SOME of the best clues as to why Jeff Bezos is the world’s second richest man, and why his company Amazon straddles the Earth making billions in a pandemic, come from what the retail giant might otherwise have been called.

“Relentless” was Bezos’s first title. Indeed, if you type in, it still takes you to the Amazon website. A tad charmless, his colleagues felt.

The second option was “Cadabra”. This expressed Bezos’s ambition to have products quickly appear on peoples’ doorsteps, as if by magic. His lawyers advised otherwise. Over the phone, it sounded like “Cadaver”.

So Bezos came to Amazon – “the biggest bookshop in the world, just like the biggest river in the world”. (Also, you assume, a statement about their commitment to cost-cutting competition – it being like a jungle out there).

This original ethos – which compulsively tries to generate what Bezos calls “customer ecstasy” – persists in his recent project titles. One of the companies that Bezos will focus on, as he steps down this week from being CEO of Amazon, is his space travel project Blue Origin.

Its deeply cheesy logo, involving leaping turtles atop a vintage globe, bears the Latin phrase Gradatim Ferociter. This means “step-by-step, ferociously”.

Don’t worry. I’m certainly not here this week to tickle the underbelly of some heroic entrepreneurial genius, broodingly gripped by “relentlessness”. In terms of its political economy, Bezos’s company is a beast.

Amazon began by undercutting small bookshops and decent bookchains, and it has continued that “predatory pricing” model across every sector. The company ran at a loss for years, to establish its scale and supremacy this way. Indeed, as Bezos heads for philanthropic Bill Gates-hood, the company faces investigation for anti-competitive practices in both the US and Europe.

Amazon’s treatment of workers is legendarily bad. They are given near impossible product targets, pressured to miss bathroom breaks (and pee in bottles), while marking up double the industrial injury standards in the US. They once got the Pinkerton spy agency to snoop on their own workers, environmental groups and labour unions; they’re also on the front foot with union-busting tactics.

Finally, their eagerness to actively evade tax has earned them the title “worst tech giant tax avoider”, in a 2019 report from Fair Tax Mark. They paid only $3.4 billion (£2.6bn) income tax in the last decade, while amassing revenues of $960.5bn and profits of $26.8bn. Amazon’s real tax rate was 12.7% over the 2010s, while the headline corporate tax rate in the US has been around 35%.

So let’s have no stars in our eyes about how Bezos has accumulated his $180bn play pot for his philanthropy. But let’s not also gloss over the difficulty of critiquing something that’s become so all-pervading, so functional for our lives.

As the Irish writer Mark O’Connell wrote brilliantly this week, “Amazon works too well. Its success and ubiquity as a consumer phenomenon makes a mockery of my ethical objections to its existence”.

O’Connell’s annotating of all the left-wing books he’s bought over the years on Amazon – including, hilariously, a 900-page biography of the philosopher Theodor Adorno, unopened – drove me guiltily to my own Kindle stash of progressive classics. (At least I now leaven them with books from the publishers O/R and Verso, who have excellent e-book services).

But often as I chase this column down to deadline – between waiting for groceries and cooking them in the evening – I have to download something that’s only available from the great Moloch in the satellite sky. Covid’s quarantines makes any alternative (say, some leisurely literary daundering round the local bookstores) even more unlikely.

IN another of O’Connell’s sparkling lines: “Bezos’s achievement can be seen as one not one of quality but of quantity. But the sheer scale of the quantity, the unprecedented mass and velocity of Amazon’s power, becomes itself qualitative.”

Why should this equation, quantity into quality, only work in a commercial context? It really wouldn’t be difficult, for example, to imagine a public library-like equivalent for Amazon Kindle. Many libraries already try to provide such an e-book service, in a patchwork way.

One might also imagine something like a tool, appliance and gadget library at the Amazon scale. Items could be used for tasks and then returned, using highly efficient Amazon-like delivery systems. Our data could be processed in order to bring us more usefulness, and achieve lower-carbon output, with the objects in our lives – instead of their throwaway obsolescence.

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We can imagine them, but what would make these structures real? Well, the kind of civic and public imagination, backed up by governments willing to regulate, invest and create institutions, that we haven’t seen for decades. (And which, when it raises its idealistic head in the form of Scots indy or the Corbyn moment, is – shall we say – relentlessly assaulted.)

Certainly the weirdest aspects of the capitalist journey of Jeff Bezos are his stated reasons for wanting to push forward into outer space (which he will focus on in his new, post-Amazon role). Let’s avoid any B movie-like rivalry with spacefaring moguls like Elon Musk.

Instead, Bezos’s space philosophy seems to be only an extension of his business plan for “consumer ecstasy”. In a May 2019 speech, Bezos predicted that our unlimited demand for energy – powering our health and medicine, our entertainments, our transportation – will hit up against the “finite resources” of the planet.

According to Bezos we must get energy production out and off a choking Earth (I assume it’ll all be beamed and carted down somehow). Therefore we need space wheels, planetary colonies, asteroid mining and sunlight arrays to crack open our solar-system resources.

If we don’t, says Bezos with a shudder, “the answer is incredibly simple: rationing. That’s the path we would find ourselves on”, with generations of descendants living worse lives than us. “That’s a bad path,” he adds.

Rationing! Shiver! Shudder! You have to admit, there is a kind of evil genius here.

Greens might have thought they’d finally landed a consensus about the reality of human-triggered global warming and its mounting, disastrous consequences.

Major amounts of investment are shifting from the “stranded assets” of oil, gas and coal, and towards renewable alternatives that promise even better returns. Maybe the next move would have been a shift towards a less materialist, less consumerist society – our social and community contribution to the mighty planetary effort.

But casting all that as “rationing” is a Bezos move we should be sharply alive to. He not only defends our god-given right to bark scented-soap orders at the Alexa in the kitchen – but he also dresses that up in “space the final frontier” rhetoric.

WE should try to “live in the doughnut”, to quote the economist Kate Raworth. That’s the space between the core of what gives humans wellbeing in society, and the outer rim of our planet’s ecosystem boundaries.

If we start to achieve that, by the end of this crucial climate decade, maybe we’ll have earned the stripes of being able to properly manage our expansion into near- and mid-space. (No robot-overlord “space colonies”, please.)

The environmental movement hugely depends on space travel and engineering. We don’t see enough, in real time, of our blue planet hanging delicately and preciously in space. We don’t appreciate the thin apple peel of the biosphere we live in and depend on.

Do pictures of Bezos, wearing his Blue Origin leather jacket and aviator glasses, inspire much confidence that he’ll help with creating that consciousness? I hae ma doots.

But at least he reminds you that it’s never been more important to be a progressive futurist. Otherwise the massive dreams of obsessive, slightly creepy retailers will define your coming reality. Relentlessly, dot com.