When Seattle’s new socialist City Council member called for the workers to take over Boeing’s factories, she was widely, justifiably mocked for cluelessness about the ways of free enterprise.
“Socialism off to a Poor Start in Seattle,” read a typical critique in Slate magazine. It argued that socialists like Kshama Sawant just don’t get business, and added, unnecessarily, that capitalist executives do perform useful tasks, such as raising capital and finding new customers.
All true. The notion that the commoners might take over the means of private production is, indeed, crazy.
So isn’t it also crazy that we commoners now are being asked to finance the means of production?
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I’m referring to the ceaseless demands of the Boeing Co., which is becoming peerless in its pursuit of public subsidies.
Last week we learned what Boeing really wants in return for siting its airplane plants here or in any other state. It came in the form of a proprietary wish list the company sent to the various states now vying to be the future home of the 777X.
The 11-page document is a mix of demands and desires. But it adds up to the most sweeping request from taxpayers for a private enterprise that I’ve ever seen. Boeing didn’t spell this out, but it essentially wants to be an arm of the state.
“States Grovel Before Boeing,” was how the normally strait-laced Associated Press headlined it.
There is the usual request for tax breaks, and that’s no news. At least two states — ours and Missouri — have already called special legislative sessions to grant multibillion dollar tax-relief packages. To the rest, Boeing helpfully provided a long list of the taxes it does not wish to pay: “Entire applicable tax structure, including corporate income tax, franchise tax, property tax, sales tax, business license/gross receipts tax, and excise taxes to be significantly reduced.”
But what’s remarkable is the degree Boeing also wants the public to pay its basic costs. Including, it said, “acquiring site, constructing facility, building infrastructure and procuring equipment/tooling.”
That’s right — we are to buy the land, the factories and the machines that go inside, or at least a share of them. And give it all to Boeing, or let them use it rent-free.
“Company preference is toward a location that will share in the cost of all capital expenditures,” Boeing wrote.
Now that’s socialism. It’s the corporate variety, and it isn’t all bad, what with the good-paying jobs and boost to the local economy. But having the public buy the means of production — socializing the capitalists’ risks (though definitely not their profits) — is a far cry from free enterprise. Almost as far, in a different direction, as what the socialist was going on about.
Rarely do you see the real American socialism so baldly stated in a business document.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper called Missouri’s kowtowing to Boeing “legalized bribery.” It pointed out how inequitable it is that small businesses never get such treatment. And it wrung its ink-stained hands, as I do, about what to do instead.
“We want Boeing to come here as much as anybody,” the paper wrote. “But there has to be a better way.”
Finding that way is shaping up to be the great challenge — maybe fight — of our new political era.
My vote is we focus instead on creating opportunity for all businesses and workers — fair, broad-based, loophole-free taxes, for one example; a stronger university system and better infrastructure, for another — and leave the company-by-company bribery games to others. Make it so appealing we don’t need to grovel.
Boeing’s extreme corporate socialism and Kshama Sawant’s extreme anti-corporatism can’t be our only choices. If so, we have already lost.
Danny Westneat’s column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or firstname.lastname@example.org