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Along the way, Amazon has taken a heavy toll on its workers, vendors, and taxpayers – who have paid the bill through incentives for warehouses, corporate premises, and data centers. Warehouse workers describe physically demanding and unforgiving jobs that involve walking for miles every day and a punishing turnover rate amid increasing automation. And while it was going through a historic hiring frenzy – it is now the second largest private employer in the country – it has put down several union actions and marginalized its hourly workers in order to achieve Mr Bezos’ dream of a near-immediate delivery.
Mr Bezos’ disdain for taxes was a major reason he started the company in Washington State, which at the time had a smaller buyership who had to pay sales tax, which gave him a price advantage over stationary competitors. Armed with color-coded cards, company officials spent years evading state officials so their customers would not have to pay sales tax.
Amazon’s year-long pursuit of a second headquarters resulted in local executives prostrating before Mr. Bezos to hand out taxpayers’ money to ensure an expansion the company could afford on its own. But it brought results – nearly $ 600 million in incentives from Virginia officials to build office towers in the Washington, DC suburbs.
If such clumsy business practices are to be criticized, they also arouse admiration and fear among business leaders, competitors and investors. Even a rumor that Amazon is entering a new sector can drive the share prices of its competitors down. And Mr. Bezos’ diverse passions have grown like a weed and include Hollywood, banking, advertising and law enforcement.
Despite, or rather because of, his sharp elbows, Mr. Bezos made Amazon a household name and fast, reliable delivery a staple for consumers. Many flat-footed legacy traders are still trying to catch up and many more will be left behind. When people talk about the simplicity of buying online, they owe it to Mr. Bezos.
For better or worse, he has reshaped Seattle, solidifying it as a technology hub and turning a former warehouse district into a thriving campus, though critics would point out that Amazon contributed to soaring house prices and rising income inequalities.
In the past few years, Mr. Bezos’s gaze has wandered to side projects, particularly space. His Blue Origin spacecraft project will launch him next month, not coincidentally, miles away from a multitude of terrestrial problems that he and Amazon are facing.