What goes on inside the head of Jeff Bezos? It’s not a question to which I’ve given much thought, but if we could see into his mind, I’d expect his thought bubble to depict something like a hench, hairless Scrooge McDuck swan-diving into a pile of cash in the middle of a spacecraft while, in the distance, an army of minimum-wage workers colonise Mars. The BBC radio doc Inside the Brain of Jeff Bezos (24 November, 8pm) takes the question more seriously, but hardly reaches a more enlightening answer.
The broadcaster David Baker makes the point that the Amazon CEO and richest man on the planet has enormous influence on world affairs, and is therefore worth understanding. To do so, he speaks to Bezos’s biographers and colleagues, as well as various tech and business experts, dipping into a handful of clips from a chummy interview Bezos did with his own brother. The result is a blandly positive portrait of one of the most powerful and divisive figures in the world. Meaningless corporate myths of the self-made man are merrily regurgitated as fact, such as when we are told that “from an early age, Bezos was driven by the idea that every problem could be solved by thought and ingenuity – a quality he saw and admired in his grandfather”, or that “love of innovation, invention, creation is at the core of what drives Bezos”. He is praised lavishly for his willingness to take risks, his visions of expanding his empire into the solar system, and his interest in climate change.
There is no mention of Amazon’s paltry tax payments, or its treatment of warehouse workers. Of all the possible motives for Bezos’s success, “greed” or, say, a “hunger for power” are not considered. There are some chilling moments: we hear Bezos tell his brother that “watching the Watergate hearings with Pop on the carpet” spurred his decision to buy the Washington Post, and are informed that Bezos loves “hanging out with Bob Woodward and Marty Baron”. That he bought “a politically oriented news brand at a time when tech companies were facing a lot of regulatory pressure from Washington” is shrugged off. But that’s what happens when the incomprehensible wealth of a man like Bezos is treated as an inspiration, not a warning.
Inside the Brain of Jeff Bezos
BBC Radio 4
This article appears in the 25 Nov 2020 issue of the New Statesman, The last days of Trump