Two power plays this past week show why it's Amazon's world, and we're just living in it.
The rest of the country, from the president to big city East Coast politicians to sleazy tabloid rags, suddenly are learning what we here in Seattle already knew about the nature of our little online bookstore.
You don’t pressure Amazon. It only goes the other way around.
First up, and most sensationally, the lowly National Enquirer tried to punch up at Jeff Bezos, threatening to mass deliver selfies that the Amazon CEO had taken of his own package.
Bezos instead exposed the extortion attempt, along the way salaciously name-checking the Saudis and President Trump. Bezos calculated that this would prove more damaging in the long run to them than any photo of his nether regions could to him.
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I salute him for all this. Though it does say something about American culture and politics today that the multibillionaire wannabe playboy with the penis pic peccadillo is the good guy in the story.
Anyway, I wanted to highlight the first words of Bezos’ open letter:
“Something unusual happened to me yesterday,” he began. “Actually, for me it wasn’t just unusual — it was a first. I was made an offer I couldn’t refuse.”
In this Bezos was channeling “The Godfather,” in which an offer you can’t refuse means you wake up with a butchered horse head in your bed. That Bezos mocked this and trumped it, even while acknowledging that others might be forced to knuckle under, was a raw demonstration of the rarefied leverage and power Amazon enjoys at the tippy top of our society.
Seattle already knows this. Remember when they halted construction on their buildings downtown because they objected to the head-tax proposal at City Hall? Nice economy you’ve got there, Seattle. Shame if something happened to it.
Seattle City Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda recounted that power play last month to an audience of labor organizers in New York City, and suggested it came from on high.
“The day they (Amazon) were supposed to come in and meet with us, to negotiate, the headline read ‘Amazon’s going to stop building in the city,’ ” she said. “So when they got there, I held up that newspaper and asked them: ‘Why are you here, if you’re going to negotiate like this, in the press?’
“And they said: ‘Oh, that decision was made outside and above my paycheck.’ “
Like maybe about a hundred-plus billion above?
Who knows, but it was sure interesting that the day after Bezos stared down the National Enquirer, The Washington Post, the newspaper he owns, happened to have a story about how Amazon is so hurt by criticism of its tax breaks in New York City that it may shelve its proposed HQ2 campus there.
“The question is whether it’s worth it if the politicians in New York don’t want the project,” the paper quoted an anonymous source, presumably an Amazonian.
People across the spectrum seem to agree it’s a stretch to give this particular company tax breaks, let alone $3 billion as New York is doing. No one is more of a booster of big business and the rich than The Wall Street Journal editorial page, and it called the New York deal “Amazon’s golden fleecing,” and “crony capitalism at its worst.”
But the reality is that even the Big Apple has no real leverage. Amazon is like a sovereign borderless nation-state. So if you object to giving them $3 billion in state and local tax breaks, they can say: “Suit yourself. We’ll shift our jobs over there — to one of our dozens of other offices around the world.” (Such as Seattle, by the way. On Friday, the company had an incredible 9,855 job openings posted here. Guess they’re not leaving!)
Sure it may seem a little mobbed up when they threaten to shoot your economy, even as they’re also showing up at a meeting to supposedly “negotiate.” It’s just business to them. But if you’re a politician, who has to get elected for a living, it feels a lot like “an offer you can’t refuse.” And so I bet that New York folds, just like Seattle yielded before it.
Urban-studies professor Richard Florida has been counseling city mayors that, alone, each is roadkill against Amazon’s fluidity and might. So they ought to gang up; he suggested they sign a pact against this incentive-extortion racket. But not many mayors have jumped in.
And why would they? Remember what happened to the other families in “The Godfather.”