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Monday, April 9, 2012

"The Devil's Checks Never Bounce"

Posted by on Mon, Apr 9, 2012 at 12:20 PM

Have you read all of the Seattle Times series on Amazon.com's business practices? You really, really should. It's excellent reporting, and it's important to see all this stuff in one place. And now other outlets are picking up on interesting angles, too. Salon takes a look at Amazon.com's grant-giving practices and explains the uneasy feelings of those who have received grants:

Of more than a dozen grantees Salon interviewed, some completely disassociated Amazon’s charity from its business practices. Others were more conflicted, but saw nothing to gain by dwelling on the source of the funds or turning their cash-strapped offices into an Ethics 101 seminar. Others saw Amazon’s grant giving as something to be feared: An evolutionary skill developed by a natural and intelligent predator growing ever stronger off the blood of its prey.

“The grants are a blatant attempt to buy goodwill from an industry that they’ve ravaged,” said one veteran indie publisher who asked not to be identified because he’s involved in an Amazon-funded project. “They are a rapacious, horrible company from top to bottom. But they have all this excess capital, so $25,000 here and there is nothing to them. And it’s working. People say, ‘Oh, look, they’re funding a translation prize, what could be wrong with that?’ Yet everything about them is still evil.”

You should read the whole thing.

 

Comments (22) RSS

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Will in Seattle 1
Just because the Suburban Times is evil doesn't mean this isn't an excellent piece of investigative journalism.

Which it is.
Posted by Will in Seattle http://www.facebook.com/WillSeattle on April 9, 2012 at 12:33 PM · Report this
Sam Levine 2
In other news, buggy whip manufacturers continue to complain that Ford is "evil".
Posted by Sam Levine http://levinetech.net on April 9, 2012 at 12:57 PM · Report this
3
As Friedman wrote in the NYTimes magazine in 1970, "The social responsibility of a business is to increase its profits." I don't expect this idea to be widely embraced on Slog, but check out the last part of the quote below.

"In each of these cases, the corporate executive would be spending someone else's money for a general social interest. Insofar as his actions in accord with his "social responsibility" reduce returns to stockholders, he is spending their money. Insofar as his actions raise the price to customers, he is spending the customers' money. Insofar as his actions lower the wages of some employees, he is spending their money."

Businesses like Amazon give to charity to avoid bad press. It's like they are paying blackmail. Maybe that's not all bad. That is, it may be worthwhile to put the screws into Amazon to fund the opera or whatnot, because some of those nonprofit organizations would find it harder to raise funds from many different shareholders, customers, and employees of Amazon. But that doesn't make it right. I really wish I could find another link to this article that is not on what seems to be a libertarian club website. Somewhat ironically, this is copyrighted material that the libertarians feel that they can republish.

http://www.colorado.edu/studentgroups/li…
Posted by David from Chicago on April 9, 2012 at 1:02 PM · Report this
4
I didn't notice that there was more in the Seattle Times article. The way the links worked make it look shorter than it is. I have little doubt that Bezos is familiar with Friedman's 1970 article in the Times, and that's what's driving Amazon's lack of chartable giving.

"Our core business activities are probably the most important thing we do to contribute, as well as our employment in the area," Bezos told The Times.

In a 2010 interview with PBS' Charlie Rose, Bezos expressed doubt that philanthropy was the best way to solve social problems.

"I'm convinced that in many cases, for-profit models improve the world more than philanthropy models, if they can be made to work."
Posted by David from Chicago on April 9, 2012 at 1:11 PM · Report this
5
Craigslist has killed classified advertising for daily newspapers. In that case, critics like Constant would say, it's the newspapers' fault for not keeping up with technology and developing a new business model.

But if a new business model threatens precious indie book publishers and sellers? Then that company is "rapacious and horrible."
Posted by bigyaz on April 9, 2012 at 1:20 PM · Report this
6
Good lord, Paul. Give it a rest.

First you're on about how they don't give enough money to charity, and that proves they're evil. Now you're saying that even when they do, they're doing wrong. Jeff Bezos could personally cure world hunger, AIDS, and the common cold... and you would find a way that it "proves" Amazon is evil.

I have already trained myself to skip over anything from Mudede because it's going to be inane and self-important. You're rapidly joining his company with this Amazon crusade.
Posted by also on April 9, 2012 at 1:21 PM · Report this
CC-Rob 7
"I'm convinced that in many cases, for-profit models improve the world more than philanthropy models, if they can be made to work."

So in other words, it will trickle down to the rest of us.
Posted by CC-Rob on April 9, 2012 at 1:21 PM · Report this
8
@3
"As Friedman wrote in the NYTimes magazine in 1970, "The social responsibility of a business is to increase its profits." I don't expect this idea to be widely embraced on Slog, but check out the last part of the quote below."

Which is why it is the job of the government to regulate businesses for the benefit of the people of the nation.
Posted by fairly.unbalanced on April 9, 2012 at 1:25 PM · Report this
9
@7 That's all Bezos and not Friedman. I agree that it was a ridiculous thing for him to say, unless it was taken way out of context.
Posted by David from Chicago on April 9, 2012 at 1:32 PM · Report this
10
There was little new in the Times series - except for the opening salvo on lack of charity contributions, which was irrelevant. But in aggregator-think, just gathering "it" all up in one place is some kind of journalistic achievement, apparently, like Slog - with all its original, stolen, reporting.
Posted by JPierce on April 9, 2012 at 1:37 PM · Report this
11
@8 The rule of law is essential to a well functioning society and economy, and the government plays a huge role there. Also, government regulation is often the best way to counter negative externalities such as air and water pollution from factories. Without government regulation in these areas, we'd be living in a stinking hellhole. I wouldn't want a government stipulating to a company how much and whether it should give to charity, however.
Posted by David from Chicago on April 9, 2012 at 1:40 PM · Report this
12
@9: Huh? How is that "all Bezos and not Friedman"? Here's the article:
http://www.colorado.edu/studentgroups/li…
Posted by also on April 9, 2012 at 1:57 PM · Report this
13
@11
Nor did I expect you to understand the part of your post that I quoted. And I was not disappointed.

"I wouldn't want a government stipulating to a company how much and whether it should give to charity, however."

Who says it should? The point is that the corporations (as currently structured) have no social responsibility except to increase their profits.

Which is why the government needs to tax those corporations to pay for the social services needed by the people of that nation.
Posted by fairly.unbalanced on April 9, 2012 at 2:02 PM · Report this
14
@13: Not to mention the social services that the corporation itself uses, like courts, roads, law enforcement, fire, zoning, public education, and on and on.
Posted by also on April 9, 2012 at 2:06 PM · Report this
15
@12 That particular quote is not from the Friedman article but rather from a 2010 interview of Bezos by Charlie Rose (link below). Is there something very similar to that quote in the Friedman piece? From my reading, Friedman doesn't compare the relative values of non-profit and for-profit enterprises.

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/bu…
Posted by David from Chicago on April 9, 2012 at 2:09 PM · Report this
16
@13 and 14: Agreed on both counts. These are things that government does, and I'm glad. The issue is whether for-profit firms should give to charity, and Paul appears to think they should.
Posted by David from Chicago on April 9, 2012 at 2:12 PM · Report this
17
@16: Well, Paul thinks they should, except Amazon, who both should and shouldn't depending on whether we're damning them for doing or damning them for don'ting. Whatever they're doing, it's wrong. And for malicious reasons, no less.
Posted by also on April 9, 2012 at 2:26 PM · Report this
18
@16
"The issue is whether for-profit firms should give to charity, and Paul appears to think they should."

Okay ... I'm not seeing that from Paul. He didn't post much in addition to that link. Unless I missed it somewhere.
Posted by fairly.unbalanced on April 9, 2012 at 2:27 PM · Report this
19
@18, see 17. also inferred Paul's view better than I did.
Posted by David from Chicago on April 9, 2012 at 3:49 PM · Report this
20
@19
Unless "also" is one of Paul's pseudonyms (and referencing himself in the 3rd person) that isn't support for your post. You'll have to reference Paul's comments directly.
Posted by fairly.unbalanced on April 9, 2012 at 4:04 PM · Report this
Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn 21
This has been Paul Constant, your daily Manichean.
Posted by Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn http://youtu.be/zu-akdyxpUc on April 9, 2012 at 7:46 PM · Report this
watchout5 22
I haven't shopped at Amazon for years because of this. Thanks for reporting.
Posted by watchout5 http://www.overclockeddrama.com on April 10, 2012 at 10:35 PM · Report this

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