of all kinds are moving their data into the cloud, a huge amount of that globally is now running on Amazon's infrastructure. Netflix, big publishing houses like Conde Nast, the CIA, I mean, it's a long list of entities that rely on Amazon's infrastructure. And then there are these other big pieces, Amazon has lately become an enormous logistics and package delivery operation. They now are delivering so many packages not only their their own, but those of other companies that they're rivaling ups and the postal service in terms of size. And they have built Alexa, this voice interface that powers our smart homes and our smart offices and a whole bunch of like smart industrial processes. It is the interface that other companies have to use if they want to have their devices and their applications be voice enabled. If you want to sell something and reach customers online, you have to do it on Amazon if you want to ship something and have it reach customers the next day. You have to do it through Amazon's logistics, if you want to have your data in the cloud, Amazon, again is the dominant provider there. And because of that Amazon has this godlike view of a huge amount of the activity that's occurring across the economy. And it can pick off using all of that intelligence that it has, it can pick off these lucrative streams of revenue, and preference, its own products and services on that infrastructure. And for the stuff that it doesn't want to do itself. It can just levy a huge tax on the activities of other companies that rely on that infrastructure. So either way, it wins. And this begins to explain how it is that Jeff Bezos has become so incredibly wealthy to be the richest man in the world with almost $200 billion to his name.
Baratunde Thurston 15:49
Wow. So what form does that tax take? Because it seems a bit ironic, given the company's origins in evading sales taxes to be able to levy taxes on businesses that are on its platform.
Stacy Mitchell 16:03
That's right, I think how we part of how we need to begin to understand these monopolistic companies like Amazon is as a form of private government. That's the nature of their power. And it's also begins to help us see how what they're doing is a direct threat to democracy. You know, in a democratic society, a market should be an open place governed by rules that are set through a public process, where everyone who participates in that market is on equal footing, more or less. But more and more of our commerce because of Amazon is moving to this online arena. That is not at all a marketplace. Amazon calls it a marketplace. It is a private arena controlled by Amazon, it gets to decide who's at the top of the search results, which products do you encounter when you enter certain words, he gets to regulate, in essence, commerce. And it also gets to levy attacks. And lots of manufacturers and retailers small and large, really feel that they have no choice but to try to sell their most of them are failing as they do it, in part because the cost of selling on Amazon is so steep. Five years ago, Amazon was taking an average of 19% of every dollar a seller made on its platform. Now it's up to 30%, on average, and many sellers are paying even more. What I hear from these businesses is that they're giving more to Amazon than their entire payroll in profit, meaning amazon for hosting a website is taking more from that business than all the people who work there and make it happen. That is a form of tax. That's inescapable because of Amazon's market power. And it's part of how the company is is so incredibly wealthy. And it's part of what powers Amazon's ability to move into one market after another with this built in advantage.
Baratunde Thurston 17:55
There's something beautifully heinously ironic about Amazon initiating its advantage on a five to 10% avoidance of sales tax and then levying through its sales commission. That's a neat trick. I wish I could do that. That sounds like so so I think you've made a case for from from my understanding, Amazon is not simply a retailer. It's not just a store, its infrastructure, and its infrastructure that other stores, manufacturers retailers, depend on to reach customers, because it has such dominance, of online purchasing, and of cloud computing, and of increasingly logistics and physical delivery of goods. So they've left the virtual world and are severely affecting the physical world too. So if you're a business, you kind of need Amazon. How does Amazon squash competition
Stacy Mitchell 18:56
Amazon squashes competition by positioning itself as a gatekeeper, if you control the roadway that the vast majority of traffic is traveling down, then you control what that traffic sees. And so from that position, Amazon can pick winners and losers and in particular can favor its own products. You know, a small company has a best selling product or really inventive kind of product. Amazon sees that on its site and then it then it actually copies that product creates an Amazon brand version of it and gives itself top billing in the search results. And overnight, that company that invented that sees its sales fall, just absolutely drop off a cliff. we profiled in one of our reports last year a business called the top shelf that sells hair and barber shop kinds of supplies. And they did a decent business selling on Amazon and elsewhere. But over time, as they became successful, it was Almost like as the owner said, to me, it was almost like Amazon, notice that a lot of that revenue was coming to us. And all of a sudden we've got new fees, we've got new, you know, some of our inventories missing. And we're spending a lot of time working that out. The fees keep going up year after year, and suddenly our margin is gone. You know, he had built up a business selling online with about 50 employees, a warehouse, he's up in Michigan, he was really excited about kind of bringing jobs to his community. And then, you know, in a matter of months, he is starting to lose money. He's heading into the red, he's having to lay people off. And then there's a dispute. Amazon says that one of his items that he's selling is counterfeit, which he says is not the case. But they immediately suspend his account, no sales, he goes to zero overnight, and they seize 10s of 1000s of dollars of his inventory. And as it turns out, when you sign on to become an Amazon seller, the terms of service, just the standard thing that everyone has to agree to, includes this little provision in there that says you can't go to court, if you have a dispute, you have to go through an arbitration process that Amazon sets up. So now he's waiting for this arbitration process. And he's lost all his inventory, he's been shut off from selling and, you know, he can't even get anyone from Amazon on the phone.
Baratunde Thurston 21:23
We'll be right back.
We hear about this term monopoly and the term antitrust, not necessarily knowing what they mean,
Stacy Mitchell 21:50
yeah. What monopoly ultimately means is a company that has enough power to basically bully and tell people what to do, because it's so dominant in that market. And that's a level of power that can be achieved with something less than 100% of the market, considerably less than then 100% of the market. So that's what a monopoly is. And so anti monopoly has been part of our country's policy, really, since the beginning. I mean, the Boston Tea Party, when colonists threw all that tea into Boston Harbor, was partly a protest against the power of Parliament. But it was very much a protest against the East India Company, this global corporation of its day that dominated the tea trade, and in fact, had gotten a special deal with the British Parliament where it didn't have to pay taxes, it was given all of these advantages in the colonies. And the colonists mad at the government and mad at this dominant company, and the effects it had on local tea merchants through a bunch of its tea into Boston Harbor. So for so from the beginning, there was this understanding, you had to deal with private power if you wanted to have a democracy. So we began to pass laws, those laws were at the state level and still are. But there began to be this time in the late 19th century where powerful corporations began to span multiple states. And they often evaded those state laws to control their power by forming what were known at the time is trust, this sort of other level of decision making above the corporation where they were sort of did it together in a trust. And that's how they sort of sidestepped those state laws. And so that gave rise to the need for federal laws to control their power. And they're known as antitrust laws, so against the power of those of those trusts.
Baratunde Thurston 23:35
So a trust was like a legal entity that these companies created to avoid accountability at the state level. And then the feds come in and say, hold up, wait a minute, what do they do?
Stacy Mitchell 23:48
It's what's really not until the 1930s, and particularly with Franklin Roosevelt, that we get sort of the full implementation of our antitrust laws,
Unknown Speaker 23:58
right? A new basis for security and prosperity can be established.
Stacy Mitchell 24:04
He looks across the country at all of these problems, you know, farmers not being able to make a living people being out of work, the collapse of the banking system, and so on. And he recognizes that a lot of them have to do with a concentration of private power and of Monopoly
Unknown Speaker 24:21
competition, dominated by monopolies at home or abroad.
Stacy Mitchell 24:27
And so particularly in his second term begins this really strong anti monopoly campaign. And we have a number of decades where that New Deal thinking really, really guides things. It's really important to pause here and sort of step back from this to just say, obviously, for much of our history, we had a very narrow idea of who counted as a citizen, right. And so black Americans, women, gay americans, others were locked out of these economic rights for much of that history. History. And so you we began to see in the middle of the 20th century with those new deal policies in place, the civil rights movement, the women's rights movement, and so on beginning to gain ground after World War Two, there's this period of broadening prosperity, where you have a rising middle class, you have incredible vibrancy of small businesses in the 50s, and 60s, across lots of different sectors of the economy. You know, in the 1970s, we had more black owned small businesses than we than we do today. And so the combination of those two things, this control of private power, which was done through anti monopoly and pro union policies, and pro small business policies, and the rising ground up push to include everybody, and who countered as a citizen, those two things together brought us our greatest period of expanding prosperity. And then in the 1970s, we took a different chart when it came to corporate power, and have been on this downward trajectory ever since.
Baratunde Thurston 26:08
So it sounds like something happened in the rule system, what started to happen in the 1970s, that led us to a world where Amazon could dominate as much as it does. You know,
Stacy Mitchell 26:20
in some ways, our anti monopoly policies had been working so well that people kind of lost sight of the need for them. And they just sort of disappeared a bit from public view. And in that environment, there were a group of law and economics scholars associated with the University of Chicago, who came along with a set of ideas. And the ideas essentially, were that all of the stuff about power doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is maximizing efficiency. And you know, we should build bigger and bigger industries that are ever more efficient, and can put out more stuff for less money. That was their thinking bigger is better. And efficiency is the only thing that matters. What happened is this university of chicago thinking becomes codify during Reagan's term. So the laws are still there. But the antitrust agencies radically change how they interpret the laws, so that they're no longer about dispersing power. They're no longer about our rights as workers and as producers of value, there's solely about this measure of efficiency. And the courts also began to follow along.
Baratunde Thurston 27:33
You've described this shift in our prioritization in America toward efficiency, bigness scale, in the parlance of our Silicon Valley friends, and I bear attune de the consumer, and maybe the citizen, but certainly the consumer, I kind of like it. It's very seductive. You know, the stuff shows up before I even order it, it feels like, and it seems like a very easy case to make, that whether we're talking about Amazon, specifically, or a big efficient business with great customer service, and low prices generally, is good. For most of us. You don't think that though?
Stacy Mitchell 28:15
Well, I would say, you know, the solution to this doesn't mean giving up online commerce, it doesn't mean giving up having the package arrive at your front door. I mean, just go back into history. One more time, you know, we encountered this with the railroads, you know, when the railroads came along, you know, there's this fabulous new technology that changed everything. And suddenly stuff could get around the country. And it was amazing. But there were a handful of industrialists who gained control of those rails, we came along, and the answer was like, oh, let's get rid of the railroads, we should go back to horse and buggy. It was like, No, we need to have regulation, we need to write some rules around this. And that's the same thing with Amazon, I think we need to break up the company into a few different pieces. And then I think we need to regulate it. And I think where that leads us then is an economy in which we all have more of an ability to make a good living. And we get the conveniences of online shopping and more choice that we see other platforms, other businesses being able to come along and succeed. And indeed, businesses that might come along with a brand new idea, you know, in the same way that Jeff Bezos came along with a new idea, right.
Baratunde Thurston 29:20
I feel a sense of maybe relief hearing you say that. So should I quit Amazon? Right? That's, that's the question that's on my mind. It's on so many minds. What do you think about someone asking that question of themselves? Should we be quitting Amazon?
Stacy Mitchell 29:38
Should you stop shopping on Amazon? Well, I would say, you know, look around, there are probably a lot of businesses in your community, some of them selling online directly themselves, and great small and midsize businesses across the country that are wonderful places to support and that needs your dollars. And so there's a fun invitation there to think about Other places that you could you could go. But should you feel guilty about those times when you order on Amazon? No, not at all. You should not at all feel like this is on you as a consumer to solve this is on us, you know, to like change our purchasing decisions and try to get enough of us to do the same thing to fix this problem. We've been sort of trained to think of ourselves, our economic, you know, agency, our ability to act in the economy, entirely as consumers, and forgetting that as citizens, that's where our real power lies. That's where our real muscle is. And that's the muscle that we need to turn to to deal with the Amazon problem. You know, I can't overstate how exciting what is happening in Congress's right now, there is a growing movement afoot in Congress and across the country to reinvigorate our anti monopoly policies, and in particular to restructure Amazon in ways that would be more democratic. In the House of Representatives, there is the the antitrust subcommittee, run by a lawmaker named David sis aleni. Out of Rhode Island,
Unknown Speaker 31:08
the purpose of today's hearing is to examine the dominance of Amazon,
Stacy Mitchell 31:12
apple, Facebook and Google, he ran a year and a half long investigation of big tech and Amazon last fall came out with a big report outlining a set of recommendations and
Unknown Speaker 31:22
their ability to dictate terms, call the shots up and entire sectors and inspire fear represent the powers of a private government,
Stacy Mitchell 31:31
we are having a real conversation at the highest level of government about monopoly power about resurrecting our antitrust laws, we're having hearings all last year, and this year about how we took a wrong turn in the 1970s and 80s. And where we lost our way and how we get it back.
Unknown Speaker 31:47
Our founders would not bow before King, nor should we bow before the emperors of the online economy.
Stacy Mitchell 31:54
And so we're gonna have a real fight on our hands as citizens about whether we live in a country that we control that we set the rules for, or a country where Amazon decides how our economy works. And I really want to win that fight. And so we're gonna need a lot of voices making calls getting engaged on this issue. And so we just invite people to come to our website and get involved.
Baratunde Thurston 32:24
Be real with Miss Daisy, do you still do any shopping at Amazon?
Stacy Mitchell 32:29
I have an Amazon Prime member, in part because I like that television streaming. I can't not have all the shows. But I do actually find there's relatively rare for me to shop on Amazon. But again, I know that a lot of people are in different circumstances. And so you know, not everyone has that option.
Baratunde Thurston 32:50
Yeah. As someone who, who's seen Portland, Maine, go through ups and downs, some devastation and some rebuilding, what do you think we lose? in our communities, when we lose small businesses,
Stacy Mitchell 33:07
we lose a lot of what makes the places we live interesting. When you are able to go out and run your errands. In local businesses in your neighborhood in your downtown, you invariably bump into neighbors, you know, it's a lot of acquaintances, but those interactions have a lot to do with our own well being. But more importantly, they have a lot to do with the well being of the place that we live. We know from sociological research that when people you know have has happenstance interactions with their neighbors, that there is more of a sense of connection, there is more empathy, there's a more more of a sense that we are in this together. And therefore one of the things that sociologists find is that people who live in communities that have lots of local businesses, lots of those kinds of interactions are more likely to participate in city council meetings, to engage in community organizations and to vote.
Baratunde Thurston 34:02
Stacy Mitchell, thank you so much for this time.
Stacy Mitchell 34:06
This has been a great conversation. Thank you so much.
Baratunde Thurston 34:15
There's a lot to take away from my conversation with Stacey. But a couple of things are really sticking with me. The first is that it's not on us to be better consumers. It's on us to be better citizens. The other is that efficiency isn't everything. I think we don't talk about this piece of the puzzle a lot. We have this obsession with growth and speed in the US and how we think about our economy more money as fast as possible, and nothing else seems to matter. But that's not true in a lot of parts of our lives, where we value something, it's not just more and faster. doesn't work that way for slow walk on the beach. Doesn't or shouldn't work that way in our romantic relationships doesn't work that way, just enjoying something, we want it to last. And we want the relationships that our economy powers to last. We want those small businesses to last because they create character in our neighborhood that a big pile of money can't replace. It's very easy for us to talk about the economy as these numbers, these economic indicators, GDP stock market prices. But underneath of all that jargon, and those numbers are people, and people are more than efficiency engines for large
Marie Estrada 35:44
part of our business and my day to day was literally Okay, I have to batch cocktails, put them in containers. How do I put a label on sanitizer? And is this legal? Okay, we're we're just going to do it because no one has sanitizer right now. And we can make it.
Baratunde Thurston 36:03
Next week, small business owner Maria Estrada shows us what's at stake. And what's possible.
Because we see the word citizen as a verb that involves doing things. So here's our producer Stephanie with some things you can do.
Unknown Speaker 36:26
Think about why you shop at amazon, is it the convenience, the prices is because of the pandemic or because you don't have many other options. consider alternatives. If you have the means, challenge yourself to find one item that you usually purchase on Amazon. Now commit to buying it locally. Next, do some reading. In fall 2020. The house Subcommittee on antitrust, commercial and administrative law released an investigation into monopolies like Amazon, Facebook and Google. The report is 450 pages long. But lucky for us, the Institute for local self reliance did all the reading for us and put together a summary of the report titled The people vs. Amazon, we'll be sure to link to it in the show notes. If you do read the whole thing, then pat yourself on the back. And finally, join the fight against monopoly power. Check out ilsr.org slash fighting dash monopoly dash power to learn ways you can join the fight locally, and nationally. If you're a small business owner or entrepreneur, consider joining small business rising, a coalition of independent businesses that are banding together to urge policymakers to take on Amazon.
Baratunde Thurston 37:44
If you take any of these actions, please brag about yourself online using the hashtag #howtocitizen and send us general feedback or ideas for the show to comments at howtocitizen.com visit howtocitizen.com to sign up for our newsletter, or learn about upcoming events. And if you'd like the show, spread the word. How to Citizen with Baratunde is a production of IHeartRadio podcasts and dustlike productions. Our executive producers are me Baratunde Thurston. Elizabeth Stewart and Misha Yusef. Our producers are Stephanie Cohn and Allie Kilt. Kelly Prime is our editor. Valentino Rivera is our engineer. And Sam Paulson is our printers. Original Music by Andrew Eapen. This episode was produced and sound designed by Stephanie Cohn. Special thanks to Joelle Smith from IHeartRadio. Big thank you to our community voices from Elizabeth Silver, Kim Swan, Mike Fraid. That I hope I'm saying it right Mike and Michael Cartwright. We appreciate your voices
Let us know your thoughts about the episode. What did you learn or what surprised you or challenged you?
Share what you’ve learned. Knowledge is power! Tag #howtocitizen so we can reshare!