In the War of Words with Bezos and Big Business, Bernie Wins

It was not long ago that I was arguing against Bernie Sanders’ underlying (deeply flawed) logic behind his Stop BEZOS Act. One would think that Jeff Bezos, the man who appeared to be the primary topic of Sanders’ legislation, would be averse to the idea that he had been engaging in unfair management practices, treating his workers in a way that Sanders all but called cruel and unusual. But Bezos has responded to Sanders’ rhetoric in a way that was perhaps unexpected by many, but may turn out to be shrewd.

Regardless of what one thinks about Bernie Sanders, his vision for the nation, or his intellectual/moral standing, there’s no denying that he has many followers. Most are aware that he was robbed of the Democratic Party nomination for president in 2016. His supporters are an off-the-wall brand of lefty, and as the socialist wave indicates, they are becoming greater by the day.

The far left is not an adversary that Jeff Bezos is willing to remain pitted against, even if Sanders threw the first stone. Aside from being a known friend of the left as the owner of the Washington Post, Bezos is nothing if not intent on cornering the retail marketplace. Taking on Bernie Sanders as a public sparring partner was never going to be good for business, and if Bezos knows one thing well, it’s business.

Michael Jordan once said, “Republicans buy shoes, too.”

One can consider Bezos’ response to Bernie’s ball busting as the equivalent of the statement, “Bernie Sanders supporters buy books, too. And man beanies. Lots of man beanies.”

Call it abdication, call it pennies for a man who is worth $166.3 billion and rapidly counting. However you qualify Jeff Bezos’ decision to acquiesce to the public cries of a political madman, don’t call it bad business.

Today, Amazon released a statement announcing radical changes that will likely lower its bottom line. But, unlike many businesses who count their employees based on strict cost-benefit analyses, Amazon is forever expanding, and really can’t afford to cut employees. This appears to be a no-strings-attached raise for Amazon employees in the United States.

‘The change takes effect November 1 and applies to full-time, part-time and temporary workers. Amazon (AMZN) says the $15 minimum wage will benefit more than 250,000 Amazon employees, plus 100,000 seasonal workers.’ (CNN Money)

There’s no doubt that American employees of Amazon have one man to thank for the raise, and his name rhymes with Shmernie Shmanders. Bezos should get credit too, but without Bernie, this doesn’t happen.

‘"We listened to our critics, thought hard about what we wanted to do, and decided we want to lead," said Jeff Bezos, Amazon's founder and CEO. "We're excited about this change and encourage our competitors and other large employers to join us."’ (CNN Money)

“Critics”, translated: Bernie. Kudos to Bezos for making it sound like it was Amazon’s idea to hike the wages. Even after numerous reports about hellish shift lengths and conditions in chaotic Amazon sorting rooms and warehouses, there was no action. But after the Stop BEZOS Act was announced…$15 minimum wage, it is.

It did happen, and instead of berating Bezos as enemy #1 of the proletariat, Sanders is now singing his praises.

"It is no secret that I have been a harsh critic of the wage and employment practices of Amazon and its owner Jeff Bezos," Sanders said. "It has been my view that the middle class and working families of this country should not have to subsidize Mr. Bezos, the wealthiest person on Earth…Today, I want to give credit where credit is due," Sanders said. (CNBC)

It’s quite the double take, and it’s a calculated decision by both parties. Sanders, with the perception that he has the power to change the minds of the world’s most prominent businesspeople in his back pocket, can now lay legitimate claim to the narrative that he is more than just words. And, he will use this coup to leverage other businesses into acquiescing to his rhetoric. After all, if Jeff Bezos did it, so can you…

Bezos comes off as benevolent. With one decision, and the resulting endorsement of Bernie Sanders, Bezos reformed Amazon’s image as one where workers are worked to the bone into one that can be seen as leading the voluntary wage-hiking movement. The wage will help attract higher-quality employees, greatly diminish criticism from inside the company, and quit frankly, cost Bezos very little in the long-run. Between goodwill and potential increased profitability due to higher morale, it may actually end up a financial victory.

Again, even if it’s not, the man is worth over $166 billion. The PR alone is worth the higher wages. Bezos isn’t stopping with his own company, though. He’s taking the fight for higher wages – a fight which he only recently took up, and not so voluntarily – to the rest of his competitors too.

‘…Mr. Bezos also announced that Amazon will now lobby Congress to raise the national minimum wage from $7.25 an hour. If Amazon is already paying $15, it’s no competitive sweat for Mr. Bezos to look virtuous for the media and politicians. Amazon is rapidly automating—an e-commerce warehouse in China has only four human employees—and its competitors lack Amazon’s scale and far lower cost of capital.’ (WSJ)

Along with helping Bernie Sanders gain even more credibility, this move to force competitors, if mandate or by competitive advantage, to increase minimum wage will ruffle many feathers, and make Bezos an even more polarizing figure than he already is. The man who has made billions while mixing business and politics is up to politics as usual, and he’s using his gargantuan business to move the needle.

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