Attention, Shoppers! American Retail Capitalism and the Origins of the Amazon Economy

Event time: 
Monday, November 6, 2023 - 4:00pm
ISPS See map
77 Prospect Street, Room A002
Event description: 

The United States stands out among the rich democracies as a shopper’s paradise and the quintessential consumer society.   Alongside Walmart, Amazon stands astride a retailing landscape dominated by huge lean retailers whose business model is premised on squeezing suppliers and workers to deliver goods to American consumers at lightning speed and for “everyday low prices.” 

What accounts for the spectacular success of these companies?  Situating the United States in a comparative-historical persecutive, I trace the origins of the Amazon economy to the late 19th century as large-scale retailers capitalized on the uniquely permissive regulatory landscape of the American political economy to outgrow the capacity of the government to regulate them.  While their counterparts in Europe faced strong countervailing forces and a far less congenial regulatory landscape, large-scale retailers in the United States enjoyed judicial forbearance and often active government support as they expanded to national scale.  Where they encountered resistance, the fragmented regulatory landscape invited venue arbitrage and outright rule-breaking.  And as they grew, America’s large discount retailers were able to assemble an ever-growing political support coalition that could be weaponized to head off subsequent regulatory efforts