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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Amazon is in the midst of a hiring spree unprecedented in American corporate history. It's a show of force that, if history is any guide, will be extraordinarily difficult to compete with.

By the numbers: Amazon has been doing extremely well during the coronavirus pandemic. In the six months from April through September this year it made a profit of $11.6 billion. That's up from $4.8 billion in the same period of 2019, and a mere $450 million in those six months of 2017.

  • What's astonishing about those results is that they come during a period of greatly increased costs. Amazon isn't just hiring aggressively; it also has to keep all those new hires safe in the face of a pandemic, while also staying true to its 2019 promise that it would deliver almost everything to Prime members in just one day.

Driving the news: Amazon has increased its workforce by well over 400,000 people this year alone, bringing total headcount to more than 1.2 million. On top of that number, NYT reports that some 600,000 temporary workers and delivery drivers are now working for Amazon.

  • No company has ever expanded this fast — and the fact that Amazon is adding so aggressively to its full-time workforce shows that the retailer sees this growth as permanent, rather than being a temporary artifact of the pandemic.
  • The message is clear: Amazon is intent on taking advantage of the pandemic to increase its competitive advantage over all other retailers, to build an all but insurmountable gap.

Flashback: Amazon did something similar following the dot-com crash of 2000. While its competitors were struggling to stay alive, Amazon spent three years building developer tools and APIs that would give quick and easy access to Amazon's computation, database, and storage capabilities.

  • At first, the project was designed just for internal use, but eventually it was expanded to be available to anyone.
  • By the time Amazon launched its first cloud-computing product, EC2, in 2006, it was effectively six years ahead of any competition — and it took another few years for other companies to even try to compete in what is now known as "the cloud".
  • Amazon's cloud business, AWS, made $3.5 billion of net profit on its own in the third quarter of 2020. That's 56% of the company's consolidated net income.

The bottom line: Amazon is the one mega-cap company that has real capacity to absorb and reinvest the massive profits that it's throwing off. It has never paid a dividend, and it hasn't bought back any of its own stock since 2012. Instead, it's building a seemingly invincible real-world army.

Go deeper

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Jan 26, 2021 - Science

Investment in the space industry overcame the pandemic's headwinds in 2020

A SpaceX launch in 2020. Photo: SpaceX

Investment in the space industry continued to grow in the last quarter of 2020, despite the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new report from Space Capital.

Why it matters: The space industry turned out to be far more robust in the face of the pandemic than many experts were initially expecting.

Oklahoma Supreme Court temporarily blocks abortion restrictions

A pro-choice activist demonstrates outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Oct. 4, 2021. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Monday temporarily blocked three abortion restrictions set to take effect on Nov. 1.

Why it matters: The laws would place new limits on medication-induced abortions and require doctors who perform abortions to attain board certification in obstetrics and gynecology.

U.S. freezes aid to Sudan over military coup

Protesting the coup in Khartoum. Photo: AFP via Getty

The Biden administration has frozen a $700 million aid package to Sudan after a military coup on Monday threatened to end the country's transition toward democracy.

Driving the news: At least three protesters have been killed and dozens wounded in the chaotic scenes that followed the announcements from Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the head of Sudan's ruling council, dissolving the government and declaring a state of emergency.