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The lockdown would have been worse without Amazon and Jeff Bezos’ increased wealth is a reward for that

During Covid-19, one of the most frequently reported numbers – along with tests completed, new cases, and daily deaths – has been the current total of Jeff Bezos’ wealth. It is always some vast number and is always accompanied by much pearl clutching. This, from the Guardian in July, is a typical example:

He was already by far the world’s richest person, but Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has set a fresh record increasing his fortune by an additional $13bn (£10bn) in a single day to take his personal wealth to an unprecedented $189bn.

The huge increase in Bezos’s wealth on Monday alone is equivalent of adding nearly 30 times the Queen’s £350m fortune. His total wealth now makes him worth more than Britain’s biggest company, the pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca which is valued on the stock exchange at £121bn.

Oxfam, the global development charity, said it was “truly shocking” that Bezos had managed to make so much money during the coronavirus crisis, which has forced hundreds of millions of people around the world to rely on food banks and government support.

“It is hard to reconcile this obscene figure with the reality the rest of us are living through,” Rebecca Gowland, Oxfam’s head of inequality campaign and policy, said. “At a time when hardship is commonplace, hunger is on the increase and half a billion more people face being pushed into extreme poverty, it is truly shocking that one already extremely wealthy individual has pocketed another $74bn already this year.”

Gowland said it showed global economic policies are “not fit for purpose” and “allow the super-rich to accumulate vast amounts of money at the expense of the rest of us when that money is desperately needed for healthcare and social safety nets”.

Such outrage manifested itself last week with protesters erecting a guillotine outside Bezos’ house:

In fact, there is nothing “shocking” at all about Bezos’ rising wealth. As the Guardian reports:

Bezos’s fortune has been swelled by Amazon’s soaraway share price as hundreds of millions of people trapped at home by coronavirus lockdowns around the world turn to the online delivery giant to keep themselves fed and entertained.

Only an utter fool could be ‘shocked’ by the guy who runs the world’s leading online retailer getting alot richer when all the physical stores are closed down and people are told to stay home to fight a pandemic. What else would you expect?

Indeed, can you imagine how much worse the lockdown would have been without Amazon? That is the essence of free market capitalism: you make a profit by providing a good or service people want.

John Phelan is an economist at the Center of the American Experiment. 

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