Everything About Andrew Cuomo's Big Defense of the Amazon Deal Is Bad

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Andrew Cuomo is mad online. After widespread criticism of New York’s package of giveaways to bring Amazon’s new headquarters to Queens, which will provide $2.8 billion in “incentives” to the giant corporation, the governor of New York had nothing better to do than to log on to Medium dot com to defend the deal. It is so bad in so many ways. Let’s dive in.

Cuomo frames the opposition to the giveaway he helped engineer as coming from two camps: “extreme conservatives and the socialists.” He doesn’t actually cite any specific socialists, but we can assume he means people like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. For “extreme conservatives,” he cites the New York Post, although he does not link. He spends paragraphs attacking their view that taxes should be lower for corporations across the board rather than just Amazon, which is indeed dumb. (The Post has also attacked critics of the Amazon deal as hypocritical, which goes unmentioned: Last night, it broke the truly devastating story that Ocasio-Cortez has maintained an Amazon wishlist. The hypocrisy!)

“The socialists,” meanwhile, are hopelessly naive, Cuomo wrote:

On the other side of the extreme, the socialists argue that we gave a $1 billion grant to one of the richest men in the country and that we should have given that money to the poor and the needy. Once again, it is a politically appealing argument; but also, it is once again wrong. We give Amazon nothing and their revenues give us approximately $900 million annually. If Amazon does not employ 25,000 New Yorkers, we lose $900 million. They also argue that we should let Amazon come to New York but provide no incentive. However, without the incentive Amazon, which owes duties to its stockholders (including the New York Pension Plan) would not come to New York and would not bring their revenues or jobs. The essence of the Amazon competition was that they were shopping for the best economic benefits. Amazon could have located all employees in Virginia or gone to Newark - just across the river - for a larger incentive - a $7 billion incentive package and a giant revenue loss to New York.


Again, he doesn’t link to a single source throughout, so I’m not sure who is arguing that New York should let Amazon move there without incentive. But it is obvious that Amazon was not “shopping for the best economic benefits,” given that other cities that did not win this embarrassing contest were offering much larger benefits—Columbus even offered to create a task force to deal with its “unacceptable murder rate,” as if only Amazon employees deserve to live without fear of murder. Amazon never intended to move to Columbus or Atlanta. They held this joke of a competition to encourage the cities they wanted to move to, New York and DC, to offset the cost of moving there with the biggest tax incentives they could squeeze out of them. The idea that New York had to offer billions in incentives to attract Amazon away from New Jersey, which was offering more than twice the money to move an hour away, is absurd.

But of course, Cuomo can’t respond to the genuine left critique: That cities should not offer incentives like this at all. In fact, he dismisses this as unrealistic:

Nothing in the Amazon transaction is new. The tax incentives we provide for single business transactions are usual and typical and have been operational for decades. They are long standing programs supported by both Democrats and Republicans in both the city and the state. Nor are tax incentive programs unique to New York. Every state offers incentives to attract businesses and we are in a constant competition with other states and nations to attract and keep good businesses. One could argue that in a perfect world no city or state would be legally allowed to offer incentives and there would be no competition for individuals or businesses. True. But this is not a perfect world. Our state is in an intense daily competition with other states and, indeed, other countries. Wisconsin lured Foxconn Technology with 13,000 jobs for a $3 billion incentive package. A locality in Texas lured Exxon Mobil with 400 jobs for a $1.2 billion subsidy. Louisiana attracted DXCTechnology and 2,000 jobs with a $115 million incentive. The list goes on.


Buddy, the fact that nothing in this “transaction” is new is the socialist critique. The fact that this is business as usual is the problem. The fact that both Democrats and Republicans support this is very fucking bad, not evidence that it’s good and fine. Also, a weird flex to bring up Wisconsin’s appalling Foxconn giveaway, which may cost the state as much as a million fucking dollars per job. But OK!

By criticizing conservatives and socialists in the same breath, Cuomo is trying to flatten two very different, and differently-motivated, strains of opposition to the Amazon giveaway for rhetorical purposes. By lumping in socialists, whose opposition is based on principles like “the government shouldn’t give away money to rich corporations for jobs that will go to people who already have high-paying jobs,” with the Post’s libertarian anti-tax criticism, Cuomo is clumsily lumping the good reasons for opposing the deal in with the bad.


But his defense to both seems to be mostly the same: that New York had to offer such insane incentives because other cities were doing the same. Many local elected critics “signed a letter supporting the application for the same location knowing full well it was a national competition in which states and cities were putting together incentive packages,” the governor wrote.

Indeed, Cuomo seems to admit that he thinks New York has less power than Amazon: “The only other alternative course is that we could have decided not to compete or we could have lost,” he said. You are the governor of the state of New York, the fourth most populous state in the United States, home to its largest city, the 11th largest economy in the world. You could, in fact, have said: We are not going to play this game, and we are instead going to invest this money directly in jobs, or education, or housing, or fixing the fucking subway. The fact that every other city in America debased itself to try and win over Amazon does not mean they were right or that this is a good use of money.


Another weird aspect of the piece is that he criticizes the Post, the New York Times, and other unnamed “interests” for their ownership. The Post, he says, is owned by Rupert Murdoch, whose companies have “aggressively sought and received hundreds of millions in government tax incentives from New York State.” The Times, he whines, “received tens of millions in tax breaks from New York City” when it moved to its Times Square headquarters. (Both of these things are bad, though not at the same scale as the Amazon deal.) And he also notes, without really explaining what he means, that “Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post and Amazon and is a competitor to many interests currently involved in the discussion.” Presumably, he means the Post and Times are attacking Amazon because Jeff Bezos owns the—a very Trumpian line of argument. This assumption that anyone working for the Times must be acting out a nefarious propaganda campaign on behalf of their owners is unsurprising from a man who cannot understand having principles, whose political career is so wholly defined by favor-trading and corruption. Sometimes, Andrew, people oppose things because they think they’re bad, not just because it might cost them or their friends money.

The piece was also poorly edited. At one point, he refers to “the opponents of these politician’s.” He means “politicians.” Fuck’s sake, Andrew.