A Way of Life

     Good thing that Amazon.com billionaire Jeff Bezos is buying The Washington Post.
     It could have been so much worse.
     It could have been – shudder – Rupert Murdoch.
     As Post columnist Gene Weingarten wrote in a wonderful column this week, Bezos spent just 1 percent of his $25 billion net worth to buy the Post.
     Bezos can afford to lose money for a while. And that’s good.
     As John Kenneth Galbraith wrote 50 years ago in an essay about Vermont, going broke slowly is a good way of life. It preserves so many things that could not be preserved in any other way.
     Galbraith wrote about the generations of millionaires who got sick and tired of making money in New York, and bought little bed and breakfast places in Vermont, to cater to people like them.
     They hired Vermonters to fix up the places, replace the beds and sheets and bring in food and drink and serve the Flatlanders who trickled in.
     The rich people lost money, slowly, and eventually sold out to other rich people, who did the same thing.
     But the rich people were happy in Vermont. Much happier than they would have been making money in New York. And in going broke, slowly, they helped to save a way of life. They did no harm. And that’s a good thing. Ask Asclepius, if you don’t believe me.
     Bezos overpaid for his newspaper. He paid $250 million for the Post, whose main moneymaker these days is Kaplan Education, a somewhat shady chain of profit-seeking colleges, many of them online.
     I call Kaplan shady because virtually all profit-seeking online colleges are shady. Kaplan is no worse than the rest of them, but the rest of them are bad enough.
     Everyone’s got to make a buck or die under our system.
     This is why public education, from kindergarten through college, is being nibbled to death by Republican ducks.
     “Where’s the profit?” they ask. “Where are our returns?”
     This is a stupid question, of course, but it underlies all the right-wing attacks upon public education.
     Rich people educated in public schools – as more than 90 percent of our people were educated – want to pull up the drawbridge behind them.
     “Where’s our money?” they say. “Right now! Why do we have to pay taxes for this?” Why do they have to give children the same thing they got when they were kids?
     Selfish bastards are running the country today, and running it down.
     Bezos will lose money on the Post, for quite a while, but he can afford it. I trust, as Gene Weingarten does, that he bought the newspaper for the right reasons.
     Not to make a quick profit, but to do what good newspapers do, once in a while, in the United States: to report the news, without fear or favor.
     Bezos founded Amazon.com in 1994. It did not turn a profit until 2003. Bezos plowed his earnings back into his company for nine years, while the mantra on Wall Street, and across the United States, was to Make Money Now! For Your Shareholders!
     Now Bezos owns The Washington Post.
     Good for him.
     If he loses $10 million a year at it, reporting the news honestly, it will take Bezos 2,500 years to go broke.
     By then, I imagine, someone else will have moved in, and hired other people, and lost money slowly.
     To protect a way of life.

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