Thursday, July 30, 2020

JEFF BEZOS

The Wall Street Journal
Jeff Bezos and America
Congressional testimony brings a welcome surprise.
July 29, 2020 5:44 pm ET

There’s so much anti-American vitriol in current news coverage that it’s especially refreshing to find an unexpected argument for liberty floating along in the flood of contemporary events. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos shared an inspiring message about this great land and its infinite possibilities as he appeared remotely before a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. It’s no exaggeration to say that it was easily the most powerful and compelling testimony offered in the halls of Congress since Tuesday. 


Mr. Bezos was appearing along with other tech CEOs before Judiciary‘s Antitrust Subcommittee to discuss competition in digital markets. But he decided to set the table by pointing out that while he may be the richest man on the planet, he didn’t exactly start out that way. Here’s an excerpt from his opening statement to the subcommittee:


My mom, Jackie, had me when she was a 17-year-old high school student in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Being pregnant in high school was not popular in Albuquerque in 1964. It was difficult for her. When they tried to kick her out of school, my grandfather went to bat for her. After some negotiation, the principal said, “OK, she can stay and finish high school, but she can’t do any extracurricular activities, and she can’t have a locker.” My grandfather took the deal, and my mother finished high school, though she wasn’t allowed to walk across the stage with her classmates to get her diploma. Determined to keep up with her education, she enrolled in night school, picking classes led by professors who would let her bring an infant to class. She would show up with two duffel bags—one full of textbooks, and one packed with diapers, bottles, and anything that would keep me interested and quiet for a few minutes.

My dad’s name is Miguel. He adopted me when I was four years old. He was 16 when he came to the United States from Cuba as part of Operation Pedro Pan, shortly after Castro took over. My dad arrived in America alone. His parents felt he’d be safer here. His mom imagined America would be cold, so she made him a jacket sewn entirely out of cleaning cloths, the only material they had on hand. We still have that jacket; it hangs in my parents’ dining room. My dad spent two weeks at Camp Matecumbe, a refugee center in Florida, before being moved to a Catholic mission in Wilmington, Delaware. He was lucky to get to the mission, but even so, he didn’t speak English and didn’t have an easy path. What he did have was a lot of grit and determination. He received a scholarship to college in Albuquerque, which is where he met my mom. You get different gifts in life, and one of my great gifts is my mom and dad. They have been incredible role models for me and my siblings our entire lives.


Whatever one thinks of Amazon’s business tactics, it’s hard not to stand up and cheer for the people who made it possible. Explained Mr. Bezos:


The initial start-up capital for Amazon.com came primarily from my parents, who invested a large fraction of their life savings in something they didn’t understand. They weren’t making a bet on Amazon or the concept of a bookstore on the internet. They were making a bet on their son. I told them that I thought there was a 70% chance they would lose their investment, and they did it anyway.

Gratitude has perhaps been in short supply lately in our public discourse, and who would have guessed it could be found at the House Judiciary Committee? The Bezos testimony explained his entrepreneurial success and the risk-taking American culture that encourages such ventures. It seems unlikely that Mr. Bezos would describe himself as a supply-sider, but he also explained how such an environment allows companies to create amazing inventions that consumers never demanded but quickly embrace. 


Later in his remarks, Mr. Bezos also expressed standard media-boss liberalism on climate change and income inequality, so perhaps one could say there was something for everyone in Wednesday’s testimony. One could say the same about this big, flawed amazing country we share. Said Mr. Bezos:


... the rest of the world would love even the tiniest sip of the elixir we have here in the U.S. Immigrants like my dad see what a treasure this country is—they have perspective and can often see it even more clearly than those of us who were lucky enough to be born here...even in the face of today’s humbling challenges, I have never been more optimistic about our future.

There are millions of non-billionaires who feel the same way.

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