“We must make our choice. We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” —Justice Louis Brandeis
With his $13.7 billion acquisition of Whole Foods, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos has made clear his determination to dominate every facet of mass retailing, likely at the cost of massive layoffs in the $800 billion supermarket sector.
But this, if anything, understates the ambitions of America’s new ruling class, almost entirely based in San Francisco and Seattle, as it moves to take over industries from entertainment and transportation to energy and space exploration that once thrived and competed outside the reach of the oligarchy.
Brandeis posed his choice at a time when industrial moguls and allied Wall Street financiers dominated the American economy. Like the oligarchs of the past, today’s new Masters of the Universe are reshaping our society in ways that could, if unchallenged, undermine the foundations of our middle-class republic. This new oligarchy has amassed wealth that would impress the likes of J.P. Morgan. Bezos’ net worth is a remarkable $84.7 billion; the Whole Foods acquisition makes him the world’s second richest man, up from the third richest last year. His $600 million gain in Amazon stock from the purchase is more than the combined winnings of Whole Foods’ 10 top shareholders.