There is an old school joke – told by happy transplants to Texas from…anywhere else on the planet.
It is of this I years ago thought when I then read Amazon founder – and thereby now the world’s richest human – Jeff Bezos had said he didn’t lobby Washington, D.C.
I had had – for but the briefest of moments – a pleasant Ayn Rand-ian “Atlas Shrugged” response.
That point in Rands story – where steel baron Hank Rearden is being hectored by an in-law about “needing men in Washington.” To which Rearden responded with something like “Why? All I want to do is make steel and make money.”
Get that? “I’m a businessman. I don’t want to waste any time, effort or money on those DC idiots.”
If only that were possible. If only it was applicable to Bezos.
Before we continue – an aside. I do not oppose lobbying in totality. Attempts to limit or ban it – are exactly like attempts to limit or ban (political) speech. All such efforts – are unconstitutional. Behold the First Amendment:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
“Petition the Government for a redress of grievances” – is lobbying.
We can say whatever we want – in public, or in DC. Completely free from government interference or imposition.
But there are basically three types of lobbying request. One benign – two malevolent.
The benign: Lobbying government to leave you alone.
The malevolent: Lobbying government to 1) Regulate your competitors but not you, and 2) Get government to give you crony goodies.
You want less of the latter? Reduce the size, scope and sphere of influence of government – and most of it will very quickly go away.
You don’t bribe to protect you the head of the Chess Club – you bribe Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
Shrink the government from Rock-size – and watch the lobbyist money shrink along with it.
Anyway, my Bezos-as-anti-lobbying notion – was ephemeral. Faint and fleeting. What Bezos really meant was: “I wasn’t born in DC – but I got here as fast as I could.”
And he got here – to bribe a whole bunch of cronyism out of DC.
Bezos is no dummy. He saw the tremendous value of bending $6-billion-per-year-in-spending-and-regulations DC to his considerable will. He just wanted to build Amazon to be big enough – so as to hold maximum sway upon his ultimate arrival.
And Bezos didn’t just arrive – he very quickly bigfoot-ed his way right to the top of the lobby heap.
“An elite group of 50 companies and trade associations spent a combined $714 million to lobby Washington in 2015, according to new disclosure data tallied for The Hill. The total represents a quarter of all the money spent on federal advocacy in 2015….
“Amazon…posted the biggest percentage increase in lobbying spending last year, with (an) increase of 91 percent….
“The Jeff Bezos-led Amazon expanded its reach beyond retail to include online video streaming, and the company has been lobbying the Federal Aviation Administration as the agency figures out how to regulate drones….
“Amazon declined to say more about its advocacy to The Hill, citing a general policy of not commenting on lobbying filings.”
And Amazon was just getting started. The change in administrations from tech-uber-sycophant Barack Obama to outsider Donald Trump – mattered not a whit.
“Amazon spent a record $3.2 million in the second quarter of the year, according to its lobbying disclosure. It’s part of Amazon’s fast-paced growth spurt in Washington, D.C., where it even hired a top fundraiser for Trump from the 2016 presidential campaign as one of its lobbyists….”
And Amazon’s lobbying coin – keeps growing, and growing, and….
“Federal filings show that the tech giant spent nearly $13 million in lobbying costs last year, up from $11 million the year before.”
And what, pray tell, do Bezos and his Amazon hope to get from all of this titanic lobby coin?
“One of the advantages of observing the many incentives being thrown at Amazon is that it highlights the absurdities of cronyism and government meddling in the market….
Indeed it does. It ALL does.
Perhaps the most notorious example of Amazon’s government cronyism – doesn’t emanate from DC. So we’ll start there.
Has Amazon been as lobbyist hyper-active down-ballot – as they have been in DC? Is water wet? And with it they have been…just as sickeningly successful.
It has been nauseating to watch the parade of local officials throughout the nation – falling all over themselves to tax you more…so they can tax Amazon less. All in their attempts to get Amazon to choose their locale – to site Amazon’s new offices.
So proud are some officials of their bribe-infused sycophancy….
“The ruling, released this morning, sided with The Morning Call, which appealed to the OOR after both the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp. and the state Department of Community and Economic Development denied requests for Amazon proposals.”
Here’s the question no bureaucrats seem to ask before each begin throwing hundreds of millions of your dollars at Bezos.
The answer is: No – they aren’t good for the local economy.
Businesses germanely locating in your town – is good. But it does raise the costs of – and puts additional pressures on – some government services.
The additional tax revenues paid by the new businesses and the newly hired employees – cover those costs…and then some.
Unless…you spend hundreds of millions of dollars getting those businesses there. That turns the math – upside down and inside out.
Bribing businesses to be there – makes no more sense than bribing football stadiums to be there.
“The 16 NFL stadiums that will host NFL games this weekend have cost taxpayers nearly $3 billion, a new analysis found.”
You aren’t going to hire enough tax-paying vendors and sell that many beers and brats to make up that money – for decades and decades.
Ditto Amazon and their office space. Whatever town best bribes Amazon into local existence – will NEVER make up the tax money they gave away to do it.
Next time: We’ll dive into the massive DC cronyism Amazon’s massive lobby coin has landed them.