Amazon’s recent decision to cancel plans to build a New York City campus was costly for the Big Apple. The online retailing giant would reportedly have bolstered New York’s coffers to the tune of $27 billion in tax revenue over 25 years, and created 25,000 to 40,000 new jobs with an average salary of $150,000. Also lost were the 1,300 construction jobs annually over a multi-year build-out of the campus in New York’s Long Island City neighborhood.
The loss was much lamented by Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, feuding rivals who have both been mentioned as prospective Democratic candidates for president, and who had temporarily buried the hatchet to work together on the Amazon deal.
But not all of New York’s lefty pols bemoaned the missed opportunity. In fact, there were those who cheered. Some Democrats felt that the deal wasn’t sweet enough for organized labor — a sore subject for Amazon — or that a $3 billion tax incentive to lure the company was bad business. Amazon made it clear in a statement that these politicos were a direct instrument of the deal’s demise, writing that “[w]hile polls show that 70% of New Yorkers support our plans and investment, a number of state and local politicians have made it clear that they oppose our presence and will not work with us to build the type of relationships that are required to go forward with the project we and many others envisioned in Long Island City.”
Amazon’s statement was perhaps more of an understatement. City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who represents the district where the headquarters would’ve been built, held a press conference to declare victory over Amazon. Joined by state Sen. Jessica Ramos, and flanked by union members and activists, Van Bramer gloated that “when we were faced with the richest man in the world and the richest company in the world, we did not buckle.” He added that it was just as well that Amazon bailed on the deal, because it would not “adopt our New York values.” (Van Bramer was heckled by a business owner, who called him a “job killer.”) Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. tweeted that Amazon should have rolled “equivalent concessions” for the people of New York into the deal.
Meanwhile, Cuomo ripped fellow Democrats in the state Senate such as Deputy Majority Leader Mike Gianaris, asserting that “a small group of politicians put their own narrow political interests above their community.”
But perhaps the brightest luminary among New York City’s anti-Amazon politicians is Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, she of the Green New Deal. Ocasio-Cortez lauded the victory of “everyday New Yorkers” against Amazon’s “corporate greed, its worker exploitation, and the power of the richest man in the world.” She also suggested, bizarrely, that the incentives for Amazon — mostly tax breaks rather than direct handouts — could now be spent on social programs. For this, she was ripped by the likes of de Blasio, as well as Andrew Ross Sorkin of the New York Times, who tweeted that “there isn’t a $3 billion pile of money that can now be spent on subways or education.”
Ocasio-Cortez has rapidly become a bona fide political star who, in a matter of mere months, has reframed the national discussion around social and economic policy. When you are taking a stand against someone with that kind of wattage, you need to go big. And that’s just what one advocacy organization is doing.
The Job Creators Network, a pro-small business group, has rented a billboard in New York City’s fabled Times Square. The billboard, which blares “Thanks For Nothing, AOC!,” derides the congresswoman for $12 billion in lost economic activity, and directs the public to the website ThanksAOC.com. A hashtag at the bottom of the billboard sets the terms of the debate: #SocialismTakesCapitalismCreates.
“The self-described democratic socialist needs to understand that socialism takes and capitalism creates,” said Job Creators Network President and CEO Alfredo Ortiz. “In the case of Amazon and New York, Rep. Cortez and her friends took billions of dollars of opportunity away from the New York community.”
A request for comment sent to Ocasio-Cortez’s press office was not answered.
The billboard’s theatrics are worthy of Broadway. But the underlying message is dead serious. The large-scale social programs promoted by politicians like Ocasio-Cortez come with a hefty price tag. New York’s notoriously unfriendly tax climate is tied to a mass-migration out of the Empire State, which also places below the national average in job growth. And this doesn’t just apply to the hinterlands of upstate New York. The five boroughs of New York City are experiencing an accelerating negative net migration.
What the people behind Job Creators Network know, and what politicians on the left need to come to terms with, is that sometimes the best way to lure businesses is to create small pockets of freedom from the restrictive climate they have created. Here was a prime opportunity to bring in a high-wage company to help to underwrite New York’s fiscal needs, and peddlers of Ocasio-Cortez’s new brand of American economics pushed them away. As Seth Barron of City Journal aptly argued, the far left is preserving stagnation and calling it progress.
For now, a billboard stands in Times Square reminding AOC and those like her that ideas have consequences. And price tags.
Bill Zeiser is the editor of RealClearPolicy.
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