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Mr. Amazon Steps Out (nytimes.com)
93 points by SREinSF on Jan 12, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 69 comments

You can learn far more about Jeff Bezos from watching a few long interviews. He recently did a very interesting interview with his brother: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hq89wYzOjfs

He's very much the kind of person you want in the supremely high position that he's found himself in. He's basically another Bill Gates but more upbeat and creative.

This is great and all, but I don't want any person making the amount of money Bezos is making. He makes more in 5 days than most people make in 5 lifetimes. He wields immense power that will only get stronger as corporate consolidation increases.

For example, in the race for states to try to get Amazon's HQ2 in their city, the future of corporate power is so apparent and scary. One city offered that all employees of Amazon would just pay their taxes directly to Amazon instead of to the state to try to entice Amazon. That's something that happens in cyberpunk like Snow Crash, and it's already beginning to happen in real life. We just don't pay that much attention to it because the companies don't have scary names like the Tyrell Corporation, they're instead fun things like Amazon, Disney, Google; and being okay with the massive power Bezos wields because he's a nice guy seems kind of short-sighted to me

I can only imagine the PR backstory for this puff piece.

Bezos is gearing up to be a major player in DC, and the times wrote that infamous piece on how bad Amazon is. Although that's sort of a conspiratorial theory, which may or may not be true.

It's also possible that he's now the richest person ever (not accounting for inflation), so it's a good time to write an article about such an individual. There are probably a bunch of similar articles on Bill Gates from his tenure.

Bezos has been quite elusive when it comes to publicity and interviews since the dotcom bubble era ended (until recently). He went from being quite public early on, to being very tamped down after, heavily limiting press access. Perhaps his experience during that era, what Amazon went through with the press after everything soured, caused that.

From the mid 1980s forward, Gates was always in the public light, always prominent in the tech world in terms of press and interviews, always at CES and doing industry conferences, speeches, et al. He was Microsoft's chief promoter and an extremely public persona. Nearly the exact opposite of how Bezos was from ~2003-2015.

It's nice to see some image reparation work going on for Jeff. I've been finding all of the pictures of him that are meant to evoke Voldemort quite irritating.

Aside from his decision to buy the WaPo, I think he's shown himself to be one of the few people who really understands long term bets.

So while Google keeps trying to make Android devices sell for iPhone prices, Amazon just sold me a Kindle Fire for $25 that outperforms my Nexus 7.

The impact of Bezos' infrastructure vision is likely to put Google and Apple out of business in the next few decades. He's playing a much more long-term strategy and he's not afraid to take big risks.

> I've been finding all of the pictures of him that are meant to evoke Voldemort quite irritating.

This just made me wonder if there's any media or perceptive bias against bald people in leadership positions.

It seems Steve Ballmer and Jeff Bezos for example are/were criticized disproportionately more than Elon Musk and Steve Jobs, for example, even though all of these people have plenty of reasons to be disliked.

Was Steve Jobs not bald? A sorites paradox for tech magnates.

Even in the later stages of Steve Jobs' life, he was not fully "bald" (as is Bezos or Ballmer) even though he appeared to be losing his hair. For example: http://community.digitalmediaacademy.org/wp-content/uploads/...

And the Steve Jobs of early and mid Apple was definitely not even close to bald: http://www.designbolts.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/steve-...

Steve Jobs had the turtleneck, though. And spectacles.

Well Steve Ballmer deserved to be more heavily criticized - any random MBA graduate would have produced as much value as Ballmer in the same position. That's not true of the others.

> media or perceptive bias against bald people in leadership positions

Great question. I think there must be. Musk has had substantial hair regrowth/replacement work done:


Lex Luthor did pretty well for himself!

> So while Google keeps trying to make Android devices sell for iPhone prices, Amazon just sold me a Kindle Fire for $25 that outperforms my Nexus 7.

Isn't this being subsidized heavily by Amazon? Which might be your point about "long term bets," but I don't think it's unreasonable for Google's long-term bet to be that they want their hardware to be self-sustaining and not reliant on their other revenue (namely advertising).

(Also, it looks like it's $50 on their website - did you get a refurbished one?)

It's a common misperception for the general public to value lower prices for higher end products and disregard how margins works in practice for 99% of the products they buy.

Meanwhile they think nothing of paying large margins on sub $20 products such as T-shirts. But the differences go well beyond that.

Luxury pricing is partially psychological but there is also real value in having a high margin product, allowing the company the luxury of hiring the best talent in the world and get the best supply line in the world, etc. Most mid-tier competitors are just mimicking the talent of top tier brands (otherwise pure low-end markets tend to stagnate as we've seen in many Japanese markets absent 'innovation'), and lowest tier is doing the best with what they can with the lowest quality talent + parts/supplies.

Even if Apple doesn't remain the #1 brand I still hope there remains a luxury brand that is pushing the envelope of the tech and software progress the way they (and Google Pixel recently) has been.

It doesn't benefit anyone when the only services or products left are on a death spiral towards low prices. That's a symptom of either a dead product/market or economy.

Not to mention the plenty of other factors (sometimes irrational) involved in non-low-end pricing strategies.

I haven't even touched on the more primary influences of high prices on preventing shortages and meeting consumer demand (which in absence is often the death knell of price capping critical markets such as food in socialist countries like Venezula).

I tell everyone to read this book before pricing their products and buying into the myth of 'success' by trying to low-ball your prices, it's both bad for your business and also bad for the industry if you're one of the few offering the product (because you'll likely die before it becomes sustainable):


TLDR: ignore the average persons comments on pricing, the lowest possible prices are not always the best prices, certainly for the entrepreneur/industry but also notably for the consumer/general economy as well - often for non-obvious reasons

> but I don't think it's unreasonable for Google's long-term bet to be that they want their hardware to be self-sustaining and not reliant on their other revenue (namely advertising).

It's not like Google disable tracking or ads in their latest phones. It's a simple case of wanting to get paid twice, and people still buying it.

How is the processor in the Kindle Fire these days? I bought one a couple years ago and found it to be very slow (the then-current Galaxy was 20x as fast for the JS that I was testing).

Still terrible. Just bought two. Both are slow and absolutely riddled with software bugs. If I didn't get them on a deal day for £29 they'd be going back.

Ive never seen so many bugs. Both pads suffer from things like kids profiles having to redownload (or do something) to every app everytime you open it. App crashes and slow launches every time it gets used (around 30 second launch times on both pads) Downloads simply do not get save to SD card despite clear settings saying otherwise. Accelerometer freezes. There's some kind of race condition in the app store so even though I've disabled it with parental controls sometimes you can get it to download an app without password.

One nice bug is that if you set up a kid profile it wont show ads on the lock screen. A fun bug is that if you delete the kids profile, it'll not actually remove the profile data, it just stays on disc taking up space. You have to reset the device to factory settings, but if you dont and you just leave the kids profile deleted it still thinks ones on there and doesn't show ads.

That's not all the stuff I've run into (initial setup had all sorts of other issues) but those are just of the top of my head.

My Amazon Fire tests were: charge up, leave unplugged, see how much power it had in the morning. For me, it was always drained.

Power management in those devices is particularly weak.

Because we systematically impoverish students, we can only count on the largesse of the fabulously wealthy to rescue a lucky few.

What would happen if everyone just... didn’t pay? What would a default of $1.5 trillion USD held by a government against millions of its citizens look like? Presumably the administrative costs of hunting down that much money from so many sources would be prohibitive. I’d guess that an attempt to garnish the wages of half the country would end in rioting, so that wouldn’t work well.

> What would a default of $1.5 trillion USD held by a government against millions of its citizens look like?

It wouldn't be half the country first of all. It's a small minority of adults having problems paying their student loans (mostly those that were wildly reckless in their easy borrowing). The median student loan is a mere ~$13,000, against a median full-time wage of nearly $50,000.

If you took out $250,000 in student loans for a career path that pays $65,000 max per year, that's on you for being so financially foolish. It's not difficult to look around at cost effective alternatives to such a crazy student debt load.

You can easily go to extremely high quality in-state public universities at a modest cost. A four year degree in the US will get you a $60,000 salary on average right out of school. The typical person holding the median full-time job making $50,000, does not even have a four year degree. After five to seven years in the job market, your income is going to be $75,000 or more. You can do better than that in engineering fields. The unemployment rate with a four year degree, is typically about half the national U3 level, you practically can't not be employed.

Here's the fact of the matter: US wages are so extraordinarily high, a four year degree is a steal, just so long as you don't do something crazy like take on $200k in debt for a path that can never pay a good wage.

Go to an in-state public university, pay $10,000 to $15,000 per year net (a part-time job, as was very common in decades past, is still a good idea, along with seeking grants), get a job making $60,000 and work your income up to closer to $75,000 to $90,000 over time. That student debt becomes meaningless. It is not complex.

"too big to fail" comes to mind. I'm not sure what it would look like in this case though. Probably a bunch of hand-waving, (forceably) forgiven debts.

The title made me think that Bezos leaves Amazon.

Jeff who?

I would love to see Jeff Bezos run for President in 2020. The trust he has built in the Amazon brand, the value he has placed upon investigative journalism and the survival of the free press, his deep knowledge of and interest in technology, his (presumed) familiarity with U.S. tax law, and the enormous success he’s achieved as a businessman would all work in his favor. I think Donald Trump senses this, and that’s why he singles Jeff out for criticism.

The very last thing we need is another megalomaniacal billionaire handed the reigns to an excessively powerful executive apparatus.

People need to remember that billionaires are not your friends. The only thing that can improve society is concerted, collective action. The fetishization of hyper-competent business leaders as the solution to society’s problems is a quasi-fascistic fantasy; it’s of a piece with a yearning for a “strongman” or those thinkpieces that glorify Singapore or the CCP’s supposed technocratic excellence.

That's really not the only thing that can improve society. Singapore, as you note, improved without it. Well, many places have. You may not like the consequences that come about from a quasi-fascistic techno-reactionary government, which is fine. On the other hand, there are benefits to such systems. If Amazon owned Seattle, do you think there would be such filth and homeless squalor throughout the city? Or the daily opioid deaths on our streets. Would Bezos be okay with that? How about our traffic? It is funny to me that a city with perhaps the top logistics talent and management in the world has an ineffectual transportation system due in part to the challenges of collective action and the biases in underfunding public goods endemic and researched in the study of the interaction between representative government, taxation, and investment.

Don't misinterpret me as advocating for that world, radical change tends to do more harm than good. But there is nothing wrong with holding a clear view of why people find it an enticing proposition. It's a little intellectually dismissive to just call it some base fetishization or fantasy. Or at least that's how I interpreted your comment, perhaps my interpretation was uncharitable.

Spent 2 years in South Lake Union and just moved to Texas about six months ago. Bezos does own a large part of Seattle, he has evicted low wage undesirables, junkies, and for the most part cars. It's a cultureless void of amazon dormitories packed with 20 something white, indian, and chinese dudes. It's expensive as fuck and has a great business propoganda museum on the waterfront.

They have a stand that gives away blemishless perfectly ripe bananas daily but good luck finding a half decent place to eat open past 7 on a weeknight let alone a dive bar that hosts interesting bands on a small stage.

Clean and perfect! Ready to work! Thank you master for selling me the future I always dreamed of! May I die happy in service of your almighty brand!

Yeah, SLU lacks culture. I couldn't stand to live there, and during the day working there it's somewhat depressing. I'm also growing tired of the rich culture in cap hill though, which comes with homelessness, addiction, and filth. I'd prefer some metaphorical place between the two.

I think you’ve taken more from my original comment than was given. I don’t think electing a competent President is at odds with a desire for Congress to better assert its Constitutional authority.

> People need to remember that billionaires are not your friends.

O'rly. Then how much money does someone need to be my friend?

I think you get to set that number on your own or let the market dictate your friend price. Cats with a billie usually have a pretty full roster though. Do you juggle or something? Just a really good listener? Have a rare blood type?

> The only thing that can improve society is concerted, collective action.

Can you site the source for this claim, or it's just your opinion?

I'd prefer a non-billionaire/millionaire statesman (not a politician). Uber rich people in general have a hard time connecting or understanding regular people - and thats what we need now before the whole thing goes off the rails permanently. Although some may argue that has already happened... We need to get off this train of having famous rich people (or rich business people) running gov. Furthermore we should try to purge the career politicians (who again are usually ultra rich with corporate connections) from all of gov. In most cases, they are not representing us any longer - and haven't for years...

Sort of a dream, but seems like a nice goal :)

His suitability nonwithstanding, I doubt Bezos can afford to take time off from Amazon to run in the next few years. And I'd like to see how he's going to extricate himself from his business interests as most presidents are supposed to do... cough

Bezos is an accomplished entrepreneur, but from everything I've heard about how Amazon works, I can't imagine being an effective politician. He's a corporate dictator, not a coalition-builder: the exact quality that built Amazon would seem to be his greatest weakness in the White House.

I don’t think you’re entirely wrong, but you could have said all that about Donald Trump in 2016. We live in strange times.

Trump isn't an effective politician, so whatever people were saying in 2016 was exactly right.

Really? He helped get the first comprehensive tax reform in almost 40 years. That's the exact definition of effective.

The "tax reform" was in no way a tax reform in the way it is usually touted. Complexity went up.

Reform just means change. It doesn't require simplification.

By that definition, Bush passed one also.

The comprehensive tax reform voted on in the dead of night with changes written in the margins? That one?

From your strong reaction, Trump’s political career to date has been effective indeed!

Ebola (for example) is extremely effective. That doesn’t mean you have to like it, or want it anywhere near the White House.

Or maybe like the ACA? Come on, that's how bills get passed.

It's not. None of this is normal.

The ACA went through public debate for a year. This didn't.

Not be too pedantic, but if you can’t get elected, you can’t be effective. By that measure, Trump was more effective than every other Presidential candidate, Hillary in particular. He is now President, and she is an unemployed politician.

I think whichever party puts forth the most electable candidate will, by definition, win the next election. Of what I perceive as that pool of individuals, I see Jeff Bezos as one of the better options.

So what you are doing is looking for someone who can win, not necessarily be an effective leader.

It's the kind of thinking that's got people seriously jabbing about Oprah as a Democratic candidate. We really want to put someone who was a talk show host and has evangelized quack science for the past 30 years in charge of the country, because she's all of a sudden brave enough to speak out against Harvey Weinstein (nevermind that she was his friend)?

The scary thing is, she'd probably beat Trump, that doesn't mean it would be good for this country. It really can't be that difficult to pick someone who is both more electable than Trump and also capable. If we can't do that, then let's fold up as a country and go home.

We don't have to default to someone like Oprah or Bezos. We can do better.

As maddening as it is, it does make sense when the priority becomes for one 'side' to win. I find it difficult to imagine how this could change without significant reform.

(For comparison, while plenty of people here have strong party affiliations over here in Holland, it's not a big deal and quite common even to be a 'floating' voter without too much allegiance to one party.)

Incitatus for consul of the Romans! He's healthy as a horse! ('cause he was a horse.)

Maybe the Romans were on to something ;)

Check out this BBC article about countries without an elected government (the functional ones rely on the civil service):


plus he has about zero charisma

Up to at least ten percent now that he's working out, I'd say.

Frankly I don’t want any inexperienced people running for President anymore.

Would you hire someone who knows nothing about technology (aside from being a consumer of it) to be your CTO? Probably not... similarly, we should expect people to gain experience in government before they are considered suitable.

> similarly, we should expect people to gain experience in government before they are considered suitable.

I agree with the principle (and I despise the whole "tv stars as president" trend), but Bezos' experience isn't completely irrelevant.

There was a similar argument to be made (and that has been made) about Trump and business experience. Now, Trump's failures as president are correlated with his failures as a businessman and in life in general, but it doesn't undermine the logic.

CEO of Amazon is a massive amount of experience that no former president can claim they have. And although Bezos wouldn't have experience working in government, I highly doubt he's unfamiliar with it; he, just like any CEO of companies like amazon, would have worked with governments (especially US government) a ton.

(Now let's not say that too loudly in case Larry Ellison reads HN and is getting new ideas)

Bloomberg did pretty well for himself.

Mayor is probably easier to learn than President. If Bezos ran for mayor of Seattle and governor of Washington I would have more faith in himbeing President. Right now he leads an authoritarian organization (as most corporations are). the qualities to lead that may not translate into leading a democracy.

+1. As mayor, you're still fundamentally an executive, making practical decisions about city services, police, etc. It feels quite analagous to CEO.

Whereas as US president, you're effectively leader of your political party, and your greatest achievements are essentially legislative even though you have no legislative power. It's a position of leadership through coalition-building, not execution through delegation and accountability.

There's certainly overlap, but overall they feel like night and day.

I agree with you, but Amazon is definitely more of a substantive organization than whatever it is Trump ran.

This was why I was so unhappy with Stein.

Maybe he could run for President of China where most of his stuff comes from.

Mark Z. can be his vice and they can think up kid names together.

Unsure if this is satire or not. Bezos's businesses don't give a damn about their customers. I don't trust Amazon at all, even if I use their products, that's because I like many others have been screwed over by them on occasion.

Trump criticizes everything, Jeff is not singled out. He's the equivalent of a Gilded Age robber baron. You want to put him in charge?

EDIT: misread “customers” as “employees.” As a satisfied longtime Amazon customer, I really couldn’t disagree with you more.

In contrast to the current President, Jeff is a stable and effective leader with broad popular appeal, a good head on his shoulders, and respect for the institutions of American democracy. In 2020, I think that’s the best we can hope for.

I've seen little league board members with a better ability to lead than Trump. Just because he's better than bad, does not make him good. Why can't we have higher standards for the person running this country?

Why can't a nation of 300 million people choose someone who hasn't spent their whole life making money or being a pop star? I'd like to see someone with a broader outlook than that.

Your satisfaction as a customer comes at the expense of their employees (as you pointed out) and their sellers. It's something you have to experience and then you get how they work.


As a once (and still) happy customer they lost all my trust.

If President Bezos could get the government to work as well for it's customers as Amazon does, it's a good deal.

Do you really want the POTUS to have the same powers over the national government that a CEO has over their company? Because that would require a substantially different type of government than we have. I suppose the trains will be on time at least.

In contrast to our current leader, a kumquat is a stable and effective leader with broad popular appeal.

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