In an ironic comparison, David Leonhardt compares the jobs Amazon would have brought to New York City with cupcakes for kids.
Imagine that a bunch of children are sitting around a table when a seemingly beneficent adult walks into the room carrying a plate of cupcakes. The kids burst out in excitement — until they notice a problem: There are fewer cupcakes than children.
At this point, the adult announces some ground rules. To receive a cupcake, the children will have to compete with one another. The adult will accept cash or other objects of value. Praise for the adult’s kindness would also be welcome.
Leonhardt goes on to acknowledge that jobs aren’t cupcakes. But he fails to recognize the other side of the analogy, comparing progressives to children, making his otherwise inapt analogy better than he thought. Of course the children who didn’t get a cupcake would feel hurt, deprived and left out, but that’s not a reason for Amazon to acquiesce to their feelings, but a reason not to elect children to govern.
Enter New York City’s most progressive mayor ever, Bill de Blasio, trying to salvage the dignity he lost when he agreed to spit-polish the shoes of every NYPD officer so they wouldn’t turn their backs on him again.
Just days before, I had counseled a senior Amazon executive about how they could win over some of their critics. Meet with organized labor. Start hiring public housing residents. Invest in infrastructure and other community needs. Show you care about fairness and creating opportunity for the working people of Long Island City.
There was a clear path forward. Put simply: If you don’t like a small but vocal group of New Yorkers questioning your company’s intentions or integrity, prove them wrong.
Amazon’s corporate management decisions conflicted with a “small but vocal group’s” feelings of corporate “morality,” and all Amazon needed to do was reinvent itself to align with this “small but vocal group’s” feelings. This isn’t just an infantile argument by de Blasio. This isn’t just unsound economics, both because acquiescing to the “small but vocal group’s” demands now would lead to more demands, and more demands, and would require a corporation to make its economic decisions secondary to the whims of people whose “morality” free rides on the business risks of others. This is letting the minority dictate terms for the majority.
I am a lifelong progressive who sees the problem of growing income and wealth inequality. The agreement we struck with Amazon back in November was a solid foundation. It would have created: at least 25,000 new jobs, including for unionized construction and service workers; partnerships with public colleges; and $27 billion in new tax revenue to fuel priorities from transit to affordable housing — a ninefold return on the taxes the city and state were prepared to forgo to win the headquarters.
So, this was a huge economic blessing for New York.
The retail giant’s expansion in New York encountered opposition in no small part because of growing frustration with corporate America. For decades, wealth and power have concentrated at the very top. There’s no greater example of this than Amazon’s chief executive, Jeff Bezos — the richest man in the world.
Amazon brought jobs to the table, money to the table, food to the table. The moral scolds brought “growing frustration” to the table. Somebody has to be the “richest man in the world,” and they didn’t get that way by attacking the people who brought jobs because of their feelings of frustration. It’s not that de Blasio didn’t want the jobs, or the tax revenue that they brought, but that the corporation that had the jobs didn’t acquiesce to the economic morality of the “small but vocal group” who had nothing to give anyone. No jobs. No taxes. Just their version of morality. Why didn’t Amazon just change their evil ways to end the “small but vocal group’s”
The lesson here is that corporations can’t ignore rising anger over economic inequality anymore. We see that anger roiling Silicon Valley, in the rocks hurled at buses carrying tech workers from San Francisco and Oakland to office parks in the suburbs. We see it in the protests that erupted at Davos last month over the growing monopoly of corporate power.
Amazon’s capricious decision to take its ball and go home, in the face of protest, won’t diminish that anger.
The lesson here is that Amazon doesn’t need to fund New York City’s tax coffers, give jobs to New Yorkers, and bend to the will of the children demanding that everyone get a cupcake. Amazon didn’t lose. Its business will continue unabated, as the boxes with smiles will flow to homes everywhere filled with products. You did, Bill. New York City did, Bill. So a “small but vocal group” will be angry? Aw, bummer.
The people who have nothing to give to feed anyone will always tell those who have jobs to offer, taxes to pay, how to mend their immoral ways to meet their child-like sense of fairness. They will throw rocks at buses. They will protest. They will sign petitions on the internet and mount hashtag campaigns from basement couches, all while Amazon does business, pays employees and taxes.
Why wouldn’t Amazon bend to the will of this “small but vocal group’s” demands that it correct its immoral business practices to suit their “frustration”? Because it’s a business and it makes decisions based on business interests, not the sad tears of the “small but vocal group” of moral scolds.
Like many, I have a love/hate relationship with Amazon. I hate that they crush competition. I agree that the “wealth gap” is a huge problem, but people can’t buy the goods that corporations make and Amazon sells if they don’t have decent jobs that pay them enough disposable income to buy. But these are economic reasons, not that Amazon is so immoral and everybody should get a cupcake because it’s my version of fairness.
Amazon learned a lesson, Bill, as did every New Yorker who won’t get a job because your counsel was to placate the “small but vocal group” of moral scolds. If progressives can’t demand a cupcake for all the children, then no child gets a cupcake. This is our progressive future, full of moral righteousness and not a cupcake to be eaten.