Amazon’s new headquarters deals expose private-public tensions

Protesters hold up anti-Amazon signs during a coalition rally and press conference opposing Amazon headquarters getting subsidies to locate in the New York neighborhood of Long Island City, Queens, Wednesday Nov. 14, 2018, in New York. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Of all of the issues that the United States is currently facing, none is so monolithic and far-reaching as the relationship between public institutions (read: government) and private endeavors (read: companies). From the obvious issues like healthcare, to the less clear like gun control, the relationship between the public and private sectors is becoming increasingly muddied and contentious. Across the political spectrum, there are groups that support and oppose government interference to varying extents.

One of the most recent conflicts on this front has come from Amazon’s announcement of its two new headquarters. Yes, despite its original call to action from over a year ago heavily implying that a single headquarters was being built, Amazon is building a base in both Long Island and Arlington County, Virginia. It seems Amazon has chosen to air on the “up to” side of their promise that “up to 50,000” jobs would be created where it built, but the misleading nature of the ill-conceived process is a story for another time. For now, we can consider where this leaves Amazon and the locations of its new headquarters.

Of course, in order for these places to be graced with Amazon’s presence, their respective governments had to offer up quite a bit in compensation. From subsidies to tax breaks, New York is prepared to give almost $3 billion for the arrival of the company, and Virginia is offering about half as much. For this hefty sum, Amazon has proposed billions of dollars in development, thousands of jobs added and a net tax gain for the areas.

Despite these promised gains, many are still upset at the decisions and deals of Amazon, New York and Virginia, to the point where protests have already occurred in Long Island City. Protesters’ argument is clear: this deal will gentrify nearby communities, likely displacing current residents and local businesses in favor of imported workers and culture. In addition, the people who live there are the ones paying for these tax breaks. New York is sending its taxes like lambs to the slaughter with the arrival Amazon, which many believe is unlikely to fulfill its stated returns.

All of this was known throughout the process, though. Gentrification has already plagued New York and other communities, and it’s not uncommon for these tax breaks to happen when a company moves. Just look at Aetna’s departure from Connecticut a year ago. The blatant nature of Amazon’s disgusting deals is evident of a private-public crisis.

Amazon’s original announcement of the bidding process sparked controversy for how it clearly stated that it was looking for direct financial incentive. That fact alone is clearly a contrived attempt to supplant the will of local communities with ill-gotten political gains. Furthermore, the “winners” of Amazon’s sweepstakes highlight the company’s true intentions.

Amazon is the second highest-valued U.S. company, behind only Apple. Its growth has been voracious and has subsequently made many fearful of its size as a company. Politicians including President Trump have repeatedly spoken out against the tech giant, () and economists are coming out of the woodwork to say Amazon should be broken up. What is Amazon to do in order to avoid these threats? Well, it seems that Bezos and company see the best option is to buddy up to both. Amazon has chosen the financial and political capitals of the United States as the locations of its two new headquarters, and this is no accident. It seems increasingly clear that Amazon wishes to court America’s politicians and financial experts so that they will allow it to grow unimpeded.

So, all hail our new Amazon overlords. We have to make sure that the government curtails these giant companies before these organizations parasitize the government completely. That is, if they haven’t already. With how gaga politicians went over Amazon during the bidding process, I worry that we are already doomed to an unholy private-public matrimony.


Peter Fenteany is a weekly columnist  for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at peter.fenteany@uconn.edu.