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Quite the World, Isn't It?

On Amazon, and our base desires

Last week Amazon infuriated a wide range of people by offering a five percent credit to customers who would use its price-checking phone app in retail stores, but then buy the item at hand online. It didn't apply to books, but it did target the non-book items bookstores rely on to make their margins.

It was an appalling move by Amazon, and I'm happy to see author Richard Russo calling the online giant on it in a New York Times op-ed. The best part of the piece, though, was from author Ann Patchett, who recently opened a bookstore in Nashville:
"I do think it’s worthwhile explaining to customers that the lowest price point does not always represent the best deal. If you like going to a bookstore then it’s up to you to support it. If you like seeing the people in your community employed, if you think your city needs a tax base, if you want to buy books from a person who reads, don’t use Amazon.”

This is the heart of the issue. The app might be cool technology, but the impulse it serves is one of the things that has been tearing apart our communities, and our country. It is this near-religious embrace of the bargain, the pursuit for the lowest price regardless of the consequences. Believe me, as an underemployed journalist and author, I understand the challenges of family budgets.

But Walmart had already shown us the pernicious impact on entire towns when the residents migrate to cheap over locally sustainable. Amazon is embracing the same outlook: Cater to greed, and damn the social costs. Save a few bucks on buying that cheap import, and ignore the American jobs that disappear as a result.

We need to start looking outside ourselves and individual greed and start examining our personal choices within the framework of our communities. That old revolutionary line by Benjamin Franklin comes to mind: "We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately." In this case, we hold the economic health of our own communities - and, by extension, of our own families - in our hands. Let's do something constructive with it.
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