New York is a metropolis. It has been able to withstand centuries’ worth of threats to civic harmony, from the Five Points gangs to the administration of Rudy Giuliani. We have successfully absorbed striving immigrants from around the world, weekend partiers from Jersey, and post-college seekers from the midwest. But one thing that New York City has never truly had to battle is a massive influx of rich techies. Let’s not start now.
For a full year, Amazon – a trillion-dollar company led by the richest man on earth – has been busily extracting subsidies from cities across the country, all of them desperate to lure a promised 50,000 jobs and $5bn investment for Amazon’s second headquarters. The “HQ2” became necessary after Amazon filled metropolitan Seattle edge-to-edge with glass towers full of Amazon employees.
This week, at last, it was reported that Amazon had decided to divide its new headquarters bounty between the suburbs of Washington DC and the Queens riverfront. Having tired of the amusement of watching second-tier cities debase themselves in a desperate bid for something they were never going to get, the company has apparently settled on “the two most obvious major cities on the east coast”.
This engineered airdrop of tech people threatens to destroy America’s delicate distribution of unwanted wealthy demographic groups. Silicon Valley and Seattle get to deal with the techies. Los Angeles gets the Hollywood people. Washington gets the politics nerds, and New York gets finance types. We have each adapted to our own particular crosses to bear. Yes, millions of New Yorkers must share a city with tens of thousands of Wall Street people, but we have developed a complex system of cultural processes that mostly segregate them in easily avoidable areas of Manhattan, and shunt vast numbers of them off to the Jersey suburbs at night. It’s a system that works. Forcing us to take in a flood of rich young tech people on top of this is like giving the flu to someone who already has chronic but manageable diabetes. It’s just not fair.
Washington, fueled by lobbyist money and proximity to power, has long since left behind its Chocolate City status and gentrified into a bland, low-slung landscape of gastropubs. In New York, though, our sheer size has allowed us to more easily process waves of money that would destroy lesser towns. Long Island City, where Amazon reportedly wants to move, is already a forest of newish glass towers, a neighborhood built especially for people who like luxury without character. But adding 25,000 Amazon employees there would obliterate the last vestiges of coolness in neighboring hoods like Greenpoint, once a quiet Polish neighborhood that now teeters on the edge of moneyed oblivion. A massive concentration of tech wealth is like a bomb that will ripple out in concentric circles of cultural destruction.
Even more importantly: Amazon is bad. It is monopolistic. It works its blue-collar and white-collar employees to the bone, prompting frequent exposés of its awful working conditions. New York City is a union town; Amazon is an anti-union company. Its owner should have his immoral hoard of wealth forcibly expropriated by the state before his power grows so great that all of society is warped by it. Jeff Bezos’s money should immediately be put to use helping the public; instead, he cackles from inside his cartoonishly large mansion as cities and states desperately compete to shower his company with the maximum amount of public subsidies, in order to secure a glorified satellite office.
The Amazon HQ2 charade is an impeccable demonstration of why these sorts of public subsidies for corporate relocations should be illegal. If everyone agreed not to offer anything, companies would still need to build. They just wouldn’t get paid by the public for it. It is one of the most enraging and unnecessary corporate handouts in America, and we don’t need to be a part of it.
If Amazon really wants to plop itself down in our city, it should abide by a few conditions. No taxpayer money should go to subsidize one of the wealthiest companies on earth; Amazon should cease union-busting, before it finds itself inundated by inflatable rats; and Jeff Bezos should pay to build housing for all 63,000 homeless people in New York, an expense that would not affect his lifestyle in the least. In return for these concessions, NYC residents will agree not to spit in your coffee or spray communist graffiti on your headquarters for the first month.
We’ll even agree to give your employees directions on how to get home: hop on the train at Penn Station, and get off at the stop called “Newark”. You’ll be welcomed there.
Hamilton Nolan is a senior writer at Splinter. He lives in Brooklyn