Weekly readings – 11th April 2020

Why Russia Fears Sweden’s Deadly Submarines

What Armenians should know about life in America

Meet the COVID-19 college graduates

Group M’s study on consumer trust in digital marketing

Source: Civic Science

Zoom’s user base exploded and so did its underlying issues

Apple and Google want to turn your phone into a Covid-tracking machine

Fossil teeth uncovered in Peru reveal that an extinct family of primates, thought to have lived only in Africa, made it across the ocean

Bernie Sanders quits: It looked so good for him. What went wrong?

“Progressives” blind hatred on billionaires

The Presidential candidates from the Democratic party are spending thousands of dollars on ads and hours on television to tell the public how much they abhor millionaires and billionaires, and why such rich folks shouldn’t exist. Here is an example from AOC

This kind of logic and blind hatred doesn’t make sense to me. Who ever got rich by only trading time for money, by not making money while sleeping or by not having additional income outside the usual salary?

Working harder or working long hours isn’t the only ingredient in the recipe to get rich. In my opinion, there are a few factors:

  • Luck! Name me one rich person who sincerely wouldn’t admit that he or she hit one lucky break before
  • Working hard. If being rich were easy, everybody would be rich by now. If being a billionaire were easy, we would all be Bezoses, Zuckerbergs, Gateses now. Since everyone wants to get ahead in life, anyone who wants to get rich has to pay their dues and work hard
  • Offering values to the society. Realistically, compensation climbs up with the values delivered to the society. The more value is delivered to a bigger audience, the more valuable the value creator is and the richer he or she will get. Building an application that connects 2.5 billion people on Earth and allows advertisers to reach millions of people delivers far more value than packaging goods in a factory. Don’t get me wrong. I respect people’s occupations. I am merely talking about how compensation reflects a value proposition. That’s why an experienced executive who is perceived as much valuable than an entry-level staffer gets paid more. Of course, the executive is expected to shoulder immensely bigger responsibilities and results.
  • Work smart. This is tied up to the point right above. Working smarter enables one person to be more productive and become more valuable faster. The number of hours doesn’t necessarily reflect the production.

Going back to the topic at hand, reaching a millionaire or billionaire status isn’t easy. Like I mentioned, it’s not easy. In fact, it’s exceedingly difficult. That’s why only a minority of people achieved the status. Hating on billionaires who made their fortune by working hard and smart and delivering value to millions of people is just disrespectful to them. I am sure that there are cases where folks created a fortune with questionable legalities or through inheritance. Nonetheless, that’s why making a generalizing unfavorable comment on billionaires who legitimately reaped the fruits of their work is misleading at best and irresponsible at worst, in my opinion.

Plus, if these Democratic politicians hate millionaires and billionaires that much, would they give away their fortune or not act on a lucrative opportunity if they had it? I remember Bernie Sanders used to mention “millionaires” in his speeches until he became one after his book. Now, he solely rages on billionaires. Just an observation.

Don’t get me wrong. I am against almost every thing GOP politicians (not the conservative ideologies, they are two very different things) represent now. However, at the same, I lament the myopic talking points, the blind hatred and the misleading statements that come from “progressive” Democrats.

When we really want to dig deeper, the reason why income inequality is appalling in America is because the laws allow it. If it weren’t legally possible, it wouldn’t happen. The millionaires and billionaires just play the game better than others. It is the politicians who are the law-makers that allow it. If they want to look for anyone to blame, well, start by looking into the mirror.

Senator Sanders vs Amazon

In addition to the President vs Tech Companies feud, there is another going on between Senator Sanders and Amazon. The Senator voiced his criticism of the company here while you can find Amazon’s response on this page. Here’s my thought on it.

I believe that Amazon brings value to the society. It gives consumers what we need: a variety of goods at reasonable prices in a short amount of time and especially a lot of convenience. The marketplace also helps small businesses as well. I believe that the company has earned its standing today in the society and should be credited for it.

Amazon is criticized for low pays and keeping temporary workers on “temp” status for a long time to avoid higher costs. According to this study, the median wage at Amazon’s fulfillment center is $12.32 an hour, 9% less than the industry’s comparable work. On the other hand, Amazon’s response claimed that “the average hourly wage for a full-time associate in our fulfillment centers, including cash, stock, and incentive bonuses, is over $15/hour before overtime”. I am not sure how much stock and incentive bonuses make up of that hourly wage of $15. Nonetheless, I don’t pay much attention to it. I don’t know which side is correct. Both may have a point, but it would be very difficult to have a definite answer.

What I think is missing in the conversation is that apparently, none of what Amazon has done is illegal. Sure, some people are upset about Amazon doing what it can to maximize revenue and profit. But, who wouldn’t? I certainly would myself if I were managing Amazon. Put yourself in the shoes of people running the company. If what you are doing is perfectly legal, would you change? Companies are in business to make money, not to please EVERYONE. They can tell beautiful stories about vision and mission, but at the end of the day, revenue and profits matter.

Instead of criticizing Amazon, I think politicians and the public should look at themselves first. When it announced the intention of having a second headquarter, states went an extra mile to get the love from the Seattle-based behemoth. One state proposed to give them a $7 billion tax cut. In May, Seattle unanimously passed a law that required companies in the city to pay an amount of tax for every employee to fund affordable housing and services for the homeless. A month later, the city government reversed the decision under pressure from corporation-led opposition. Last but not least, there was the tax cut last year aimed to help big corporations.

The point is that Amazon plays by the rules and they do it better than most. To change the situation, the government has to change the rules. If every state requires a minimum wage of $16-17/hour without any caveat, what else could Amazon do but comply? They may use more automation or innovate to find cost savings somewhere, but it’s another topic. They would have no choice but to pay workers more.

But it would drive the goods’ prices up?

Well, we are partly to blame for it. We as consumers want goods at low price fast and conveniently, but at what expense and who is paying for that expense? The workers may be the ones paying for it now. If we as consumers want to criticize the company or its peers, we first may have to look at our part. I personally want cheap goods. But if the minimum wage increases and so does the price for everything, then so be it. What choice would I have? On the flip side, my wage as an office employee would increase as well.