The government’s $4.6 billion handout to Amazon


CARTOON/Boston Globe/Duck Duck Go

Why Amazon should be expropriated

In September of last year, Amazon announced its intention of building a second headquarters in the US, dubbed “HQ2.” This announcement inaugurated a bidding contest between 238 different cities, during which state and local governments from coast to coast competed among each other to present Amazon with the most favorable terms.

Billions of dollars were offered up to Amazon in the form of tax breaks and subsidies. Democrat and Republican alike, the governments of America’s cities—Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh—all submitted their bids. New York’s Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo offered to change his name to “Amazon Cuomo” if it would help win the contest. The town of Stonecrest, Georgia offered to change its name to “Amazon, Georgia.” The town’s mayor asked Bezos, “How could you not want your 21st century headquarters to be located in a city named Amazon?”

This week, Amazon announced the conclusion of this sordid beauty pageant. Amazon will split the new headquarters between Queens in New York City, a stone’s throw from Wall Street, and Crystal City, Virginia, across the street from the Pentagon. With these choices, Amazon’s headquarters will be positioned alongside (1) the headquarters of global finance capital, and (2) the headquarters of America’s state and military-intelligence apparatus. The bids of the “loser” cities will be used to exact concessions for future Amazon projects.

According to a study highlighted Thursday in the Intercept, Amazon’s HQ2 will come at a total cost of $4.6 billion to state and local governments. These giveaways will be paid with funds extracted from the population through taxation.

Amazon got everything it wanted. The company’s contract with the state of Virginia obligates the state legislature to do Amazon’s bidding until 2043, regardless of the outcome of elections. But Amazon can back out of its obligations at any time, keeping all of the benefits to date, by providing five days’ notice.

The Virginia location will doubtless facilitate Amazon’s lobbying efforts in Washington, for which it spent $13 million last year. It will also position Amazon for lucrative defense contracts and further integration with the American military and intelligence apparatus. “We are going to continue to support the DoD [Department of Defense],” Bezos said at a recent Wired25 summit, “and I think we should.”

The New York deal involves allowing Jeff Bezos to have a rooftop helipad, so that he does not have to use the streets or public transportation.

The scramble to turn public resources over to this massive monopoly brings the real state of affairs in society into plain view. The corporate oligarchs dictate their terms, and politicians from both capitalist parties rush to obey.

When it comes to the needs of the population as a whole, such as education, clean water, health care, public transportation, housing, jobs, culture, protection from fires and natural disasters, and measures to address climate change, the population is endlessly told that there is “no money” for these utopian dreams. But when the world’s richest man comes knocking, America’s political leaders throw open the vaults and shovel money at him.

Democracy is incompatible with this state of affairs. “A monopoly, once it is formed and controls thousands of millions, inevitably penetrates into every sphere of public life, regardless of the form of government and all the other ‘details,’” Lenin wrote in his famous treatise on imperialism. What was true when corporate empires were measured in the thousands of millions of dollars is even truer today of Amazon, which is valued at over a trillion dollars.

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