Joe Nocera rightly takes Jeff Bezos to task for making Amazon an undesirable place to work. (Sorry, I have more sympathy for the warehouse staff in overheated warehouses than the overachievers who are treated poorly at headquarters.) However he gets one part of the story wrong.

He tells readers:

"Practically from the moment Amazon went public in 1997, Wall Street has pleaded with Bezos to generate more profits. He has ignored those pleas, and has plowed potential profits back into the company. Bezos believes that if Amazon puts the needs of its customers first — and no company is more maniacally focused on customers — the stock will take care of itself. That’s exactly what has happened. That is the good side of Bezos’s indifference to the opinion of others."

While it is clear that the stock market has rewarded Amazon, just as it rewarded in the 1990s bubble, it is not clear that Amazon had "potential profits" to plow back. Profits are independent of investment decisions, at least if a company is not engaged in accounting fraud. Amazon may have kept prices low to expand market share, thereby depriving itself of profits, but then it doesn't have money to plow back either. It is very hard to make sense of the assertion that Amazon somehow doesn't have profits because it is re-investing, although if it gets not very bright market actors to believe it, Amazon's share price can continue to rise.

It is also important to note the big handout that Amazon has relied upon from taxpayers. Amazon has not had to collect sales tax in most states for most of its existence, giving the company an enormous subsidy in its competition with brick and mortar competitors. The cumulative size of this subsidy almost certainly exceeds its cumulative profits in the years that it has been in existence. Any discussion of Bezos success should mention this huge subsidy from the government.