The saga of Amazon’s search for its second headquarters, but then it turned out to be for a third as well, but then back to just a second one, was enlightening. It showed us just how thirsty and embarrassing city officials could be, and how many billions of dollars in tax “incentives” they would be willing to give up to attract high-paying tech jobs. It showed how the idea that American democracy is at all transparent, or really functioning at all, is a lie. It showed cities would do more to placate Amazon than they would to keep their own citizens safe, with Columbus promising Amazon it would create a task force on its high murder rate; apparently, murders only matter if they happen to highly paid Amazon employees. It showed there’s always money to be found in government coffers for corporate Job Creation. It showed us that the media is full of neoliberal cretins.
More than anything, it showed how willing Amazon was to lie—most notably, about the idea that they would ever have picked anywhere but New York, with its massive and already highly skilled labor market, and Crystal City, with its proximity to Washington and the power (and juicy federal contracts) therein. They never meant any of this, but they made all those cities dance for them anyway.
Today, we learn of yet more evidence of their utter disdain for local politicians. You may remember the sordid tale of Seattle’s “head tax” from last year: Seattle’s City Council passed a per-employee tax on companies that make more than $20 million that would have raised money for homelessness services, but then repealed that tax less than a month later after Amazon and other businesses complained. Among the toys Amazon threw out of its pram before it won: It warned if the tax stuck, it would pull out of bringing workers to 722,000 square feet of space it had leased in a new tower named Rainier Square. As Seattle’s KING 5 reported last spring:
“I can confirm that pending the outcome of the head tax vote by City Council, Amazon has paused all construction planning on our Block 18 project in downtown Seattle and is evaluating options to sub-lease all space in our recently leased Rainer Square building,” Amazon Vice President Drew Herdener said in a statement.
The two office spaces would have housed over 7,000 new Amazon jobs.
The head tax is going to make us sublease all our space, warned Amazon. But then the head tax was repealed, so surely Amazon would go ahead and bring its jobs to the tower?
Apparently not. GeekWire reported today Amazon will in fact sublease all of its space in the building, meaning it won’t bring those new Amazon jobs to that building. In a statement to the Seattle Times, Amazon claimed they were “always evaluating our space requirements and intend to sublease Rainier Square based on current plans.”
It would seem like they were lying about the original threat, then, since they won but went ahead and did it anyway. But you can’t expect anything else from a corporation, least of all Amazon. When it comes to business decisions, corporate executives don’t think in terms of what’s morally right or whether it’s bad to lie. It makes business sense for Amazon to pretend that whether or not those jobs came to that building had anything to do with whether or not the tax was repealed, because it helped them defeat the tax. The only job of a corporation is to maximize its profit, and if it can lie without breaking the law, or break the law without getting caught, it’ll do that. The logic of profit is untouched by morality; any resemblance to what’s good or right is coincidental.
Remember the legendary anarchist who addressed the Seattle City Council right before they repealed the head tax by saying, “What’s up, bootlickers?” Yeah. What’s up now, bootlickers? Have you figured out yet that big corporations lie to you, and how they have absolutely no shame in extracting concessions with threats before doing the thing they threatened anyway? Have you figured out that the only way to stop them from doing that is to stop listening to their petty threats and not play their game at all—and, better yet, by investing the money you would have offered them into jobs and education and healthcare and the homeless and everyone else in your districts and cities and states struggling under the corporate boot?
Almost all of them haven’t figured it out, not yet. But maybe soon.