Opinion

Opinion

Amazon places prime order, Cuomo delivers

Posted November 15, 2018 8:06 a.m. EST

Jeff Bezos is playing us for fools.

Think about it. The richest man in the world just got politicians, including our governor, Andrew Cuomo, to give one of most profitable companies on the planet billions of dollars to build in the country's two wealthiest areas.

It makes no logical sense, but Bezos is rich for a reason. He is much smarter than dupes like Cuomo. He's probably smarter than all of us.

And he's laughing all the way to a monopoly.

What Cuomo doesn't seem to realize is that Bezos would have chosen New York without the billions. By building in Queens and suburban Washington, Amazon will have "headquarters" _ the word is a misnomer for what New York is really getting _ proximate to the nation's financial and governmental centers of power. How perfect for a company that has already proven successful at manipulating power to quash competition. A pile of research shows that tax breaks and other giveaways are rarely factors for companies deciding where to locate. Typically, executives choose where they need to be and then go about convincing government officials to hand over the goods. Cuomo was as gullible as Gomer Pyle. Golly, Mr. Bezos, we'll give you whatever you want.

New York even agreed to help Bezos build a helipad because God forbid our capitalist overlord gets stuck waiting on a subway platform with the unwashed masses _ otherwise known as the taxpayers who are putting billions in his pocket.

Under the agreements _ negotiated in secret, of course _ Amazon will receive $1.5 billion in subsidies from New York and $573 million from Virginia, plus an additional $200 million from each state for bonus jobs created; $300 million from a Virginia infrastructure fund, and an additional $1.3 billion in tax breaks from New York City.

That's according to Yahoo News, which pegs the total subsidy to Amazon from both states at a staggering $4.4 billion, including the interest taxpayers will pay for borrowing on the project.

Will it make you feel any better if I mention that Bezos' personal wealth has reportedly grown by $36 billion just this year, or that he's $50 billion richer than any other human? No, probably not.

Have I mentioned the helipad?

In return for its largesse, New York is being promised 25,000 jobs within 10 years. That sounds like a lot until you realize it is equal to 0.003 percent of the 9.8 million existing jobs in a region that is already booming. Safe to say, Amazon employment will have no impact on New York's economy.

I would call the deal a boondoggle, but the word isn't strong enough to describe just how bad it is. The Amazon deal is welfare on the grandest scale, a brazen display of corporate greed that couldn't be more craven. Crony capitalism doesn't get more egregious.

It is also terribly unfair. New York is full of companies, including many who compete with Amazon, that have never received a tax break. Instead of trying to create a fair environment for those businesses, Cuomo uses giveaways to help a small handful of connected companies, including some who donate handsomely to his campaigns. I'll note that it hardly hurts a politician with presidential aspirations to cozy up to Bezos.

On the positive side, the deal does expose the hollowness of Cuomo's rhetoric.

He pretends to care about workers, but just advantaged a company with a documented history of treating them terribly. Amazon's warehouses, in particular, are an Orwellian horror show, with every employee's sneeze tracked electronically by management.

Cuomo lectures Republicans on the environment and climate change, but just handed billions to a company that uses fossil-fueled trucks to deliver goods in shamefully wasteful packaging. Getting a tiny item in a huge box filled with plastic bubbles is a routine part of the Amazon experience.

Americans love the convenience of online shopping, for sure, but there is growing concern over the power that a handful of tech companies have over the economy and our lives. There is also anger about how government gets in bed with those companies to create ravenous global monopolies.

If the Amazon giveaway needed approval from voters, in New York City or statewide, I have no doubt it would go down in a resounding defeat. It was announced after the election for good reason. Notably, it is structured to evade input from the public.

That the deal is so thoroughly undemocratic makes it all the more infuriating. The message from the governor and other members of the establishment elite is unmistakable: What voters want is of no concern. Their opinion does not matter, and they are not really in control.

What Bezos wants, Bezos gets.

Contact columnist Chris Churchill at 518-454-5442 or email cchurchill(at)timesunion.com

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