Now, in our present age of capitalist apocalypse, there’s a new name for the world-changing event that looms on the horizon: HQ2. Amazon, the flesh-eating corporation that has bored its way into what seems every aspect of our lives — destroying and transforming basic industries and institutions, habits of daily living, and the very configuration of our cities — is planning to open a second massive headquarters … somewhere.
Not perhaps since Constantine decided to build another capital for the Roman Empire on a site on the Bosporus called, naturally, Constantinople, has there been such feverish speculation about where Jeff Bezos would land Spaceship Amazon to bring his dubious mixture of blessings and curses. Small cities and large have come to the emperor’s court, bringing their gifts of free real estate and tax exemptions, peddling their wares, and pleading their case. Oddsmakers have ranked the major and minor contenders: Atlanta at 7:1, New York and Chicago at 14:1, Philadelphia at 18:1. You can keep score at SportsBettingDime.com.
The only thing to compare with this circus is the quadrennial competition for the sites of the Olympic Games. But the Olympics usually bring substantial financial cost and sometimes economic devastation; Athens is still trying to recover from hosting the 2004 Summer Games. Amazon promises fathomless riches in jobs, investment and civic renovation, after of course exacting its initial price. It is almost as if the future of urban civilization itself, which began to flourish so suddenly with the Industrial Revolution and to decline so precipitously with its latest fruit, the Digital Age, is at stake. In this sense, HQ2 is not simply a large business decision. It is an event that symbolizes the future of society.
I hate Amazon. With its former compeer Apple, it destroyed the bookstore, the cultural anchor of great cities and one of the great pleasures of my life. It is wiping out retail chains, the jobs that go with them, and the experience of shopping, dining and socializing that brought people together. It has left in its wake a vast isolation in which we can all remain in the sealed shells of our homes and apartments, connected to the world only by the computer keystroke. Your shipment is at the door.
“Convenience” is the sell. Old-fashioned getting and spending was labor- and time-consuming. It involved getting out and around, rain or shine, and lots of capital investment in building and transportation. It made for a lot of crushing and pulverizing of the natural world. The new workless, virtual world toward which we are headed promises ease and satisfaction with minimal effort. It also promises human emptiness and dependence on distant and unaccountable forces we can neither understand nor control. As we simultaneously “master” and destroy the environment around us, both natural and human, we are entering a robotic new world in which the ultimate thing to be replaced is ourselves.
Amazon is hardly responsible for all this; it is simply a pimple on the process. But the sheer size, arrogance and presumption of the HQ2 sweepstakes is an unprecedented show of corporate muscle in a developed country, let alone what is still the world’s largest economy.
It has often been remarked that corporations can be richer than entire nations. But never before has a single corporate entity made the major cities of the country that regards itself as the world’s preeminent power grovel for the pearls of its favor. The finalists have now been reduced to twenty cities. They each received short, curt nods by email in mid-January; Boston’s was typical: “We would like to move Boston forward in the process so that we can continue to learn more about your community, your talent and potential real estate options.” Boston, the Cradle of Liberty and the site of the Tea Party. Tell us more about what you’re prepared to let us shake you down for.
Newark, also one of the Chosen, has already offered Amazon $7 billion in tax breaks over the next 20 years, money it certainly doesn’t have itself and which would effectively mortgage the state of New Jersey, representing as it does 14 percent its current business tax base. It’s not that the money would mean anything to Amazon, as it amounts to only 0.2 percent of its current earnings per annum. It is tribute money, of the sort lesser states used to pay to the great Chinese empire. It means submission.
Amazon has moved into product lines now and just about everything else: it is too big to stop, even if the government were still able to look the word “monopoly” up in the dictionary. It started, though, producing nothing. It was just a big warehouse that delivered other people’s stuff. For this, it was rewarded with the power to snuff out entire industries. After a career of avoiding taxes, it now demands nonpayment of them as a right. It claims to bring jobs but delights in killing them, as in its new cashierless supermarkets, Amazon Go.
Many of those it employs work at poverty wages without benefits and in harried and sometimes horrific conditions. Those it doesn’t send to the unemployment line it exploits in what is rapidly becoming the world’s largest sweatshop. Its founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos, is the world’s richest man. He owns The Washington Post, a fearful thought. Having made himself a master of the universe on earth, he now wants to travel into outer space, a goal in which we wish him well. He was voted the World’s Worst Boss by the International Trade Union Confederation.
Megacorporations now rule us. HQ2 only makes the point unmistakably. Their money owns cities, states and the federal government. Labor lies at their feet. The smartest talent around serves them — conscienceless scientists, slick lawyers, finagling accountants, anything they need. With all the skill and brainpower at their command, however, they are mindless and nihilistic, serving only the rodent-like goal of endless accumulation, of purposeless power and profit. They’ve been dining out, ideologically, on the economist Joseph Schumpeter’s description of the capitalist process as one of creative destruction, with the latter justified by the former.
Actually, Marx and Engels said much the same thing in The Communist Manifesto. The difference was that they saw the energies of capital as self-destructive in the end. If that end can’t be reached in time, though, they stand to destroy us, politically, economically, ecologically and above all morally and spiritually. The ITUC, in making its award to Jeff Bezos, cited him as a prime specimen of the “inhumanity” of the contemporary corporate executive. Our humanity is, indeed, modern capital’s ultimate target.
The Tulsa Regional Chamber says it can’t release the city’s Amazon HQ2 proposal.
That’s where we are nearly a month after Chamber CEO and President Mike Neal stood next to Mayor G.T. Bynum at a City Hall press conference and said the chamber couldn’t release the city’s HQ2 proposal because it had signed a nondisclosure agreement with Amazon.
Or so he initially thought. Chamber officials, including Neal, later clarified the organization’s position, saying the chamber has a nondisclosure agreement with the state Department of Commerce, which in turn has a separate nondisclosure agreement with Amazon.
Chris Wylie, the chamber’s director of accounts, confirmed again this week that the only nondisclosure agreement the chamber has related to the Amazon deal is with the Department of Commerce.
It is common for the chamber to work with the Department of Commerce to come up with financial incentive packages, and the information that goes into creating those deals is typically considered confidential under the state’s Open Records Act.
Those financial incentives, Neal and other chamber officials argue, need to be kept private so that other cities and states don’t have Tulsa’s playbook the next time a big jobs-generator comes up for bid.
It’s an argument that one could say has merits, but it’s not the one being written about here.
Amazon confirmed this week that the company never prohibited HQ2 applicants from making their bids public.
According to the online giant, the only time nondisclosure agreements were signed was to protect Amazon’s proprietary information.
This isn’t news. A number of media outlets have reported the same thing. And several cities and states, including Boston, Colorado and a coalition of cities in the San Francisco Bay Area, have chosen to release all or parts of their applications.
So the question is this: Given that the chamber does not have a nondisclosure agreement with Amazon, does its nondisclosure agreement with the state Department of Commerce cover the Chamber’s entire Amazon HQ2 proposal or only the financial incentives offered to the company?
If it covers the entire agreement, that would seem to go against Amazon’s stated policy. If it covers just the financial incentives offered by Tulsa and the state of Oklahoma, why not release the entire proposal, minus the financial information considered confidential under Title 51, Section 24A.10 of the state’s Open Records Act?
Justin McLaughlin, chief operating officer of the Tulsa Regional Chamber, provided this explanation for why the chamber won’t be releasing the city’s bid:
“The competition for economic development projects between cities is extremely fierce, and confidentiality helps us maintain a competitive advantage,” he said. “As chamber President and CEO Mike Neal mentioned at the January 18 press conference, football teams don’t show each other their playbook before a game.
“Similarly, we anticipate submitting proposals for future economic development projects in which elements of our Amazon HQ2 playbook will be relevant.”
Amazon has made other forays into delivery. In August 2016, the company unveiled its first branded cargo plane, one of 40 jetliners that were expected to make up its own air transportation network.
Kevin Canfield has covered local government in Tulsa for nearly two decades. He also has reported on downtown development, zoning and community planning.
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WHAT? The midtown mafia is lying and deceitful? No way. Where’s the transparency in Tulsa?
They don’t want us to know just how high they wanted to jack up our taxes to cover this pipe dream.
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