It’s quite a situation when National Review runs a series of articles (two of them Morning Jolts by Jim Geraghty) that agree with Alexandria Ocasio Cortez. But maybe they – and by extension Cortez, despite her we’ll-pay-for-it approach to Medicare-for-all – are onto something. An apparent waste of taxpayer money on something that needs no support from government:

Amazon’s billion- dollar subsidies handed out by Arlington, Virginia and NYC to one of the wealthiest and most profitable companies on the face of the planet.

Here’s the argument. Amazon’s key factors in choosing where to locate Hq2 clearly weren’t low taxes and regulations. NYC and the beltway are relatively high-tax and over-regulated metropolitan areas. But they are the financial and political capitals of the country and the world and contain large pools of trained and highly educated workers in finance, tech, and government. And most every other kind of worker you might need. They are transportation hubs as well with access to subways that get the thousands of promised workers to and from their jobs, should they care to forego their cars, and they are right where financial and regulatory decisions that affect Amazon are made.

Like Amazon itself, rather than the promise of a widespread cultural and economical and political landscape with hierarchies shattered by the internet, what we have is an astonishing concentration of power and wealth.

Don’t get me wrong. Bezos deserves his wealth. That is, the part of it (which is still many many billions) that comes from his ability to disrupt and provide services and products in innovative ways and not from his ability to lobby government …

No wait. It’s not even that anymore.

Bezos got Wall Street’s home and the suburbs of DC to lobby him, lavishing him with subsidies for the opportunity to have his company open a business that may very well have ended up located in those two cities anyway. Subsidies that will be paid for by cutting services and/or raising taxes in the case of Arlington (and surely in the case of New York where it might be harder to tell in the case of taxes).

Regulatory capture is a phenomenon where special interests capture government at some level, ensuring that regulations work in their favor. While one can think of it as a necessary balance to an over-regulated economy (what company of a certain size wouldn’t seriously consider lobbying to ensure its interests were at least listened to by lawmakers?) it can also become a distorting factor by perverting price signals and keeping out (or buying up) smaller and more innovative competitors.

Interestingly enough, according to the theory, regulatory capture works best with smaller government units. There were and still are a couple of hundred cities in America (and a few in Canada) that gladly would have given away subsidies to a planned HQ like Amazon’s. And Bezos played them off against each other with grinning ease.

It makes you wonder. Was Bezos always this good at manipulating governments? And how key was that ability that he has clearly developed, but perhaps had from rather early on in Amazon’s history, to Amazon’s success? Is this another piece of evidence to suggest that lobbying and bending regulations to one’s advantage was and is almost as important as technology for all the success stories in Silicon Valley, Seattle, and elsewhere?

Because Amazon is far from the only major tech (or other) corporation to receive astonishing subsidies to locate a business in some jurisdiction. Amazon just weren’t as discrete about it. The competition between cities or states is good but it should be about lower taxes and clear regulations for everyone. Not just billionaires.

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