Jefferey Bezos as Julius Caesar

The CatholicFamilyPodcast has released a new video entitled “A final critique of The Rings of Power” which I have not completely watched. Actually, I have only watched about five minutes of the hour-long critique, and that was enough to know the tenor and substance of everything that was to follow. I knew from the first few minutes that what would follow would be but the sniveling rants of those wholly uncultured “Catholics” who never miss a chance to bash on a billionaire, because they think money, and not the Devil, is the root of all evil.

Sour Grapes Much?

There’s a lovely little tale about as old as time, which tells of a fox who spied a bunch of juicy grapes dangling just above his reach and, as he attempted and failed to reach them, thought better–or rather worse–of the attempt and what he asserted to be sour grapes and went off scorning that which he couldn’t taste. The moral is that there are those who would despise goods because they cannot reach them. It is the canker of every democracy which, if left untreated, destroys the one who has this tendancy.

I would argue that those, like the host of CFP and his guest, are cankerous with sour grapes about rich people generally, and Amazon in particular. In a previous post, I mentioned that this is a kind of reactionary distributism, which devalues that which is in itself indispensable, namely, technology and the means to produce it, which is affluence. What interests me here, however, is the cause of that tendency to reaction against the rich, which is a plague upon our democratic house.

I mark that I left a comment on the video linked to above but which has since mysteriously vanished. Perhaps it is well that it should have, because it was a wee too harsh on the CFP guest, and on the CFP host for that matter, chiding both for not judging art by art standards but rather economical prejudices quite foreign to the discussion. A critique on a work of cinematic art must abide by the standards of that art, not the pretensions of the literary artistic standards, or rather the idiosyncrasies of Tolkien–which are quite peculiar and individual indeed–or of the fans of the books, when the show is under review. That is a consideration, however, for another post. That a book is one thing, and a television series another, should be kept in mind by any individual deciding to take up the task of artistic criticism.

Trade is War

But what does concern us is that this penchant for disparaging the emanations of the wealthy. We are somehow made to feel that it is altogether evil–like the One Ring–to be wealthy. We are told that Amazon is like Sauron, though, I think it must be conceded if reality is to hold up, not quite so destructive. With over two million jobs on tap, perhaps it would be somewhat hasty to say Amazon is a financial tyrant, enslaving the poor like the Hobbits in Frodo’s vision in Galadriel’s birdbath. Especially if one consider that the average full-time income for an Amazon employee is almost $40,000 a year, not to mention the fact that Amazon was first to introduce the $15 dollar minimum wage.

But before you start bashing Bezos for his billions, and boycotting Amazon, consider this: according to a BusinessInsider article, though Bezos’s income ratio to mean employee salary was 58:1, the CEO-to-Worker wage of CVS was 434:1 and a whopping 983:1 for the CEO of War-Mart! Bezos is on record as having said he wants Amazon to be “The world’s best employer.” Amazon is just behind two other entities for the most employees in the world, those being–you guessed it–the United States and China’s militaries.

Economics is war. Anyone who thinks otherwise doesn’t have a clue as to how trade happens. Amazon is faulted for being big, yet no one faults–least of all the conservative ilk of the Neo-Catholic Traditionalists–militaries for being big–and wealthy. The US Department of Defense has an operating budget of almost $800 billion per annum, whereas Amazon’s income was a measly $12 billion in 2019. Yet Amazon employs nearly as many people as the DoD does. Now, I am not an economist, but there seems to be a big gap between operating budget of the DoD and the net income of Amazon.

Let me just interpose a reply to an objection I am hearing: I understand that discretionary spending or budgetary allowance of an governmental organization is not the same as the net income of a company, so the numbers do not quite compare, but then no one is giving Amazon $800 billion and telling it it can spend the money however it wants. Rather, after costs, Amazon is given $12 billion from its customers who exchange that money for goods purchased. We the taxpayers give the government, I mean the government takes $800 billion from us and spends it as it will on its own organization, in exchange for a potential threat neutralized by a projected military power. We get toilet paper on the cheap, and Amazon gets paid. We have to pay the government to ensure our safety, and we bury our sons in graves. Sound just?

Moving on to the money breakdown between the DoD and Amazon, of the mentioned $800 billion for operating budget, the cost for military personnel pay is only about a quarter: “Overall, the cost of military personnel pays and benefits (MILPERS), at $146 billion, accounts for 23 percent of DoD’s discretionary budget request for FY 2018,” (Source). Though I could not locate the costs of salaries for Amazon, I can tell you that the operating costs for Amazon for this year are about half that of the DoD, according to this source.

What’s the point or picture I am trying to make here? Amazon employs about as many people as the biggest militaries in the world, and does so through economical savvy, a brilliant business model, and efficiency, cutting costs by half. True, bombs costs more than books, but the company Amazon is not the Sauron many a conservative Catholic would make it out to be. Lest we forget, Sauron was raising an army of orcs, monster killers, and the costs were weighty. Indeed whole neighborhoods of trees and farmlands were decimated in the process. Now, I am the first one to wave my American flag and celebrate the armed forces, being a Veteran myself, and I would be the last one to disparage the necessity of a national military. But when it comes to the costs that military exacts on a population, without supplying an equally substantial as opposed to potential benefit in return, then there is something wrong with our costs-to-benefits analysis.

The US military costs taxpayers in excess of $800 billion dollars to operate, and to employ its citizens, whereas Amazon costs taxpayers nothing. The US military only employs 3 million to Amazon’s 2 million, yet costs over double to operate–that is, costs the taxpayer: “The average taxpayer paid $3,457 for the Pentagon and military, almost nineteen times more than for all diplomacy and foreign aid ($183),” (Source). Compare that to Amazon shelling out over $11 billion in taxes (source), and the picture is complete. The only economic despotism going on is the US government’s taxation.

So, here is a company which doesn’t cost me a dime, indeed saves me many dimes on cheaper products and lower prices, is the biggest employer in the world next to the militaries of global powers, operates at half the cost, and yet is targeted again and again by the Neo-Catholics as an evil entity likened to that of Sauron, who is a master of slaves and economic despot. Is Amazon morally squeaky clean? Of course not, nor is any country or company. But before we start pointing fingers at Bezos for being the big, bad wolf, perhaps we ought to dig deep inside and find the fox within, the one which sees great economic achievement, yet scoffs and lampoons because of a preconceived or prejudicial conception of how economics works. Trade is war. No one ever blamed Julius Caesar for his successful campaigns that brought so much wealth to Rome. True, the sour grapes bunch–those who wanted the power and prestige of his office–stabbed him to death, but not for his riches which were Rome’s own. They killed Caesar out of envy, not for fear of despotism. And, if the critics of The Rings of Power were honest, they kill the best show ever made by an unjust artistic criticism just as the envy-filled statesmen killed the most noble man ever to take the toga. And they do so to their peril.

Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus; and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs, and peep about
To find ourselves dishonourable graves.

Julius Caesar
William Shakespeare