12 Takes on Amazon HQ2

What Amazon's pullout from NYC means for tech, democracy, power, and more.

  • New York Governor Andrew Cuomo: “A small group of politicians put their own narrow political interests above their community—which poll after poll showed overwhelmingly supported bringing Amazon to Long Island City—the state’s economic future and the best interests of the people of this state. The New York State Senate has done tremendous damage. They should be held accountable for this lost economic opportunity.”

  • New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio: “Amazon’s path in New York would have been far smoother had it recognized our residents’ fears of economic insecurity and displacement — and spoken to them directly. We just witnessed another example of what the concentration of power in the hands of huge corporations leaves in its wake. Let’s change the rules before the next corporation tries to divide and conquer.”

  • Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY): “Anything is possible: today was the day a group of dedicated, everyday New Yorkers & their neighbors defeated Amazon’s corporate greed, its worker exploitation, and the power of the richest man in the world.”

  • Hector Figueroa, president of 32BJ Service Employees International Union, which had won a commitment from Amazon to hire unionized cleaners and security guards at HQ2: “What exactly do Amazon’s opponents have to celebrate? Ending the race to the bottom of corporate welfare? Nope. Blocking Amazon’s development of facial recognition software — or ICE’s use of it? Nope. Better working conditions or union representation for Amazon workers? Nope. They have succeeded in eliminating billions of dollars in revenue to make desperately needed investments in public transit and affordable housing harder not easier. They have succeeded in eliminating more than 25,000 jobs, about 40% of which don’t require a college degree, that New York City residents need and want. The good news is that an emboldened activist-left has shown that it knows how to win. The bad news is that it also shows catastrophically bad judgment about what to fight for in the first place.”

  • Julie Samuels, executive director of TechNYC: “The promise of HQ2 wasn’t just the jobs, but the idea that as you attack and train New Yorkers to be the next generation of engineers and entrepreneurs, you fortify an ecosystem. That’s what took a hit.”

  • Queens resident Rapi Castillo, co-founder of NYC’s Progressive HackNight: “Is it too hard to understand that @amazon only had to hear the concerns and change their ways to appease the community but WOULDN’T? Or are y’all at @TechNYC too corporate to even understand the plight of the working class?”

  • Jake Schwartz, CEO and co-founder of NYC’s General Assembly: “A facepalm heard around the world.”

  • Andrew Rasiej, CEO of Civic Hall and board member of the NY Tech Alliance: “The reason why this is such a disaster is not only the loss of jobs, but the loss of people perceiving New York as friendly to investment in the 21st Century economy. With Amazon coming, New York was finally recognized as the equal of Silicon Valley as a place to invest in startups and for its potential for creating more diversity in tech as a whole. Now that’s lost.”

  • Albert Wenger of Union Square Ventures: “Didn’t anyone at Amazon think: ‘Hey we are one of the world’s most valuable companies, run by the world’s richest person and so asking cities to give us massive concessions is not going to look good?’ Apparently not, or at least not anyone who dared say it or had any real pull inside the company….And what about New York City?…didn’t anyone go: we need to really sell how this deal will be broadly good for New York, and not just for people in tech whose salaries have been growing faster than anyone else’s? Any near-term HQ2 concession should have come with commitments to take a meaningful portion of long-term tax revenue gains and use them to address transportation infrastructure and affordable housing. There are a lot of lessons here. And none of them will be learned by simply accusing the other side of not getting how economics works. This is all about misunderstanding where we are on the perception of tech companies and their role and responsibility with regard to the polarization of society.”

  • Casey Newton in The Verge: “Amazon’s aborted effort to build in NYC shows that a simple promise of jobs is no longer sufficient to win public support — and in some ways, it may be counter-productive. One big reason is that the economy is fracturing into two: with a small group of well educated professionals, who enjoy good jobs with rising wages; and a much lower-paid group of service-industry workers who take care of them….The company’s insistence that its multibillion-dollar giveaway be negotiated in secrecy insulated it from the criticisms that went viral the instant it was revealed — which illustrates how self-defeating the company’s strategy was in the first the place. If our other tech giants take one lesson from Amazon’s aborted attempt to build a heavily subsidized regional office, I hope it’s this one: that the more secrecy you demand in negotiating with the public sector, the more risk of catastrophe you bring upon yourself.”

  • David Leonhardt, economics columnist for The New York Times: “Corporate-relocation subsidies are terrible policy. They do nothing to lift the country’s economic growth…The subsidies mostly redistribute income upward, from taxpayers to corporate shareholders. If every city and state justifies big giveaways based on its own immediate interests, the tragedy of the commons will never end. Somebody needs to make a principled stand. In New York, a coalition of activists and politicians did so.”

  • J. David Goodman and Karen Weise, reporting for The New York Times: “Amazon can deliver toothpaste in traffic-snarled Manhattan on the same day an order is placed. But when it came to navigating the politics of New York, the company appeared out of step, a giant stumbling onto a political stage that — despite its data-driven success — it never fully understood.”

  • State Senator Michael Gianaris (D-NY), a leading opponent of the deal: “Like a petulant child, Amazon insists on getting its way or takes its ball and leaves. The only thing that happened here is that a community that was going to be profoundly affected by their presence started asking questions. Even by their own words, Amazon admits they will grow their presence in New York without their promised subsidies. So what was all this really about?”

    In other news:

  • Life in Facebookistan: The Federal Trade Commission and Facebook are quietly negotiating a multi-billion-dollar fine to settle the agency’s investigation into the company’s privacy practices, which are supposed to be constrained by a 2011 consent decree, Tony Romm reports for The Washington Post.

  • A British parliamentary committee finished its investigation of Facebook by calling for the country’s data watchdog to further dig into how Facebook exploits the personal data of its users. “Companies like Facebook should not be allowed to behave like ‘digital gangsters’ in the online world, considering themselves to be ahead of and beyond the law,’ the committee’s report states. The committee also concluded that Facebook “intentionally and knowingly violated both data privacy and anti-competition laws.”

  • This is civic tech: The good folks at Blue Ridge Labs, Hannah Calhoun and Bill Cromie, and four of the civic tech projects they have nurtured—Propel, Alice, Good Call and JustFixNYC, get a glowing write-up from Tina Rosenberg of the Solutions Journalism Project in The New York Times.