The Cost of Convenience…

Shipping Labels

Yesterday I received four padded mailers from Amazon. Each contained one or more small booklets that I had ordered two days prior – yes, I am a Prime Member. Each mailer was identical in size. Two plastic mailers. Two manila mailers. One mailer came from Philadelphia. One from Kansas City. One from Columbus. One from Kenosha. All were sent to the Amazon sort center in Hebron (Kentucky) which directed them to the Noblesville Postal Service for delivery to my home.

I work for Amazon. Each day I have occasion to think, “How in the world does my company make any money?” I see inefficiencies everywhere. I believe this question is endemic to all persons in all workplaces, i.e. I am not alone in sighing at my perceived sense of waste of dollars and human effort. When I return from work where I raised that question and find FOUR mailers for ONE order on my front porch, I sigh and raise the same question again: How is it possible for any person or non-person to make any money with such apparent waste?

I have an undergraduate degree where I majored in Economics and one quarter of a Masters of Business Administration in Economics. I “learned” that markets, processes, human endeavors, human consumption and human delights, if left unattended, unregulated, untaxed, unpersuaded and uncontrolled (whatever that may mean) in any manner would seek an equilibrium point of interaction that would be the most “efficient” point for that particular transaction or endeavor. (I recognize that this is a gross oversimplification of very complex and many-layered ventures and undertakings.)

In the Good Old Days of Yore I would have shopped for the same items at my local Barnes & Noble in Noblesville. One shopper – me. One store. All eight items located in the same shelf. I would have paid the listed price printed on the ISBN label less the discount for being a Barnes & Noble Loyal Customer. I would bring those items home and happily consume them in the way in which each was created to be consumed.

Fast forward to today. I paid the same list price for the items on the ISBN at Amazon – sorry, no price reduction. I received my employee discount which is roughly equivalent to a Loyal Customer discount. My shipping was as free as if I had brought the items home from Barnes & Noble of Noblesville myself – again, I am a Prime Member.

Net out-of-pocketbook dollar cost to me, Mr. Consumer, is the same for both transactions.

So, here’s the rub: How is it that flirts with being the World’s Most Valuable Company in this scenario?

Surely, it can’t be because of any efficiency gains created by the United States’ sole God, the God of the Free Market, and His Son, Economies of Scale and Efficient Equilibrium Who is constantly being crucified by Socialists, Market Manipulators and Taxes? Any sane Priest of Economics would say that this is exactly what is happening and defend Jeff Bezos’ right, indeed any person’s right, to interact with the Noble Consumer who is pushed around and/or pulled by the Invisible Hand of the God – or Goddess – of Whimsy.

I, once a Priest of Economics, a Follower of Friedman, a Dilettante of Dodd and Debreau and a Student of Stigler (yes, I was George Stigler’s caddy every Tuesday morning at Flossmoor Country Club during the summers of my youth), am now – and, to be honest, have been for some time – skeptical of the Holy Scripture of Economic Efficiency.

I am now declaring myself a Conservative in that I rejoice in and believe to be true that the sole measure of efficiency, any sort of efficiency, is that which gives me the most output of goods and services provided by others for as little input as possible of my own time and Being and personal resources i.e. conserves my time, my self, and my money.

I am now…conveniently…a Conservative of Convenience…my convenience.

How Women Named the Company I Work For…

Siurima Waiapi of the Waiapi tribe – Photo: AFP

The impetus for this post came to me the other day when I was again asked about the name of my employer. 

“Where did the name Amazon come from?  The river?”

I usually answer, “Yes, from the Amazon River.  Although the official corporate charter name is AMAZON.COM, INC.”

I might then go on to add, “However, Amazon is not the original name of the company.  The first name of the company was ‘Cadabra’ which is short for the magical word ‘abracadabra.’ When Jeff Bezos learned that people were hearing ‘Cadabra’ as ‘cadaver,’ he and others began a search for a new name.  A few domains were registered:,,, but only one of those domains still remains,”  (Click on the link and guess where you are directed?)  “One day Bezos went through the dictionary in search of a name.  He started with the A’s.  And, not too far in, he came upon ‘Amazon,’ and the rest is history.”1

But that is not the wholestory…

Perhaps in the story of the name “Amazon” there is a bit of herstory in the history. As always, one question leads to another question. 

“How did the river that is called 'Amazon' receive the name Amazon?”

The river already had a perfectly good name, El Río Marañón; a name given to it by the first Spanish explorers, with Marañón probably a Spanish approximation of a local tribe’s name for their part of the mighty river.  Another question.

“Whence Amazon?”

Sometimes when asked the Corporate Name Question I feel a little playful and respond with, “The name for the company comes from a tribe of ancient, middle-eastern warrior-women who cut off one of their breasts in order to more easily draw a bowstring.”  Imagine the look on faces with that conversation piece.  And then another question.

“How is it that innumerable indigenous tribal names for the largest river on earth become subsumed into one name which comes from an even earlier tribal period of human her(his)tory where one-breasted women rode in cavalry-formation picking off their enemy male counterparts with bows and arrows?”

Frightful, in my mind.  Imagine the warpaint on those warrior-women.  And yet, all this is not true in the factual sense of true according to current scholarly historical thinking. The idea of a group of one-breasted-bow-bearing-women-warriors comes from folk and mythical story which at one point in time was deemed historically “true.” The thinking of the scholarly historians of old was that “Amazon” is a combination of two words in the Greek language: “a” (without) and “mazos” (breast).  (Aside: Does ‘mazos’ rhyme with ‘bezos’?) It was from this mythic understanding of “Amazon” as women-warriors that the El Rio Marañón received the name Rio Amazonas.  And another question.

“How in the world does a mythical name for a middle-eastern, Scythian tribe of women-warriors come all the way across the Atlantic Ocean to the equatorial region of a newly ‘discovered’ continent?”

Enter the colonial era. The Spanish Explorer Francisco de Orellana remembered his Herodotus and the tales of the warrior-women of old when, after an attack by a native tribe where the women fought alongside the men, Orellana introduced the name “Amazonas.”

And there it is…where Jeff Bezos saw fit to give his company the name of the world’s largest river, in actuality, I work for a company whose name derives from a dynamic collective process whereby a Spanish colonialist conqueror leading an expedition in search of the Land of Cinnamon down an ‘unknown’ river is attacked by a tribe of men and women defending their homes and, as a result proclaims, “Amazonas,” which itself is an ignorant understanding by the expert historians of his era who truly believed that the name of an ancient group of fighting women was Amazon. 
 1 A summary of the naming of, Inc. found in The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon by Brad Stone; which itself is a part of the story that is being added to the Myth of the Amazon.