OPINION: Whose Side Are You On, Anyway: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s or Amazon’s?

Daniel Oliver | Chairman of the Board of The Education and Research Institute

Here are three rules for better living: (1) keep matches out of the hands of small children; (2) if you agree with an editorial in the New York Times you may want to reconsider your opinion; and (3) — we’ll get to that one in a minute.

After much public angst and media hype, Amazon has finally decided where to locate its second, and as it turned out, third headquarters. The winning cities are (drum roll) New York City and Arlington, Virginia.

That is one of the greatest letdowns since Bill Clinton said, “I did not have sex with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky.”

In a political season rent by dissent and disagreement, Amazon’s announced deal produced a sense of unity in the country not seen since President Kennedy pardoned the 1963 White House Thanksgiving Turkey: everyone, except some politicians, is against the Amazon deal.

Jeff Bezos is Amazon’s founder, chairman, and CEO and, at a net worth of $122 billion, doubles as the richest man on the planet. His fortune makes Donald Trump (net worth: $3 billion) look like a welfare recipient. According to the usual well-informed sources, Bezos spends $3 billion on aftershave lotion, each week.

Bezos drove a hard bargain with the luminaries of New York and Virginia politics.

The deal requires New York State to give Amazon $1.85 billion and allows Amazon to apply for tax credits that could be worth $1 billion. Because Amazon’s new “campus” will be located in a federal development area, the company will qualify for additional corporate tax breaks. All in all, a $3 billion package.

Virginia offered to spend, sort of, about $1.495 billion, over a number of years.

Both New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo are said to be pleased with the deal — finally a report that doesn’t sound like fake news. Gov. Cuomo had offered to change his name to “Amazon Cuomo” in order to get the deal, an offer that has proved, so far, to be unnecessary. Mayor de Blasio, whose winter came early this year, might have been willing to make the same offer, but it would have been less convincing, the mayor having already changed his name twice, first from Warren Wilhelm Jr. to Warren de Blasio-Wilhelm, and subsequently to the current Bill de Blasio.

Meanwhile, the outrage spreads, from far-left Alexandria (“three chambers of government”) Ocasio-Cortez, the newly elected Democratic representative from New York’s 14th Congressional District, to the aforesaid New York Times, all the way over to National Review, Mark Levin and Tucker Carlson on the right.

Ocasio-Cortez tweeted, “The idea that [Amazon] will receive hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks at a time when our subway is crumbling and our communities need MORE investment, not less, is extremely concerning to residents here.”

But the subway has been a disaster for years, and for years the politicians have been unable to fix it. Does Ms. Ocasio-Cortez think that her arrival on the scene will change that? Mark Levin thinks Amazon should have gone somewhere else. But that’s not a principled argument against selecting the places Amazon selected, just a detail, because that somewhere else would have been picked by Amazon because of the deal it was offering.

Here’s another way to look at it.

Milton Friedman said you should be glad you don’t get all the government you pay for. Politicians and governments waste money. They waste huge, gargantuan, brobdingnagian, mountain-size amounts of money. As a pretty reliable rule of thumb, the less spending they control, the better off you will be.

Successful companies, on the other hand, tend to spend money wisely — that’s why they’re successful.

Basically, what’s at stake in the two Amazon deals is about $4.5 billion. Here’s the question: Who would you rather have control the spending of that money? Jeff Bezos, arguably the most successful businessman on the aforementioned planet? Or some politicians, at least one of whom can’t decide what his name should be or even get the snow ploughed in his own city?

The lawyers will tell you that that question falls into the “nolo contendere” realm, a fancy-pantsy term for “C’mon, stop arguing about it.”

The money that New York State and City and Virginia are not going to get to spend will be spent (invested) either by Amazon, its employees, or its stockholders. Who can doubt that they will spend it more wisely than the politicians?

So the third rule for better living is similar to the first: Keep money out of the hands of politicians. They can probably do more damage with it than even small children can do with matches.

Daniel Oliver is chairman of the board of the Education and Research Institute and a director of the Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy in San Francisco. In addition to serving as chairman of the Federal Trade Commission under President Reagan, he was executive editor and subsequently chairman of the board of William F. Buckley Jr.’s National Review.


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.

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