IT’S A STORY TYPICAL of 21st century America.
Amazon, a $150 billion company with $12 billion a year in profit and more than $20 billion in the bank, tells governments across North America they should drop what they’re doing and compete, with just a few weeks notice, for the promise of thousands of new workers by offering what is likely to be billions of dollars in free money. Connected insiders dutifully line up to get their politicians and governments to act like marionettes on strings to make the richest possible offer – even as those cash-strapped governments struggle to pay for basic services such as schools, transit, and job training and families struggle under mountains of debt and small businesses under piles of red tape.
Let’s be clear on what’s happening here. Amazon has been hugely successful and it needs to spend a lot of money to expand its operations. Rather than going to the market for money, or charging its customers more, or cutting some costs, it’s decided that the taxpayers should pay. It’s wrong and it’s shameful for Amazon to behave like the taxpayers are their own private piggy bank, and to treat American governments like some local vendor.
But what if there were a better way?
What if governments across the country said “enough” to giant, connected companies looking for handouts? What if our leaders said to companies like Amazon: “Give us a break.” What if Amazon and lawmakers could see this problem as an enormous opportunity to transform the way big business thinks about its obligations to America.
Another part of the story of 21st century America is that big coastal cities such as Boston are doing great while the old industrial cities of our heartland are depressed and wasting away. What if our leaders told companies looking for handouts that it was time for them to give back, and for leaders of these companies to start to think about their obligation to use their wealth and success to help not just their shareholders but the country that has made their success possible.
Massachusetts should make a play for Amazon, but not with tax break gimmicks. Instead, we should have the boldness to envision the revitalization of a whole region of our country. Massachusetts can transform Springfield into the transit and distribution hub for the east coast. It already sits at the intersection of major rail lines and interstate highways and close to an airport. Our leaders should commit to taking advantage of its strategic location (with or without Amazon) to achieve this transformation by building a high-speed rail line from Boston to Springfield and committing to cut the red tape that gets in the way of regional and local planning and business development. The pitch to Amazon should be: We are looking for a partner to do something extraordinary that will show that American business believes in America and wants to attack our hardest challenges with a commitment to reversing the tide of economic depression and stagnation.
To those who say we must look to companies like Amazon to force government to make the right choices, our message should be clear: We won’t outsource our experiment in self-government to corporate titans. What our country needs is a New Marshall Plan that will help bring about a New American Dream – and companies like Amazon can lead the way.
Or, they can just chase after free tax giveaways.
Your call, Amazon.
Evan Falchuk is a former third party candidate for governor of Massachusetts and was a leader in the effort to stop the use of tax dollars to pay for the proposed 2024 Boston Olympics.