Amazon and Jeff Bezos were so desperate they needed the generosity of the citizens of New York to help them pay their future rent.
If any of us formulated the plan to move to New York and either buy a house or build one, we would begin looking at the price of property to decide whether or not we could afford it. That’s because there aren’t that many things most of us can afford, especially when talking about real estate. We would also compare the environment and facilities on offer to find which provided the most convenience and were most compatible with our lifestyle.
With enough information and the belief that we had the means to manage the move, we would then see what kind of financing we might secure, given our situation and credit rating. Which is another way of acknowledging that we all have easily calculated limits on what we’re capable of buying and maintaining (at least ever since the end of the subprime market in 2008).
We may sometimes wonder what happens to people who have no limit on what they can afford or how much credit the banks will trust them with? Take Jeff Bezos, for instance. There are no limits on the cash available to him or to his company, Amazon. Instead of going out like the rest of us and shopping for the best and most affordable solution, he can turn the logic on its head and ask how much New York will offer him to take up residence in its precincts. He will also be free to define his material and legal conditions and expect they will be met.
And so Bezos delighted the politicians of the city and state of New York by promising to take over an existing tower and build to the requirements of his “second headquarters,” on the understanding that the city will cover most of the cost. Over time, of course, just to make things easier for New Yorkers.
Bill de Blasio, the mayor of New York City, was over the moon. Challenged to explain why the city would not only pay Amazon to move in, but even twist its own laws so that Bezos can get exactly what he wants, de Blasio pointed out that Amazon “needed a certain amount of certainty.”
Here is today’s 3D definition:
The ultimate privilege of very wealthy people, a status society owes them. Not only do the wealthy deserve certainty, but obtaining it from the community helps to distinguish them from the rest of humanity, whose perennially uncertain situation motivates them to contribute to satisfying the need of certainty of the rich.
Politico estimates the windfall for Amazon at $3 billion in the form of what are politely called “incentives” rather than “gifts” or “handouts.” As Amazon claims to be ready to spend $5 billion on the project, that means the people of New York will only be subsidizing 60% of the cost.
De Blasio, hardly able to contain his joy, made the extraordinary claim that “a lot of that money … will help us support small business and support neighborhoods.” He may not be aware that Amazon has, since its beginnings, been in the business of replacing and making redundant — if not destroying — small businesses (as well as a number of large ones).
To be fair, it isn’t that simple. Amazon claims to host “millions of small-business sellers” (a lot of them individuals with something to sell rather than “businesses”), but Amazon’s fundamental logic is to control the entire retail marketplace in ways not dissimilar to the mafia’s method of controlling the businesses in their territories: Work with us or don’t work at all. We’ll simply take our cut. You’re in good hands.
But one extraordinary claim flying in the face of common sense wasn’t enough. De Blasio continued by “arguing that the Amazon deal, in the end, is what democracy looks like.” His reasoning was in itself rather extraordinary: “You have a democratically elected mayor and a democratically elected governor saying we had an unprecedented opportunity to add to the number of jobs in this city.”
Some people will be tempted to call that collusion or even insider trading between two interested parties who happen to be elected officials. What’s more worrying is to realize that de Blasio may be right. His description sums up what democracy in the US has become under Republicans and Democrats like Mayor de Blasio and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.
Observers may notice the similarity with President Donald Trump’s stated reason for not being too severe with Saudi Arabia. “I would prefer if there was going to be some form of sanction, we don’t use as retribution, canceling $110 billion worth of work, which means 600,000 jobs, he said.” Trump failed to mention that the coveted “order” of $110 billion was merely a “memorandum of intent” and that there is no way that figure would create 600,000 jobs. On the other hand, Trump’s discourse does represent “what democracy looks like” today: misleading promises to the population and lucrative deals that bend the laws and further enrich the rich.
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]
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