Anarchy in the American Amazon
As a market watcher, I faithfully observe the financial status of my current favorite company, Amazon.com, Inc. Not necessarily because I own scores of its stocks, and not just because I am addicted to balance sheets and earnings reports, but because I am partial to this special variety of capitalism created by Jeffrey Bezos, Amazon's Founder, President, and CEO. And mostly, I pull for Amazon.com because, as an unwavering customer, I hope for the company's continuing financial success so I don't lose a favorite place at which to spend my disposable income.
1999's Time Person of the Year, Bezos formed Amazon in 1994, his Seattle garage being the starting point for this retailing revolution. Intrigued by the internet, he transformed it via the merging of computer technology and customer demand for specialized products. Amazon may have started out as a simple bookseller, but it, along with eBay, has become perhaps the most unique, technology-driven retailer in the world.
In fact, the radical free-exchange environment on Amazon.com allows customers to voluntarily engage in competitive buying and selling, auctioning, correspondence with Amazon "friends," unchecked product review and recommendation, and allows folks to market themselves to other like-minded consumers. By way of his technology revolution, Bezos has effectively created an anarcho-libertarian "society" online, as people cooperate in markets unhindered by political correctness, "consumer protection" guardians, and most noticeably, its customers pay no government taxes.
Once on the website, most customers may not find the need to go beyond the basic step of buying a book or a CD every now and then. Even so, they'll reap advantages that can be had nowhere else: the selection of books available is virtually unlimited among books that are in print; books are typically $4-8 lower in price than elsewhere, and CDs are a couple of bucks cheaper than the norm; shipping is cheap and ultra-fast; and one need not get dressed in the morning to go shopping.
Going beyond the basic shopping needs, however, is where Amazon.com excels. A consumer is likely to find most anything they could want here in addition to books and music, including great deals on software, tools, and electronics. Perhaps its most amazing feature is the used book marketplace, where avid readers who want cheaper, used books or out-of-print gems can hook up with avid sellers that not only market and sell them, but advertise the quality of the items they hold in stock. In addition, buyers continually rate sellers on a range of areas in terms of service (including shipping speed, accuracy of product description, etc.) so that unreliable sellers are weeded out of the process.
I always survey the reputation of sellers before purchasing used items, and this way, I am assured that I am paying for the best service possible. This cooperative environment of freely-exchanged information and voluntary interaction has yet to fail me, and even when and if a bad purchase does take place, I am assured of a whole heap of choices elsewhere.
In addition, there are the great product reviews and suggestion lists offered at Amazon. Totally unregulated by anyone — except for vulgar conduct oversight by Amazon administrators — the market for opinions and experiences, no matter how politically incorrect, is wide open and unabated. If you loathe the totalitarianism of Abraham Lincoln, you can say so unhindered. Or if you think women in the military gives rise to a social laboratory, you can say that too. Products reviewed range from books and music, to toys, laptops, and tools. I bought my laptop computer and camcorder partially based on Amazon product reviews. If a product review stinks or is poorly written, give it an "unhelpful" vote, and soon, nobody bothers with it. In other words, the market has spoken. Enjoy the glories of the unhindered marketplace.
For those who enjoy building personal pages, Amazon has that option too. All kinds of literate folks build their own "homepage," including a personal bio, photos, a catalog of product reviews, a "favorite friends" list, and book/product lists. The book lists are especially unique in that each customer with a homepage can build as many booklists as he aspires to, and these lists will commonly focus on distinctive themes such as Austrian economics, revisionist history, the Roman Republic, or great libertarian thinkers. Each time a customer even looks at a book, the option to look at many "related-topic" book lists will appear, and at times, you can become entangled for hours reading the book lists of compatible readers, and what they recommend and why. In fact, I have even developed a few correspondence relationships with Amazon consumers who think like I do, and who have read the same books.
Typically, Amazon's technology automatically logs the reader in while recognizing the user's computer, and individualized marketing will take over. When browsing or purchasing books, Amazon caters to individual idiosyncrasies by directing the customer to recommended books that may be compatible with items you've just glimpsed at or recently purchased. The customer also has the option of entering his own recommendations for suitable companion books.
For those with websites, Amazon has options to allow website owners to build Amazon book lists on their website. This way, website visitors can link up right to Amazon while surfing on their favorite sites. Books purchased in this manner earn a small percentage as a sales commission for the participating website proprietor.
All said, Amazon.com is a sort of market anarchism community, where a voluntary association of buyers and sellers and like-minded writers and readers gather together to buy and sell, exchange information, develop contacts, and establish relationships. Libertarian-capitalist intellectuals are voracious readers and technologically adept, and therefore, tend to be viable consumers. And within the Amazon.com setting there is little or no inside interference, and no outside meddling, that is, until our elected political tormenters figure out a way to weasel their sales tax laws underneath consumers that have been emancipated by the internet.
When that day comes, it's time for a little Tea Party.
*Here are a few other libertarian homepages on Amazon.com that are in excellent taste:
July 15, 2002
Karen De Coster, CPA, [send her mail] is a paleolibertarian freelance writer, graduate student in Austrian Economics, and a business professional from Michigan. She is writing her first book, which is a treatise against all things statist. See her Mises Institute archive for more online articles.
Copyright © 2002 Karen De Coster