Economics/Class Relations

Farewell, Jeff Bezos

By Dan Hitchens, The American Conservative

In October 1994, a husband-and-wife startup in Washington state hired its first employee, a computer programmer called Shel Kaphan. Kaphan wasn’t sure about the startup’s business model—selling books on the “worldwide web”—or its name, Cadabra, which sounded a bit too much like “cadaver.” But the man who hired Kaphan, Jeff Bezos, soon came up with a new name that hinted at the company’s ambitions: “It’s not only the largest river in the world,” Bezos explained, “it’s many times larger than the next biggest river. It blows all other rivers away.”

Kaphan, whom Bezos has called “the most important person ever in the history of,” has emerged in recent years as a slightly anguished critic of a company he did much to build. Speaking to last year’s excellent PBS documentary Amazon Empire, Kaphan characterized Amazon as “a ruthless competitor.”

PBS’s James Jacoby pressed him: “Isn’t this just capitalism? Isn’t this just a company doing what a company does?”

“Yes, it is,” Kaphan replied. “I think they’re doing what the business schools teach people to do. And they’re doing it aggressively and skillfully and with great intelligence.”


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