The Cost of Free Shipping: Amazon in the Global Economy
Jake Alimahomed-Wilson and Ellen Reese
London, UK: Pluto Press, 2020
In an unironic collection of essays spanning globalization, labor movements, gender studies, and economics, Jake Alimahomed-Wilson and Ellen Reese have delivered a masterpiece of sociological text on the truth behind the curtain that is the behemoth known as Amazon(dot)com. For those seeking a new textbook to add to the lexicon for undergraduates and graduates alike on the costs of labor and the consequences of corporatism, look no further. Quite literally a sugar-high on every page of tantalizing and hair-raising questions to be dived into and discussed further. The ever-reaching and never-ending existence of Amazon is a puzzle that sociologists cannot hide from and should be banding together to work on and untangle. The greatest question each author curated for this book seems to be drawn from: How do we find autonomy again?
The presence of corporations curates ethical black holes, as we have a society that cannot survive without their existence, yet cannot continue to exist with them. The conundrum before sociologists is as the essayists have portrayed: Where does autonomy end and the corporation begin and where does the corporation end and where does autonomy begin? Is it as simple as finding a local shop to support? Is it as simple as fortifying labor unions? Is it as complicated as levying taxes on billionaires? Is it as complicated as putting heavier environmental restrictions on industry? The answer is yes. The answer is no. The answer is yes. The answer is no. The answer is yes. The answer is…
At this very moment, I could be working at an Amazon hub. I live not far away from one of their large facilities for my area. They have huge spaces at the ready for overnight shipping, next day, and second-day shipping, plus all the basic and regular essentials that people buy. Laundry detergent, cat food, cat litter, diapers, whatever. The essentials of major brands just sitting at the ready to be sent to any one of the houses in my small New England area. While it is a marvel of our time in the 21st century – what is the price tag of instant gratification?
I once looked into getting hired by Amazon. The average pay at the hub near me was $15 base pay, with no benefits. They allowed you to make your own hours but you had to work a minimum of 16 hours a week and you did all of your training online. You rarely talked to a human being; everything was automated. You were expected to not excel, to just be able to follow their system, not think, just show up and work. You could work a four-hour shift, an eight-hour shift, or a 16-hour shift. But you were not allowed to work more than 32 hours a week without permission. And there were people working for Amazon who also had to go to second or third jobs offering “flexibility” of hours just to afford rent that is unaffordable.
Since the book’s publication, Amazon’s payscale has moved a bit higher, and at least some workers apparently now have a choice: work a full-time job with benefits or work a part-time job with a flexible schedule. But working multiple jobs that offer “flexibility” of hours remains necessary for many Amazon and other workers in today’s economy, just to afford rent that is even more unaffordable.
Personal autonomy is overrated…right? So long as we can get free shipping, it all evens out in the end, right?
For sociologists, or even the enthusiast, the 21st-century problem we face is not why don’t we have flying cars already, but why does the average person need two or three jobs and still not be able to afford to live a comfortable life? We need more books like this one to help us begin to unravel the problems that we’ve created for ourselves. Ironically, you can get The Cost of Free Shipping using Prime free shipping to your doorstep so you can too begin to unravel the greatest puzzle of today’s society – instant gratification and the ethics of autonomy of labor.
EJ Dunn is a graduate student at the University of Massachusetts – Boston in the sociology department where she studies socio-history, fascism, and gender.