Amazon is looking for a new home and has put the word out for the almighty “market” to provide. The tech giant has made entire cities complicit in the race to the bottom with promises of tax cuts and other financial incentives – bribes. It is not only looking for a host city, but a partner which can further its monopolistic plans. Myopic cash strapped cities are happy to oblige mistaking this extortion for opportunity.
Amazon has been looking for a new home, and as with everything in our neo-liberal world, they have put the word out for the almighty “market” to provide.
Since Amazon’s announcement in August, through a rather standard looking RFP, a 100 cities have clamoured to present themselves with the same zest a new university graduate would to his future exploiter at a first job interview. Like the soon to be exploited candidate, these cities, if selected, could stand to gain a handsome reward, a 5 billion USD “investment” and 50,000 jobs.
Most pieces on the topic have focused on the dire relationship and pure humiliation some cities have subjected themselves to in their effort to woo Amazon. Hamilton Nolan points out that with a worth of $500 billion US, Amazon can simply point to a map and choose where it wants its next headquarters to be. Instead they have chosen to make entire cities complicit in the race to the bottom with promises of tax cuts and other financial incentives – bribes.
In other words, Amazon is not only looking for a city to host its headquarters, but a partner which can help further their monopolistic plans, they are looking for a competitive advantage, and myopic cash strapped cities are happy to oblige mistaking this extortion for opportunity.
On top of this, Amazon also has a list of requirements for candidate cities to qualify. Namely, a well-developed transport infrastructure and access to a diverse and educated talent pool, both items that require heavy government investment.
In effect this means that Amazon wants to benefit from government development and education programs without paying so much as a dime– talk about welfare abuse.
The role of the city
Other articles have tried to suggest ways to counter this denigration. James Wilt argues that “There’s only one way out of this hellscape: a fierce re-commitment to the ‘right to the city.'”
Throughout his article, he claims that through municipality and democratic city building we can reject the neo-liberal rhetoric and resist predatory corporations like Amazon. How we are to get there though, is overlooked, but apparently it is not through running leftist candidates. Clues are left with small insurrectionary movements and a dramatic conclusion of “control[ing] the means of production and distribution”.
Turning a blind eye to the lack of praxis that will take us from neo-liberalism to communism, Wilt does touch on a recent resurgence of intellectual interest in the role of the “city”.
A recent essay on Aeon posits that city-states will soon replace nation-states. But it does so by mistaking the technological advances of neo-liberalism with institutions of freedom and by leaning on anecdotal historical examples, ones which were built during feudalistic times. It paints the city, or the possibility of the city through a libertarian lens not too dissimilar from that of Wilt’s end goal.
But, to suggest that the end of the nation-state will be at the hand of the city-state is rather short sighted, it ignores the present realties of that dichotomy where the autonomy of cities is already being exploited. So to see this as some sort of salvation is a drastic misreading of the situation.
Additionally, what both these pieces do, wrongly, is assume that the “city” is a result of social organisation, some sort of ‘natural’ entity, an argument that could pass if we were talking about feudalistic centres but hardly applicable to today’s mega cities. Here, I vehemently oppose the notion that our liberation from corporate bullying is through the city for the city has never been a “collective” entity, it has always been part of the neo-liberal machinery, set up to meet production needs or to act as administrative centres. The fact that we now see the battle ground against corporatism to be the dystopic body of “the city” goes to prove how far back we’ve been forced to retreat.
What of the nation?
And retreat we have. Job creation was seen as the sole role of the government with the likes of FDR’s New Deal. But since then, and through neo-liberalism and austerity, the nation has been reduced to such a flimsy instrument that we look to tax dodging corporations to keep our cities afloat while reactively negotiating with them to help us keep our citizens safe!
On this note, Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek has astutely pointed out that Keynesian economics – seen as the traditional opposing force to corporatism, cannot exist in a globalised world as countries are dragged into the competitive forces of capitalism. With the absence of a balancing force, the suffering caused by the exploitative nature of the market has given birth, again, to the reactionary right where protectionism has taken hold. Here the idea being touted is that trade protectionism can put globalism at bay, and immigration controls and union busting will reinvigorate the local economy by putting power back in the hands of business people.
But globalism is not the result of bad trade deals or immigration.
Globalism is the result of the unhindered expanses of corporations such as Amazon, corporations that represent centralised undemocratic planned economies that use their bargaining power to depress wages and costs of raw materials abroad, corporations that grew under the conditions of protectionism.
The only difference now is that these corporations have finally become large enough to turn their oppressive practices back to the hand that supported them.
What we are witnessing with Amazon’s “city bidding” is but the natural conclusion of the process.
Reverting to protectionism now is nothing but a naïve and misguided attempt at controlling the power of corporations that are worth more than the GDP’s of most developing countries – theatre.
Putting the cat back in the bag
With the rhetoric of ‘accept the scraps we give you or starve’ now being pushed beyond the individual and onto society and the state as a whole, we need to look to something larger to counteract the current.
In the UK, Jeremy Corbyn has proved the palatability of nationalisation projects, projects that cannot be realised until and if he is elected. At the heart of that drive is controlling the means of production and distribution, a point we’ve already covered by virtue of Wilt’s article. However, Corbyn’s model proves that this is not something to be pushed through small scale democratic projects, but large and organised mobilisations.
The answer then to our Amazon predicament is not delineating to smaller modes of governance, but a re-entrenchment in a strong state with greater control of its natural resources and the way they are processed and distributed.
The question remains, will this be enough to fend off the Amazons of the world indefinitely, or is this but a short term control tool to stem but not end the exploitation we suffer at the hands of corporations?