Amazon’s pullout and New Yorker’s confusion about economic growth

Amazon nyc hq

My response — after laughing — when I heard Amazon is pulling out of that sweet deal to set up a second headquarters in New York City was short, but loaded with meaning.

“Jeff Bezos must’ve thought he was playing with Independence, Iowa.”

Or some other small town. But even those places are pushing back against corporate leverage these days.

But what became more interesting to me is how many residents across the country, including New Yorkers, are confused about the major difference between economic growth and economic development.

For example, America’s pre-Civil War Southern states — enabled by slave labor — became one of the world’s leading producers of cotton and a large number of America’s millionaires by 1860.

That’s economic growth.

The South’s slave economy also became a philosopher’s stone for the North’s food processing facilities, textile plants, shipping firms and insurance companies. Slaves even became collateral to close financial transactions that were quarterbacked by Northern banks.

That’s also economic growth.

Meanwhile, the South’s four million slaves had a virtual 100 percent employment rate by 1850, but were largely uneducated and impoverished. And yeah, enslaved.

See how economic growth works?

Sure, Northern laborers during that time could brag about not being slaves. But the abusive working conditions they dealt with, the predatory compensation they received and the obstacles that prevented their families from escaping the slums to middle-class lifestyles are reasons for why the American labor movement was born.

Placed another way, you can have have economic growth without economic development.

The latter instance provides for human beings to improve their overall quality of life, including a shot at upward mobility, if that’s what they want.

At this point, some of you are saying “Dang, economic development is a lot of responsibility to place on Amazon when they simply wanted to do business in NYC.”

I could argue that the company’s warehouse work conditions, their curious argument for searching employees clocking out of work without compensation, its face recognition activities and that creepy monitoring practice for how long workers sit on toilets don’t help to build the profile of a company that’s down for social investments.

But I’ll spend less time on those topics tonight so I can stress a different point.

Economic development is a shared responsibility between government and business institutions where the framework is established by the former, and the latter provides an executable set of company values that includes social investments.

Speaking of community involvement, I don’t have much to say about Amazon’s pledge to fund STEM classes in NYC public schools since the company couldn’t even give a specific dollar amount for that support.

What seems more clear to me is that New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo and NYC Mayor Bill DeBlasio are sufficiently intelligent to realize they had options for investing the $3 billion dollars that were eventually presented Amazon in the form of tax incentives for setting up shop in the city.

And I think you can figure out for yourself if the desired outcome of these pro-Amazon policymakers — who represent one of the nation’s most economically-unequal cities and conducted negotiations with one of the world’s richest companies through secret meetings and non-disclosure agreements — was either economic growth or development …

song currently stuck in my head: “boat to nowhere” – anoushka shankar

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