I'm watching Game of Thrones, and Tyrion Lannister (a dwarf) has just insisted on trial by combat to resolve the messy question of whether he should be beheaded for a murder he did not commit. Tyrion has issues, but he's a good guy (a low bar in Game of Thrones), lovable even, so I'm rooting for him, hoping he'll be able to pull off some heroic feat, like David slaying Goliath. Of course, the only reason a dwarf who would rather be drinking and womanizing than fighting would demand trial by combat was he was out of other options.
That's pretty much the way I feel about the American system of resolving disputes: go to court only if you're out of all other options. Everyone has Bleak House stories: deposition dread, interminable delay, spiraling legal fees. Litigators like it. Almost no one else does. So how did it get that way? Why do we fight like sword-wielding marauders from the Middle Ages? And not just in lawsuits. In everything.
These days Amazon is swinging its spiked cudgel at anyone who dares defy it. You can almost hear Jeff Bezos talking about how honor must be preserved at all costs. In his case, honor means market share. To quote another master of expanding market share: "It's not personal. It's business." But it is personal. To authors, for instance, it's as personal as their literary characters lined up in Jeff Bezos's warehouse, waiting for their publisher to kiss his ring before they can go forth and entertain.
Derailing Amazon, or at least knocking it down to size, will be a formidable task. Not one for the fainthearted. So formidable, in fact, that like trial by combat, it will be undertaken only as a last resort, and with much at stake, much at risk. Who will be the brave knight to do that?
People get away with murder, literally, because we are afraid to intervene. Reasonably so. You could get killed trying to break up a sidewalk mugging. Amazon is able to be a bully because so many of us are afraid to confront it. The same was true of Microsoft and Standard Oil in their days.
This is not the first time Tyrion Lannister has demanded trial by combat. The first was when a crazy queen and her even loonier son wanted to see if he could fly. He had a champion in that battle, a paladin for hire. We have our own paladin for hire: our government. We have secured its loyalty in the same way Tyrion bought his champion, with gold (or however you pay your taxes). We urge our knight into battle with those who would enslave us economically, the Standard Oils, Microsofts and Amazons of our world. It may not be romantic, but the Antitrust Division of the Justice Department is often all that stands between us and the barbarians.