Tracy Frisch’s interview with Stacy Mitchell [“Unfair Advantage,” November 2018] tells the truth about the American economy and the power of a big, savvy corporation like Amazon. Our flawed system leaves the door wide open for exploitation and abuse.
Amazon’s appearance during the age of big-box stores like Walmart has contributed to its success. With the loss of Main Street — where we can interact with people in our community — shopping has become a homogeneous, uninteresting, disconnected experience. In this environment, online shopping appears more attractive, aiding the growth of Amazon’s monopoly.
I am one of the millions who has done exactly what Amazon intended with Amazon Prime: I automatically shop there first. Stacy Mitchell has shown me how I’ve been manipulated. Thanks to her I can now make better-informed choices.
I was shocked to read that Stacy Mitchell occasionally shops at Amazon. I’ve been boycotting them for about two years. I get used books at betterworldbooks.com. New books, clothing, tools, and shoes I buy at local brick-and-mortar stores, and I don’t have to pay for shipping. If there’s something I absolutely have to buy online, I order it direct from the manufacturer. Yes, I pay a little more, but I’m supporting something other than Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’s corporate monopoly.
We need to stop valuing the lowest price above all else; instead we should buy less and support our communities when we do.
Stacy Mitchell’s observations about the rise of Amazon remind me of the rants I used to hear in the 1980s about Japanese cars: Americans should buy American-made cars to support our economy. My reply was that when Americans build cars that last more than three hundred thousand miles — as every Toyota I’ve owned has — I’ll buy one. (I’m still waiting.)
On Amazon I find a better selection and almost always a lower price. I was an early Amazon supporter because the last thing I wanted to do during my hectic career was spend my time shopping. I now live in a remote small town, and it takes me thirty minutes to get to a Walmart and an hour to get to the nearest big town. If I can’t buy something at the local hardware or grocery store, I buy it on Amazon — from shoes to monk fruit. I could not live here if it were not for my Internet connection, Amazon, and Ken, my UPS driver.
Stacy Mitchell responds:
In my work on Amazon, one thing I’ve noticed is that readers almost invariably respond as consumers. Even though my argument is about how our policy choices have fueled Amazon’s dominance at the expense of a more diverse and competitive economy, most people’s first instinct is not to call their congressperson or organize their neighbors. It’s to cancel their Prime account.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m in favor of shopping less (or not at all) on Amazon. I buy very little from the site and prefer supporting independent retailers, including those in my hometown and many I’ve found online. But consumer action won’t solve the problem. In fact, this way of seeing the world is at the core of the predicament we’re in.
For much of the twentieth century, Americans approached the problem of corporate power from the perspective of producers and citizens. We organized labor unions and small-business cooperatives. And we enacted antitrust policies that kept monopolies in check.
It’s no coincidence that, with the rise of “consumer” as our primary identity about forty years ago, our ability to act as citizens began to atrophy like a muscle we no longer use. The weakening of democracy followed. We’ve largely surrendered control over our livelihoods and the future of our communities to giant companies like Amazon.
To recover our liberty and self-determination, we’ll need to reclaim our authority as citizens.
As the plant specialist in a big-box store, I identified with J. Malcolm Garcia’s essay “The Garden Center” [November 2018]. I, too, have felt dismay at the huge number of plants coming in, regardless of how few customers buy them. Loving plants makes it difficult to discard so many. It seems that plants — like almost everything in our materialistic society — are expendable.
I bow to Mary Roy, and to her piece acknowledging those things that have made her who she is [“Reverence,” November 2018]. I bow to her mother and father who raised her; to the teachers who educated and molded her; to all the times she picked herself up; to the spunk she never lost; and to the hope and spirit she gives us.
Mary Janet Fowler writes that environmental justice “may sound irrelevant to people working on issues of social and racial justice” [Correspondence, November 2018]. As a woman of color who has been engaged in social-justice movements for over a decade, I can say that environmental justice is far from irrelevant in our work.
Studies show that communities of color are more likely to be exposed to pollution than white ones and are disproportionately affected by climate change. Hurricane Katrina, the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, and decades of mining and fracking in black, brown, and indigenous communities are prime examples of environmental racism. Polluted air and lead-ridden water are our reality. We are fighting for our survival.
I am a cancer survivor, and I am sorry that Tony Hoagland has died of this disease. I cannot believe that those who objected to “The Cure for Racism Is Cancer” actually read his essay in your September 2018 issue.
“Hoagland is ‘stupefied’ to discover,” Joy Katz and her cosigners write, “that minority orderlies and nursing assistants are cheerful while tending to the intimate needs of his body” [Correspondence, November 2018]. What Hoagland actually writes is “here, where I do not expect it, I encounter decency, patience, compassion, warmth, good humor.”
“He might also be stupefied to learn that many do not receive a living wage for their labor,” the letter writers continue. Did they not read the part where Hoagland says, “Let the workers be fairly paid and valued, for their skills draw us together like the edges of a wound”?
Hoagland isn’t wishing cancer on us; he is asking us to bring forth our empathy. Having experienced cancer myself, I read his essay, nodded, sighed, and remembered how living through the disease almost twenty years ago completely changed me: precisely what Hoagland is asking us to do.
Alan Craig says it would be great if doctors were able to locate a neurological defect that explains his inability to stop using the drug that’s ruining his life [“Tea Time,” October 2018]. The findings that might assuage his guilt are, in fact, available. Chronic opiate use causes a decrease in the brain’s gray matter, which leads to a diminished ability to acquire new information and make rational decisions.
This finding alone should discourage Craig from blaming himself for his addiction.
I am relieved that Alan Craig has his wife’s support. He blames himself for so much, and it’s heartening that there is someone in his life who isn’t compounding his guilt.
He describes his parents and siblings as “discontented, maladjusted alcoholics and drug addicts all,” which is a good indication of a genetic component to his addiction.
Craig contends that without his addiction, he “might have done something of value” with his life. I say he already has.
The sincerity in The Sun moves me every time I receive an issue. When I feel disheartened by the state of our world, your magazine reveals the human spirit in all its mystery and wonder.
Alan Craig’s essay “Tea Time” was especially profound for me, as I am studying chemical dependency and addiction. The courses I’m taking detail many of the experiences Craig candidly describes.
It is honesty such as this that I find so powerful.
I was pleased to see from the Contributors page that Alan Craig is recovering from his opioid addiction. His attempt to get Suboxone from a shabby, cash-only clinic is not the only option. Public-health departments provide addiction care and can recommend resources in the community. Mental-health clinics have addiction programs, as do many medical schools. And, although it’s less common, some psychiatrists and family-practice groups can provide treatment. I hope he’ll keep searching and not give up.