Gaius Publius: Amazon Rips Off 238 Cities, States and Provinces, Then Builds in NYC and DC

By Gaius Publius, a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States and frequent contributor to DownWithTyranny, digby, Truthout, and Naked Capitalism. Follow him on Twitter @Gaius_Publius, Tumblr and Facebook. GP article archive  here. Originally published at DownWithTyranny

Andrew Cuomo’s priorities (source)

The world’s leading monopolists, Jeff Bezos and Amazon, after much thought (or in fact, very little thought) have picked two cities for their new HQ2, their second national headquarters. Those two cities, of course, were the obvious choices from the start, the only two that made any sense at all.

If you were the world’s richest greediest person, looking to re-headquarter what aspires to be the world’s most powerful monopoly in cities with prime access to the nation’s greatest concentration of money and its greatest concentration of power, in which cities would you build?

New York City and Washington, DC, of course.

Amazon Plans to Split HQ2 Between Long Island City, N.Y., and Arlington, Va.

SEATTLE — After conducting a yearlong search for a second home, Amazon has switched gears and is now finalizing plans to have a total of 50,000 employees in two locations, according to people familiar with the decision-making process.

The company is nearing a deal to move to the Long Island City neighborhood of Queens, according to two of the people briefed on the discussions. Amazon is also close to a deal to move to the Crystal City area of Arlington, Va., a Washington suburb, one of the people said. Amazon already has more employees in those two areas than anywhere else outside of Seattle, its home base, and the Bay Area.

Amazon executives met two weeks ago with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in the governor’s Manhattan office, said one of the people briefed on the process, adding that the state had offered potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies. Executives met separately with Mayor Bill de Blasio, a person briefed on that discussion said. Long Island City is a short subway ride across the East River from Midtown Manhattan.

The announcement of Amazon’s new HQ2 sparked a “frenzied bidding war” among cities eager to be taken to the cleaners by Bezos and his company, and there are dozens stories about those offers, all cast as outrages. For example, one of the losers — Atlanta, Georgia — offered this:

The winners were not the highest bidders, but nevertheless, they offered quite a bit more, beyond mere privileged access to the world’s greatest pool of money and its most plentiful supply of corrupt politicians.

New York is giving, among other things, massive capital gains tax cutto Amazon investors … and, of course, a helipad. Arlington, Virginia added something more politically useful, advance warning of FOIA requests so the company could file for pre-emptive “protective orders.”

But the biggest prize in this story is the data delivered to Amazon itself by everyone involved in the bidding process. Keep in mind, 238 states, provinces and cities sent bids to Amazon. Here’s what those bids contained:

Amazon exists, not just to sell its products, but to acquire data that gives them monopoly control of additional markets in which it has no current presence. More from David Dayen writing at In These Times:

But the biggest suckers on HQ2 aren’t New York and Virginia; it’s the other 236 cities that bid on a headquarters they were never going to get. Those bids didn’t just include the size of the bribe; they included a wealth of important data about plans for transportation, housing, education and workforce development. Amazon now has a treasure trove of non-public informationabout America’s future, in addition to knowing how much cash cities are willing to part with to land an Amazon facility. And it got all that, along with a giant PR benefit from the bidding war, for free.

If you knew a city was going to build a road in a particular place, you could make a lot of money buying up the real estate there. Imagine that on a national scale and you can see how Amazon will grow far wealthier from the data it collected than even the raw dollars extracted from HQ2’s big winners. In fact, this was the real reason Amazon orchestrated the whole charade….

It can even potentially sell this data to other companies who long for similar deals, or at least start up a new business line in negotiating deals between companies and municipal governments.

Monetizing of this new data trove will yield untold billions of dollars in value. It will also embed Amazon deeper and deeper into American life, committing politicians at the state and federal level to become human shields for the company. For example, no senator from New York or Virginia, with Amazon in its backyard, will want to speak too loudly about Amazon’s monopoly attempts. And no mayor or city council member, eager to secure that next warehouse, will have much to say either. [emphasis added]

There’s no question that Amazon is evil. The only question is, was it born evil? To answer that, consider this Jeff Bezos story from 1995, the year after Amazon’s birth:

Was Amazon born evil? The answer appears to be yes.

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  1. The Rev Kev

    The initial reaction is to ask how 236 cities could have been so idiotic as to give Bezos all this valuable information but I do not think that it is so simple. It may be that each mayor was invited to put a bid in though most must have realized that financially and socially it would have turned their cities into a train wreck. Thing is, it may have been put to each mayor that if they did not, their political opposition might make political hay out of the fact that they were not trying to get Amazon to come to their city which could be used against them next election. Just a possibility.
    The fact that half the Amazon HQ is going to be going to Arlington is not proof of this effect however as the place is already a disaster. After all, a mini-atom bomb accidentally went off in Arlington twenty years ago and caused $2 billion worth of improvements. And I know that Google reorganized themselves not long ago to be under the Alphabet Corporation but there is no truth to be found in the rumour that Amazon is going to be renamed the Umbrella Corporation.

      1. Prairie Bear

        Tron MCP has a nice ring to it. I suppose Bezos would have to negotiate the rights to it from Disney, but that shouldn’t be a problem for him.

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      That and the mayor might turn Amazon into a statewide run and be long gone before there was a problem.

      I’m not aware of any Iraq War Democrat who went on to bigger and better things besides Blagojevich who won the governor’s race in 2002, but it hasn’t stopped the Dems from putting up Kerry and trying to drag HRC across the finish line even though those first couple weeks of conflict played well on CNN.

      It’s like Marty Walsh and his Olympic bid or cutting public school funding to bring GE to Boston to increase funding or something. He just wanted an accomplishment. After all, Mittens pushed his Winter Olympic involvement for years without being questioned.

    2. Prairie Bear

      Sounds like there need to be 236 FOIA requests done. 238, really, because the full details of the ones for the 2 “winners” probably aren’t yet known.

  2. Karen

    I’m struck by the fact that this issue has gained so much detailed (negative) press. It’s a positive statement on the health of our journalism and democracy. All we need now is for people to do something about what they know! It’s not as hard as it seems, once you have a plan. I stopped using amazon for most purchases a year ago (including for my business). Some things cost a bit more (not a lot) and it was good in so many other respects…saved money, less environmental impact, more peace of mind…

    Like when I deleted Facebook 4 years ago. People thought I was crazy at the time, but to me it was a no-brained. Then got rid of my Android phone, avoided the cloud for client data. Not as hard as “everyone” would have you believe. If enough people do it, we will find, or go back to, other, better ways.

    1. TimR

      Re negative press, I’m always skeptical when someone or something becomes an official bogeyman, to the point that regular people all “know” they/ it is evil. Many of the critics may be sincere, but it’s “interesting” when such narratives are allowed inside the overton window, in a big way. “Focus your hate here!” Hmm.

      Re tossing android etc. Is it mostly about the data collection and surveillance as your concern?

    2. tangfwa

      No, not enough people will do it because there are many people who cannot afford to make these virtuous lifestyle choices. The most important change we need to make is to acknowledge the limitations of individualism/ consumer “choice.” That is the first step away from neoliberal ideology and meritocratic exceptionalism.

  3. Loneprotester

    This is the most eye-opening article I have seen in a very long time. I had a literal light bulb go on over my head. Well done.

  4. oaf

    …perverse entertainment observing how far everyone is willing to bend over for Amazon; our officials are happy to sell our futures…how low will you go??? Hang on to your pole!… lest you fall on your face! Hopefully proper PPE is involved…

  5. JTMcPhee

    That bit of reporting on Bezos’ early plans to start selling books to “educated people,” planning (very long term) to sucker incentivize them into giving up their “data lives” and eventually all their fealty and substance, sounds a little like the Democrat strategy for gaining votes among the “educated people…” A very faint echo, of course — Dems don’t offer the kind of concrete material consumer opioids and anticipatory endorphin buzz from “tracking notifications” that the people who are operating Alphabet-Amazon do. (Though the Clintonistas and related blob seem to provide their own self-generated simulacra of those sensory hits…)

    Let’s not forget that Bezos is only titled monarch of a much larger Collective of “our fellow humans,” who go to work in the High Tower every day, thinking up ever so subtle and brash ways to subsume, subvert and subjugate yet another bit of the whole political economy.

    What must it be like, as a functionary of the AlphaBorg, to wake up humming a catchy tune and start thinking over a granola breakfast bar and espresso, “Today I will meet with my coBorgs to plot out how to sucker incentivize another hundred million mopes into signing up to default-renewed autopay Prime Membership, and what kinds of package marketing will get them to place Alexa ™ in their formerly private spaces and also give us their Amazon Key ™ access so we can get into their homes and even their formerly sacrosanct American cars. Lord Jeff will be so pleased!”

    1. TimR

      Why would Bezos share his biz plan in such detail w a random dude? Not only is he a villain, but he’s like one of those cackling supervillains who can’t resist telling the hero about the fiendishly clever trap he’s prepared for him…

  6. Aaron

    Mayor Rawlings of Dallas was on CNBC this week representing one of the lucky (but too ignorant to realize it) losers. Not surprisingly Rawlings was disappointed the bid D lost their bid, but vowed to keep offering other people’s money to lure new business. Gotta love what passes for “economic development”, but Amazon’s latest ruse would make the Mafia blush.

    1. Arizona Slim

      I’ve heard the Amazon HQ2 derby referred to as the competition for America’s dumbest mayor. And, thankfully, the mayor of our fair city of Tucson didn’t enter this one.

      1. 4Corners

        Sadly, Slim, Mayor Rothschild wanted to play but couldn’t ante up beyond charismatic megaflora:

        Amazon has rejected a 21-foot saguaro cactus that a Tucson economic development group sent to the online giant in hopes of luring a second company headquarters to the city.

  7. TimR

    This may be a naive question, but why are those city planning details allowed to be so private? Shouldn’t they be available to all citizens? It must invite loads of cronyism with developers who are bribing or friendly with citu leaders. What is the rationale for keeping it secret? It must change a lot anyway, if my chaotic city council is any way typical (Bham may be an outlier though..)

    And also, wouldn’t such secrets just leak out anyway, at least to those who move in local elite circles?

    1. ambrit

      The entire idea behind City Planning is to regularize graft.
      Amazon’s ploy enables outside players with very deep pockets to come in and muscle out the local players. A form of ‘enclosure.’ As in; ever wonder why older aristocratic societies end up with a few big power centres over time?

      1. How is it legal

        Yet another reason why US municipalities’ increasingly militarized police stations are generally located just a few yards away from those City Halls™.

      2. TimR

        That sounds like war between the .01% and the 1%… Or maybe, the technocratic lackeys of the 1%, vs the localized feudal barons or something… Or SOME kind of intranecine war.

        Maybe they’re all related at that level anyway, so the losers will be given some place at the new table… They just have to follow the logic of the system maybe..

    2. Craig H.

      Every city I have ever lived in has been governed with first dibs going to the big land owners and developers and builders. Donald the Fat may be huge at the moment but he is a member of a class which is everywhere. The nation was founded as a land grab. Chomsky likes to quote John Jay as saying “the people who own the country should run it”.*

      *As near as I can tell the source for this was Jay’s son and for all we know he only said it one time when he was drunk.

      1. TimR

        Thanks… Bad as it may be, my personal preference is for local fat cats, warts and all, over some totally centralized fat cats attempting to bring about technocratic utopia… (If that’s what they actually believe.) I prefer stupid small time self-interested overlords, at war among themselves, rather than super experts floating high above everyone

  8. Anonymous

    This just sounds like a showerthought hot take from Stacy Mitchell. I’m not privy to any of the city pitchbooks but I’m fairly certain there would have been clauses and restrictions on the use of provided any information. They were probably not even looked at anyway.

  9. Eclair

    Good grief! Now we know just how the French peasants felt in the 1600 and 1700’s: Did you hear that the King is building (renovating) his big palace up in Versailles? Marie’s cousin’s brother-in-law had his cottage torn down and lost his cabbage patch to make space for the new palace gardens. But they say there are lots of good-paying jobs available; stone masons, carpenters. And even dirt-movers. Wish we had some jobs here, the Count just told us he’s raising our taxes to help pay for the new palace. And my neighbor’s sister-in-law down in Lyons, she’s a silk weaver, and they have enough orders to keep her and the rest of them working 12 hours a day, 6 days a week for the next two years. Too bad she has the wasting disease and won’t see another spring. Fast forward to 1789.

  10. Chauncey Gardiner

    Like all the other Wall Street-government created and government-subsidized deca-billionaires, he’s brilliant, visionary and ruthless. So what?… One isn’t forced to shop there or to accept their surveillance; nor to vote for those pols who accept their campaign contributions or support their tentacles with public money. So what are the oligarchs afraid of?… taxation to pay for the not-so-hidden costs of their presence and enforcement of antitrust laws and regulations to prevent exactly the type of behavior that is occurring here.

    1. Arizona Slim

      In a nutshell, the oligarchs are afraid of losing power. Re-read that children’s story, “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” That’s the idea.

  11. rd

    Helipads are a tool for thinning the ranks of the 0.1%. I have had to fly in them for job site access in remote areas a few times (including Arctic Ocean at -30C) but otherwise avoid them. I have tremendous respect for the military and civilian emergency helicopter crews who have to fly these for jobs that really only helicopters can do. But getting into them just to be cool isn’t high on my list.

  12. Susan the other

    Bezos is building his 2 new HQs in swamps and floodplains. That’s weird even for Bezos with his creepy eyes constantly asking, How long can I get away with this stuff? Long Island. A flood plain. Even if we are slamming the brakes on China and picking up the slack with the UK’s network and South America the savings on those cross-Atlantic flights won’t make much sense when trucks cannot get in and out of those stupid warehouses. And I noticed Democracy Now’s little piece on the Pentagon mentioned above. That’s very interesting. The comment was that Amazon doesn’t really make a profit from distribution – just from tax avoidance; Amazon’s real profits come from the Pentagon for a big cloud project. What happens when the market is saturated with cloud projects. I can see it now.

    1. TimR

      Imo, disabuse yourself of the notion that these giant companies are profit making ventures. Ironically, since corporate greed is so hated, it is still nevertheless a fig leaf for the real motive: thes companies are fronts for social planning and human engineering — worked out by think tanks, and implemented by a nexus of military intel gov media big biz etc.

      So what happens when the market is saturated? The borg just sheds Amazon like a husk and moves onto the next phase of the cycle. Like they’ve done w Sears or whatever.

  13. oaf

    When there are no longer any customers with purchasing power; the climate-change induced sea level rise and super storms will convert the new facilities into insurance money!!! $$$ Bezos wins either way!

  14. JimTan

    Amazon already had almost 150 other state and local subsidies which totaled just over $1.5 billion. With these new headquarter deals, Amazon has now jumped to the fifth largest recipient of U.S. corporate welfare with approximately $5.2 billion in state and local subsidies.

  15. Scott1

    As it is now my investment in Amazon fails because I do not advertise. Living in Not Conscious the infrastructure of agents lawyers and publishers did not exist so I used create which was great, up to a point.
    All is changing there. Now I do not think I can yet buy my own CDs, which means I’d have to pay full price. Sort of slapdash the way this was done, as they moved things to their new division saying my ability to buy at my discount would be restored “later”.
    For touring bands that need to carry with them Tee shirts & CDs to sell this represents a cash flow problem. They were told to stock up.
    I wrote Bezos’ secretary to say this was rude. I have not gotten any
    Far as I am concerned the monopoly that is Amazon is not going to be broken up, or otherwise resisted by me. It got huge fast. It put lots of businesses out of business. “Want to sell, you have to sell from us!”
    In the big cities one may be able to buy and sell books and things outside of Amazon, but woe unto those of us in the medium and small places.
    I miss Radio Shack, for instance.

  16. Prairie Bear

    The “was it born evil?” question also raises the question of how long Bezos has had his close association and business arrangements with the CIA (I was going to say “how long has he been in bed with the CIA?,” but that seemed too crude and puerile for NC, so I didn’t). Was that also from the beginning? Even before the beginning? Probably not that important in the long run, but would be interesting to know.

  17. Sparkling

    All these cities bidding for Amazon reminded me of how every fan of every basketball team in the NBA West (except the Warriors) was utterly convinced Lebron James was going to play for them once he left the Cavs. No, he is not going to play for your random mid-sized city when he already has a mansion in Los Angeles! None of them believed me when I said that just as none of the Amazon fanatics believed me when I said the new headquarters was going to be on the East Coast. Hopefully this whole debacle will get more people to realize that New York and Los Angeles share far more resources/power with each other and Washington DC than they do with anyone else.

  18. DHG

    Bezos is a worthless human being. Recently said he is so wealthy he has to spend it going to space…. There are infrastructure needs in the USA that he could be helping with especially in the areas around his warehouses and 3 HQs. Who the heck has 3 HQs anyway its a joke. Canceled my account over 2 yrs ago, never again.

  19. ChristopherJ

    Amazon, bad for books. Ask any author.

    I’ve call Amazon, written to them, asking that they remove my books from their store. To enforce my request, it would seem I would have to engage a US Lawyer and spend a lot of money. Thousands of people like me. Never paid me a cent for the books they have sold.

    Evil isn’t strong enough. Our politicians are feeble (corrupted), how they ever took on monopolies in the past…

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