On Tuesday, as Amazon announced record earnings amid the pandemic, CEO Jeff Bezos said that he would be stepping down from his position, passing the torch to Andy Jassy, who leads Amazon Web Services, the massively successful cloud computing and digital infrastructure division. Bezos will become the company’s executive chairman (until now, he has also held the titles of president and chairman of the board) and devote himself to his various other interests, including his rocket company, The Washington Post, and climate philanthropy.
For Bezos, the transition makes sense. As rich as a pharaoh, Bezos oversees a range of investments and dilettantish projects, and now he can do absolutely whatever he wants, while serving as a figurehead of perhaps the most important company in the world. But more than one oligarch’s passage into the next chapter of his life, the executive shuffle at Amazon merely affirms how massive and powerful the company has become—a self-sustaining behemoth that, no matter who’s at the helm, will continue devouring industry after industry with no end in sight. Bezos’s move also suggests that the window to tame this rapacious monster may be rapidly closing.
The fact that Amazon no longer needs its insatiable founder is cause for worry, not relief. The sprawling company can continue dominating online retail, copying popular products, underpaying its workers, obstructing unionization campaigns, and helping fossil fuel companies extract more climate-altering hydrocarbons—all while making enormous profits and building toward a $2 trillion market cap. The inherent contradiction of Amazon is that it’s both a colossally harmful enterprise—to labor and the environment especially—but also an essential part of consumer ecosystems ranging from retail to logistics to streaming video. The ethically minded consumer’s challenge, increasingly, is to find a way to live without it—the definition of a monopoly, if there ever was one.