Amazon, Go Home! Billions for Working People, But Not One Cent For Tribute

Photo Source Backbone Campaign | CC BY 2.0

On November 7, Andrew Cuomo was re-elected as New York’s Governor. One week later, the people of Long Island City, Queens learned that they had been sold into civic vassalage to the world’s richest man.  There’s no word yet on whether Jeff Bezos will have the first right of visitation to the gubernatorial bedchamber on Cuomo’s inauguration night, but the ritual of servitude is otherwise complete.

The timing isn’t accidental. The people of New York, especially those in Queens who will be most affected, know that this is a lousy deal for them. Cuomo could not have run for re-election as a Resistance Progressive™️if voters had known about this deal before they voted.

Meanwhile, in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio has effectively crushed his own attempts to be seen as a national leader of the left.

“Disrupting” Serfdom

Welcome to Feudalism 2.0. This is how it works.

Amazon, even more than other Big Tech corporations, is a creature of government. It relies on the government-developed internet. It used sales tax loopholes to become a behemoth. And it has extracted concessions from state and local governments every step of the way.

Do this mega-corporation and its owner, the richest man on the planet, ever feel gratitude for the people who made them so successful?

On the contrary. Amazon just killed a Seattle tax that would have taken a tiny bite from its wealth in order to help that city’s homeless. New Yorkers can now look forward to similarly undemocratic and ungenerous treatment.

Billions for Bezos

According to most press reports, New York offered Amazon $1.525 billion in concessions, as well as a capital grant that could reach $500 million, in return for the promised creation of 25,000 jobs.

The New York Times reports that Amazon also agreed to spend “$5 million on training and internship programs and to participate in ‘job fairs and resume workshops’ at the nearby Queensbridge Houses, the largest public housing development in the country.”

$5 million is a pittance. In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr, it’s “flinging a coin to a beggar.” But then, Amazon isn’t exactly woke. It let Virginia use eminent domain on its behalf to displace black families that had lived in their rural town for generations. Why? So it could build the towers that feed energy to Amazon’s fuel-guzzling data centers. (More here.)

As it turns out, the initial figures for the Amazon giveaway appear to be seriously understated. The watchdog group Good Jobs First read the fine print and found that both the New York deal, and a corresponding agreement in Virginia, give much more to Amazon than was announced. In New York, for example, Good Jobs First found that the agreement was worth a minimum of $112,000 per job.

That comes to $2.8 billion.

The People’s Needs

What could the working people of New York have gotten for $2.8 billion, if it hadn’t gone to Bezos and Company?

+ Restoration of the $2.7 billion in federal funding cutsto the New York City Housing Authority since 2001, or a small start in addressing the housing authority’s 170,000 unmet work orders and $32 billionin needed investment.

+ Nearly 42,000 teacher years’ worth of instruction for their children, based on the average New York City teacher’s salary.

+ One year’s worth of housing for more than 87,000 households in Queens, based on the average rentfor a two-bedroom apartment there.

+ Medicaid coverage for nearly 360,000 people, based on average costs per person per yearin New York State.

+ A year’s worth of work for nearly 45,000 people, at $30 per hour, doing whatever the people of Queens, New York City, or New York State need done.

The deal’s backers will say that these agreements aren’t expenditures; they’re investments. They’ll say that this money will stimulate economic growth, that these Amazon employees will stay in Queens for decades to come, and their presence will help make the economy better for everyone.

Not so.

A Bad Investment

As investments, these deals have already proven to be spectacular failures. As Jordan Weissmann shows, Cuomo has been dropping these incentives all over upstate New York, and unemployment there lags well behind the rest of the state and most of the country. Weissmann cites the Investigative Post’s report on Cuomo’s corporate giveaways, which concluded, ”If it were a state, upstate’s job growth would rank fourth-worst in the nation, below, among others, Mississippi.”

That’s a pretty conclusive failure — but only if Cuomo’s stated goal of boosting the upstate economy was his true objective. If, on the other hand, the real goal was to ingratiate himself with business — say, in advance of a costly run for the presidency — it might have been a very successful venture indeed.

Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie — who might well have been paired with Cuomo in a comedy team, had the two lived during vaudeville’s golden era — pursued a similar strategy in New Jersey, with similarly poor results for the working people of his state. The corporations he dealt with often skipped out on their job creation promises, with little more than a mild reduction in tax breaks as “punishment” for their double-dealing.

Dance, Peasants, Dance

It’s unlikely that Cuomo will even do that much when, as is almost certain, Amazon breaks its promises to the people of New York. After all, this entire arrangement began with a broken promise — that Amazon was going to bestow some lucky city with “HQ2,” a magical, chimerical, wealth-bestowing, $5 billion entity that would bring at least 50,000 jobs and detonate what some called a “prosperity bomb” in its new home. Instead, its dividing those jobs among three cities (Nashville is the third.)

What a sad, end-times spectacle that was. Dallas promised a campus surrounding a bullet-train station. Newark (with Christie’s help) promised $7 billion in tax breaks. Philadelphia promised 28 million square feet in office space, spread over three sites. Others groveled even more. Gaze upon their mournful desperation:

+ De Blasio reportedly illuminated New York City’s landmarks, including the Empire State Building, in Amazon’s corporate color. (It’s orange, in case you’re wondering.)

+ The mayor of Kansas City wrote more than 1,000 Amazon reviews that fawned over the company and said things like, “I live in beautiful Kansas City where the average home price is just $122K, so I know luxe living doesn’t have to cost a ton.“

+ Birmingham, Alabama set up giant Amazon “dash buttons” all over town. (I don’t know what those are either, but they sent automatic tweets, described as “flirty,” to the corporation.) Stonecrest, GA promised to rename itself “Amazon, GA.”

+ Tucson sent a 21-foot tall saguaro cactus to Amazon’s Seattle headquarters, which Amazon refused to accept.

+ Sad, especially since there never was going to be an “HQ2.” It was all a ploy to extract more concessions from the sites it had, in all likelihood, already selected. When a relationship begins with a lie — personal, political, or business — it’s not going to mature into truth.

A Demonstration of Servility

This money means a lot to the people of New York. To Jeff Bezos, it’s a different matter. Bezos’ personal net worth went up by an estimated $35.1 billion last year. That’s a little more than $96 million per day in income. If he’s still making money at the same rate, that means:

+ It takes Jeff less than a month to make $2.8 billion.

+ It takes Jeff just a little over five days to make $500 million.

+ Assuming an 8-hour work day, it takes Jeff about 20 minutes to earn $5 million, the price of that training program.

And yet, the people of New York just gave Bezos and his friends a $2.8 billion gift — a figure that amounts to less than 10 percent of Jeff’s annual income.

If it’s not a lot of money to Bezos and Amazon, why did they demand it? Well, yeah, they’re greedy. That’s how they got where they are. But there’s another point to this entire exercise in civic humiliation: subservience. Cities and states need to grovel, to show that they’ll take whatever the lords dish out. That way, when Amazon breaks the deal — as it surely will — and when itviolates labor laws or environmental regulations, it can be certain that its new home government will shut up and remain servile about that, too.

Not One Cent for Tribute

So, the deal is done. The people of Long Island City, Queens will find themselves priced out of their homes, their neighborhoods, and their city. The conversion of New York City into a theme park for the idle elite, its evisceration as a living community, will be that much closer to completion.

Their newly-elected member of Congress, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, said, ”Displacement is not community development. Investing in luxury condos is not the same thing as investing in people and families.”

She’s right to fight back. Two other politicians, Cuomo and de Blasio, chose to serve the oligarchical class instead. They will not be thanked for it — not by the people they were elected to represent, and not by the billionaire who probably forgot they existed as soon as they left his field of vision.

To be sure, Bezos may remember them again someday — the next time he wants to demand something from the overseers of the corporate latifundia he and his ilk have made of our nation’s cities and states.

The people of New York deserve better. They should demand that this money be spent on the working and poor people of New York, not offered as tribute to the jaded aristocracy of a broken, techno-feudal economy.

Richard (RJ) Eskow is the host of the Zero Hour and a former adviser to the campaign of Bernie Sanders. Twitter: @rjeskow.