Amazon is hiring 100,000 people in response to coronavirus demand. I thought I’d misread the figure at first. Surely they meant 10,000? But no, the Seattle ecommerce giant is, in fact, hiring a mid-size city’s worth of people to make sure it can keep up with demand. And not just them – Walmart, CVS, Instacart, and others are all hiring tens to hundreds of thousands of people.
To which I say, “why bother?” Seems like an odd question, because we just assume that companies are relentlessly pushing to expand and improve. But anyone who has run even a small business will know how much of a pain onboarding a single employee can be – much less doing that 100,000 times in a month or two. There’s sifting through applications, doing interviews, training, instilling company culture, then dealing with any complaint or problem a human can dream up because that’s what people do!
And the guys and gals who run these businesses don’t need the headache. Jeff Bezos? The Waltons? They have so much money, it would be a job just to try and spend it all. Ask Bill Gates, who literally does that for a living now.
This seems especially the case because by all reasonable accounts, this economic flux is temporary. These companies may well have to lay off a substantial portion of the new hires in a few months.
So why do they bother?
There are many good answers, brand loyalty among them. But it got me thinking something I hadn’t considered before: thank goodness for the extravagant lifestyles of the rich! That’s what keeps them pursuing these heroic feats in the marketplace – the need to feed their personal consumption habits. If they were all buddhist monks, they truly wouldn’t need to keep chasing profit – and I have to believe they wouldn’t be hiring by the battalion.
Now some might object that at the multi-billionaire level, even extravagance doesn’t make a dent in their net worth. But to that I say that we must consider under “consumption” the many intangible purchases of simply having a lot of money. The fame, the ultra-elite networking opportunities, the ability to play the role of philanthropist, the sense of being the best at what you do.
It starts to sound like an Austrian School-style axiom – we are motivated to produce by what we wish to consume.
So here’s my message to the billionaires: enjoy your superyachts so I can enjoy my next-day delivery!
Author: Mike Vine
Published: April 1, 2020