Our view: In NYC, northern inhospitality greets Amazon
When Amazon announced last year that New York City and the Washington, D.C., area would share Amazon’s much-coveted second headquarters — and would get 25,000 high-paying jobs apiece — much of the country was green with envy, and a little surprised.
That the company struck deals with these two urban, East Coast areas was something of a revelation. It showed there was something to the liberal vision of economic growth. Tech companies might want low taxes and light regulation. But they also need highly educated, skilled workers — therefore the vibrant, urban, arts-loving communities where young techies like to live.
Now Amazon must be wondering about its decision as politicians in one of the two winning communities — New York — are pushing back. Given Democrats’ legislative gains in November’s elections and the oddities of the state’s government, where a small committee could thwart the will of city and state leaders, the opponents might actually succeed in scuttling the deal.
That would be very bad news for New York. As prosperous as the city is, its economy remains overly dependent on financial services. Building up its thriving, but still small, tech industry would help its quest for diversification.
An insertion of tech jobs would also provide tax revenue that would far outstrip the incentives the company got, helping to fund critical infrastructure and education investments.
Scuttling the deal would also be bad for Democrats, who would leave themselves open to being branded as the party of 70 percent tax rates and cities so hostile to free enterprise that they are trying to chase away good jobs.
Some of the opposition to Amazon focuses on the tax breaks and subsidies as high as $3 billion that the city and state offered. This seems a reasonable amount for such a massive haul. But in as much as Northern Virginia offered less, there might be some merit to the argument that New York could have gotten a better deal.
The more sweeping criticism is that all these Amazon workers would worsen New York’s already high housing prices and income inequality. In reality, 25,000 people added to a city of 8.6 million and metro area of 20 million is not that many. It would be roughly equivalent to 2,500 jobs landing in downtown Pittsburgh.
For decades, the liberal credo has been that investments in such things as education, job training and child care are the way to combat income inequality. Keeping people from getting rich, or keeping the rich from moving in next door, was never part of the argument. Not until now, at least.
Most Amazon workers are not that wealthy, certainly not by the standards of New York, where hedge fund managers are known to buy eight-figure condos for occasional use. This whole anti-Amazon argument sounds like a toxic mix of resentment and not-inmy-backyard politics. The opponents should keep in mind that scores of other communities would love to have what Amazon has to offer.
Demonstration in New York City last month. DREW ANGERER/GETTY IMAGES