Bezos Admits His Fortune Is Due to Public Infrastructure….Even as He Fought Paying a Homeless Tax in Seattle, Shakes Down Cities for Subsidies

As the lawyers like to say, res ipsa loquitur, or the thing speaks for itself. But I wanted to add a comment to this section of a section from a lightly edited Q&A held with Jeff Bezos at the Yale Club, published in Business Insider. Another factor that helped boost Amazon sales was its avoidance of charging sales taxes to buyers….a practice that gave it great advantage over brick and mortar retailers.

As Lambert summed it up, “Bezos as much as says he exploited public infrastructure to make his fortune, and wants to spend it on ginormous phall– uh, rockets.” And he pretend he’s not building on all of the work that NASA, the USSR and later Russia, have done on launching rockets and orbital satellites. There’s tons of basic and applied research developed on the public’s dime that he’s improving on….and he pretends he’s doing greenfield development.

I had wanted to give a comment on Amazon abandoning its HQ2 plans for New York City….hopefully I can get to that before it’s too stale.

From Business Insider:

Bezos: I’ve witnessed this incredible thing happen on the internet over the last two decades. I started Amazon in my garage 24 years ago — drove packages to the post office myself. Today we have 600,000-plus people, millions and millions of customers, a very large company.

How did that happen in such a short period of time? It happened because we didn’t have to do any of the heavy lifting. All of the heavy-lifting infrastructure was already in place for it. There was already a telecommunication network, which became the backbone of the internet. There was already a payment system — it was called the credit card. There was already a transportation network called the US Postal Service, and Royal Mail, and Deutsche Post, all over the world, that could deliver our packages. We didn’t have to build any of that heavy infrastructure.

An even more stark example is Facebook. Here’s a guy who literally, in his dorm room, started a company — Mark Zuckerberg started a company in his dorm room, which is now worth half a trillion dollars — less than two decades ago.

How do you get that kind of entrepreneurial [advancement] in space? You need to lower the price of admission right now to do anything interesting in space because it requires so much heavy lifting and so much infrastructure development. The entry price point for doing interesting things is hundreds of millions of dollars. Nobody is going to do that in their dorm room. You can’t have a Mark Zuckerberg of space today. It’s impossible. Two kids in their dorm room can’t start anything important in space today.

I want to take the assets that I have from Amazon and translate that into the heavy-lifting infrastructure that will [help] the next generation to have dynamic entrepreneurialism in space — kind of build that transportation network. That’s what’s going on, that’s what Blue Origin’s mission is. If we can do that, then the whole thing will take off and there will be thousands of companies doing creative things.

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  1. oaf

    “I want to take the assets that I have from Amazon and translate that into the heavy-lifting infrastructure that will [help] the next generation to have dynamic entrepreneurialism in space”

    …the word *help* might it not better be replaced by : *enable*???

    as *help* might be construed as having some undefinable altruistic component?

      1. Ignacio

        dynamic entremreneurialism in space

        Just what people demand, not affordable housing and health services, a livable planet…

        1. richard

          I just laughed my grimmest laugh ever
          We need to tax the hell out of him and crash his stock
          He looks like dr. evil (poor argumentation, I know, but there it is)
          and his stupid half idea sounds like elysium
          a hard no on that
          we don’t need him or his “money”
          and he can go f*&% right off into space

  2. Jon Paul

    To quote Spock “Are you sure it isn’t time for a colorful metaphor?”

    I mean, why not get into a green-energy race? Or figure out how we can fly without burning petroleum products. Or just see that every child has decent nutrition and affordable child care.

    Monty Python used to make fun of upper-class twits, but I think these guys are worse. New-money twits who amass great fortunes and then decide what the world needs is a theme park on the moon or leave it to their kids to spend on who knows what. Are we all out of Roosevelts?

    1. Carolinian

      Speaking of Spock, the book The Everything Store talks about Bezos’ early days in NY when he was a huge fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation and with his shaved head he even affects a Patrick Stewart look. Bezos sees himself as a futurist and uses that as an excuse for all his business practices (i.e. he’s just trying to stay ahead of the curve before someone does it to him–the future is unstoppable) and clearly there’s a heavy dose of fantasy mixed up in his world view.

      Could be time to bring Bezos and his company back to Earth lest he float off to Mars or, more to the point, reproduces that other sci fi, The Time Machine, where the Untermenschen toil in caves for the service of the elite.

      1. Efmo

        I love The Time Machine reference, but remember the Morlocks toiled for the Eloi because they were having the Eloi for dinner, and not in a good way.

      2. Eclair

        Heresy alert! (Or maybe apostasy).

        I have begun to think that the whole Star Trek series helped grease the slide of our Planet into climate disruption. It fed our very human need for tales of exploration, adventure and slaying dragons, but did so in a format that elevated a rigidly hierarchical governing structure as well as a completely technology-based culture. It focused our aspirations on what lay beyond Earth, while completely ignoring the labor needed to keep our home planet habitable.

        All those decades … we coulda been fighting corporate despoilers of Nature instead of Ferengi.

        Full Disclosure: I watched every episode at least once and hung out at a Star Trek Convention.

        1. marieann

          I tend to agree. I think there is a whole generation of kids(my sons for example) who grew up thinking Star Trek was to be our future.

          Of course I was promised flying cars 60 years ago and I’m still waiting

          1. polecat

            I’m gettin on in my years and find it hard to move around, especially when the gout flairs up …
            So, what I wanna know is ..WHERE’S MY FKN JETPACK !!

            Too cheap to meter … fusion in 10 … a life of leisure while Robbie the Robot does all the hard stuff …

            Lies .. ALL LIES I tells ya !

            1. Wat

              Yah. And the paperless office is right around the corner once you unpack your spankin’ new desktop PC.

    2. Anna

      The major reason that Bezos won’t ever redirect his fortune to the Green Energy race is that Elon Musk has first-mover advantage. Musk milks every possible green energy subsidy for both Tesla and SolarCity and plows whatever he has left over into SpaceX – which is building … wait for it … rockets, with the publicly announced goal of getting humans to colonize Mars.

      Also, Burt Rutan and the crew he collected and lead for a couple decades have hit the first few milestones in solar powered flight. But neither freight nor passenger air service will be practical in Condor-like planes without a major breakthrough in battery power density. The same breakthrough that will be needed to enable Musk and other entrepreneurs in the EV space to electrify over-the-road trucking in the US, Canada, Australia, and much of Russia. Bill Gates and his Foundation are aggressively tackling health, nutrition and education issues world-wide, and has pulled Warren Buffet into that effort with him.

      Major causes other than species survival have attracted a fair amount of attention from several billionaires. You just haven’t been paying attention.

      1. Eclair

        On billionaires defining and ‘solving’ our problems of social justice, income inequality, health and education. Said billionaires have a strong incentive not to change the System which has allowed them to make and keep their wealth and power. They’ll do a lot of patching and shoring up, but the whole structure is still rotting and unstable.

        Gah! Commenters, help! I read something really good on this subject in the past week but now have no idea where it was. I cast blame on Yves, Lambert and Jeri-Lynn for putting too much great reading out there!

        1. jrs

          The solution to U.S. healthcare is now JP Morgan, Berkshire Hathaway, and AMZN apparently. They will somehow with their great brilliance innovate solutions to the problems every other healthcare system but the U.S. has already solved. Afterall you aren’t truly innovative until you try to reinvent the wheel on a daily basis.

  3. flora

    Jeff reveals how he made his fortune using public infrastructure (read govt spending) and tax breaks. Now he’s aiming for Pentagon riches.

    In addition to Amazon’s much-panned withdrawal from a “second headquarters” deal in New York City — which had the New York Post comparing Bezos to ex-Yankees pitcher Sonny Gray for his inability to “take the kind of pressure New York can dish out” — the Pez-headed tech giant’s dreams of Pentagon riches are suddenly being thwarted.

    The blow involves a surprise delay in the award of the so-called JEDI contract, a $10 billion (or more) prize for Pentagon cloud management that once seemed gift-wrapped for Amazon.

        1. YankeeFrank

          So Bezos’ vision is to finally complete the overclass’s solution and shoot the poor into the face of the sun.

  4. Ape

    Hmm, the internet already existed. In fact the WWW existed. He must know that — so he’s lying to minimize the amount of infrastructure he inherited. By 1994, everything was already there.

    1. Arizona Slim

      ISTR reading Tim Berners-Lee’s book about the creation of the WWW. He did that work at CERN during the late 1980s, and, if memory serves correctly, he launched his creation, which he called Enquire, in 1989 or 1990.

  5. NY Geezer

    Jeff Bezos strikes me as an incredibly pompous hustler who is so much into himself that he has begun to believe that he is GOD. Before trying to hustle others into traveling to Mars, or any other space destination, he should show us that it is feasible by PERSONALLY going first, surviving 18 months of space travel (9 months each way to Mars) including a landing on and take off from Mars.

    1. notabanker

      I’m all for billionaire space exploration as long as they convert all their assets to crypto and take the passwords with them.

    2. rd

      At least Bill Gates has the decency to try to solve real problems afflicting real people right now.

      Jeff Bezos wants to build the infrastructure for space while people are struggling to have safe drinking water come out of the taps in their homes. Welcome to the Hunger Games.

      1. Dan

        No he doesn’t. His allegedly philanthropic family foundation is first and foremost a tax shelter. Secondly, it serves as a form of public control.

        1. jrs

          At least Carnegie did? Carnegie did, there are libraries etc.. his charity built standing to this day, despite all else.

          1. MichaelSF

            But weren’t those libraries built after he’d done all his robber-baroning?

            That seems common; build up a fortune the usual evil way, then throw a bit of philanthropy in at the end to burnish “the legacy”.

    3. deplorado

      Forget the web. He’s after designing the next civilization.

      He almost literally said the same things in a talk at the W Bush Presidential Center and ended with his space infrastructure vision:

      Somewhere towards the end he said, very loosely paraphrasing, “we don’t want to go on Mars to live there, we already have a nice planet, we want to work there and exploit the resources”.

      The takeaway for me was, he wants to develop space so giant amounts of capital can be raised to be controlled by private oligarchs and laborers will be toiling there, while he will be living in a nice place on a nice planet for presumably wealthy people. The wild west on super steroids with no homesteading.

      So I finally realized what the deal is with all this “go to Mars” interest: send the poor shlubs to toil in space, while keep the lush green earth for the billionaires. Like a giant gated community.

      Of course, did anyone notice the nice law that Obama signed to benefit all humanity (not):

      “The US Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act of 2015 says that any materials American individuals or companies find on an asteroid or the moon is theirs to keep and do with as they please.”

  6. William Hunter Duncan

    I am growing so very tired of the Cult of Bezos. That line about his garage is like an incantation to put his acolytes and sycophants into zombie mode. That argument that there can be no space Zuckerbergs sounds like subliminal messaging…’divert more public resources to ME! Only I can lead you to the stars!’ He has zero intention of building his own space infrastructure. He wants us to build it for Him, our demigod, Bezos!

  7. Summer

    These guys are into “space travel” because that’s where the govt big bucks are.
    He’s a Pentagon and intelligence agency contractor. Not a visionary.

    1. tegnost

      As a residential construction worker I’m always amused by the way that customers view machinery. Say I’m there among 4 people, the customer looks at us and can grasp the hourly cost, and maybe make suggestions here and there efficiencies, but bring a machine on site and you can pretty much charge anything within reasonable limits of course, but the point is that I make way more when I have a machine on site, partly due to the productivity increase, but mostly because the customer loses their perspective re person/hour cost…These guys talking about space are just making a smoke screen and are what you call them, contractors. The only other possible tangible reason for this latest space race is the natural resources for their autonomous fleets of cars and robots need rare minerals that are unavailable on planet earth, It’s also not unironic that the latest grift is “the cloud” as in “our head is in the..”)

  8. Marshall Auerback

    Funny. When Obama said, “You didn’t build that, we did it” he was roasted, esp by the Fox harpies. He was telling the truth.

    1. John Wright

      Wasn’t the original source of “You didn’t build that” Elizabeth Warren?

      Obama may be getting credit for something he didn’t say.

      Maybe people project more than hopes on Obama

      1. David

        The funny thing about that is Elizabeth Warren said it much better:

        She plainly stated that every business is part of a larger economy that requires public investment. When Obama paraphrased (without giving credit, IIRC), he worded it an awkward way that was easy to criticize. Fortunately the meaning was so obvious that it Fox harpy interpretation only worked for preaching to the Fox choir.

        Obama should have just quoted Warren. Another woman who could certainly be quoted on this subject:

  9. XXYY

    So let’s see if I have this right. A couple of schlubby nobodies in Seattle and Palo Alto admittedly leveraged a ton of existing infrastructure, invented, paid for and secured by the public, to create giant capital formations from which they have seized enough personal wealth to make them the richest people in the world. Now they spend their time bitching about the government, successfully evading paying any taxes back to the public that made them possible, bragging about how brilliant they are, complaining they can’t find anything to spend their money on, and daydreaming about how they will soon head off to Mars instead of doing anything to help here on Earth.

    Am I missing anything?

    1. jrs

      yes how they will deny the most basic human needs to their warehouse workers etc.. while dreaming of space, like spend the money and give them bathroom breaks instead maybe!

      But space zombies don’t need to pee!

  10. m sam

    He built his fortune on public infrastructure. It sounds like those “space billionaires” to come are supposed to rely on Bezos’s own private infrastructure. So it’s just like Amazon! In other words, isn’t Lambert’s phrase, ‘if you rely on a platform you don’t have a business’?

  11. Jon S

    And I can see Blue Origen’s new manufacturing and launch facilities from my office. All on Kennedy Space Center property. Where fedgov has already done the heavy lifting.

    And Bezos is going to learn that, unlike Amazon, rocket launches require a keen understanding of physics. And Lady Physics can be an especially cruel mistress.

  12. Jack Gavin

    That sales tax thing continues to p*ss me off especially coming from NJ where the property tax issue is (and will be) red hot. What really gets me is my NJ confreres extolling the virtues of Amazon while ignoring the hole being put in our revenues.

  13. ChristopherJ

    SuccinctBezos: I’ve stolen all this money from you. Now, please applaud me while I spend it on things that are great for humanity (and my ego)

    Just a bug that needs to be squashed.

    Sorry for hate rant, but he’s just a pest on humankind (all those bad jobs, businesses destroyed, authors (like me) not paid…)

  14. Kevbot5000

    Dude isn’t even right about getting stuff in orbit. A decade ago you could do small hobby stuff for a dumb but totally manageable for an individual amount of money. I mean, you’re piggybacking on someone else’s launch and it’s an orbit that’s going to decay pretty quickly, but it’s very much in the ‘college students can do this stuff if they pick the right school/program’ and that was the case a decade ago so I’m not sure why anything would be different now. (cost and function-wise make me think of early home computers as a comparison)

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