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Amazon isn’t a bearer of gifts to New York City, Virginia: James Miller

Posted 11/21/18

Santa Claus can cancel his trip to northern Virginia this year. In my quaint county of Arlington, which just so happens to be the sixth richest county in the United States, someone bigger, more …

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Amazon isn’t a bearer of gifts to New York City, Virginia: James Miller

Posted

Santa Claus can cancel his trip to northern Virginia this year. In my quaint county of Arlington, which just so happens to be the sixth richest county in the United States, someone bigger, more powerful, and more resourceful than Old St. Nick is coming to town: Jeff Bezos.

Jolly old St. Bezos, with his gargantuan workshop known as Amazon, has chosen to split his company’s new headquarters between two locales: Crystal City, Virginia, and the Queens borough of New York City.

Correction: It’s more accurate to say that Amazon is placing the Virginia part of its headquarters in something called “National Landing,” not Crystal City. Part of the deal Arlington cut with the online retail giant is the rebranding of an entire neighborhood.

Renaming an entire nabe was just one of the many benefits promised to Amazon in exchange for the expected economic development its presence will bring. In addition to making Bezos a de facto member of both the Arlington County Board and New York City Council, Amazon was bribed ... er ... awarded billions of dollars in the form of cash grants, tax breaks, federal subsidies, and infrastructure spending around its new properties.

Bezos could have kidnapped the president’s 12-year-old son and not gotten anywhere close to that amount in ransom money.

That’s not the worst of it. What Amazon suckered out of Arlington and NYC isn’t nearly as bad as what other municipal governments were willing to offer. City after city debased itself in a Marxian race to the bottom to appease the Amazon gods. The list of offered sacrifices would make the Aztecs blanch: City-financed zero-interest loans for Amazon employees to purchase housing in Boston; a state-funded center to train Amazon workers in Atlanta; a new university with the appellation “Amazon U” in Dallas; a specially designated police task force to quell the “unacceptable murder rate” in Columbus, Ohio.

The last example is particularly egregious. Who knew local government needed to be enticed by a giant paper-towel-and-diaper shipper to stop its citizens from being capped in the street?

Federalism is supposed to be a beautiful structure of experimentation and flexibility under a unified set of laws. But the bidding war for Amazon turned the founders’ vision into a strumpet show, with each locality scrambling to sell themselves in increasingly déclassé fashion.

Free-market fundamentalists normally cheer on this competition. Lower prices, bigger profits, less humanity, hurrah! But the deals cut to woo Amazon were so bad, so on-their-face indecent, that strange bedfellows are forming between the capitalist right and the socialist left.

The Wall Street Journal described the entire tarty production as “crony capitalism at its worst.” Self-styled democratic socialist and newly elected congressional representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez decried the deal, calling it a corporate sop that will drive working-class residents out of her Bronx neighborhood. “Investing in luxury condos is not the same thing as investing in people and families,” she tweeted.

Hers is a nice sentiment shared, I’m sure, by most Americans. Unfortunately, Amazon’s wresting of tax dollars and privileges from two of the most affluent areas in the country was entirely predictable. There was no actual competition for the new headquarters. Bezos was never going to settle the latest prefectures of his empire in Tuscaloosa or Kenosha. Amazon epitomizes corporate power — it’s only fitting he snuggles right up to the two power centers of the East Coast.

Woe to the rest of us trying to make a go at it in one of the most expensive areas in the country. Like I said before, my small family and I reside in Arlington. Our two-bedroom condo is a 10-minute drive from the planned site of Amazon’s new colossus campus.

The announcement has effectively dashed our hopes of being able to purchase a proper home in our neighborhood, remaining close to our church, to day care, to families we know. Property values were criminally high before. What you pay for one small home in Arlington could buy you a mansion that houses four extended families in Middletown. And it just got worse with tens of thousands of Amazon employees incoming.

Such is the spillover effect of market power, which smothers anyone who can’t compete on equal terms. Amazon has already pushed untold numbers of brick-and-mortar stores out of business. Now it seeks to uproot thousands just so it can plant its new headquarters directly within the country’s nexus of influence.

I hope two-day delivery on PlayStation 4s and Michelle Obama’s latest book is worth it.

James E. Miller, a native of Middletown, lives in northern Virginia with his wife and daughter. He is the author of the novel “To Win And To Lose.”