Amazon puts 7,000 jobs on hold because of a tax that would help Seattle's homeless population

"The only way that I can see to deploy this much financial resource is by converting my Amazon winnings into space travel. That is basically it," Bezos said.

What Bezos does not want to spend money on at all is helping the homeless population in the city where his company is located.

On Wednesday, Amazon announced the company would halt the construction of a new building in downtown Seattle it was planning to build, jeopardizing some 7,000 jobs.

Why? Because the company opposes a tax being considered by the City Council. [...]

The city estimates the tax would raise an estimated $75 million annually, with Amazon paying roughly $20 million in 2019 and 2020. One might think for a company that pulled in $1.6 billion last quarter, they could afford to help out the city of Seattle and its most vulnerable residents, especially considering the extent to which Amazon's presence in the city has exacerbated the housing crisis there. [...]

Amazon has come under fire in recent weeks after it was revealed the mega-corporation paid no taxes on its 2017 profits, which totaled roughly $3 billion dollars. [...]

The company has also been criticized for how it treats its employees. Amazon workers have reported sub-par working conditions, including below zero temperatures in the winter and sweltering heat in the summer inside the warehouses, sustaining on-site injuries, and long hours with below minimum wage pay.

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28 Responses:

  1. internetimal says:

    I used to say NASA should take a year off to propose terrestrial solutions as a political stunt. Now it seems we're up to demanding the same from Capitalism.

  2. ActuallyNotLibertarian says:

    Geez, there's a lot of stuff to rip on Bezos for but it looks like he's doing the right thing on this one.

    As someone who lives in SF I would expect you to be highly skeptical when a tax hike is proposed "to help the homeless", are there are any details on how it will be used to help them ? is it earmarked for anything ? because really it sounds like the homeless are just used as bait here.

    And by "contributing to the housing crisis in Seattle" do they mean it has brought higher-paid population into the city and raised property values both of which translate directly into higher city revenues ?
    Who is in charge of approving residential building projects - Bezos or the city ?

    • jwz says:

      Whew I was afraid for a minute that nobody would show up to defend the sweatshop billionaire.

    • MattyJ says:

      I also live in San Francisco. My household, which consists of two people, would be considered on the very high end of upper-middle class in almost any other US state, yet I will die at my desk and will be renting a house for the rest of my life because of the high property values. I can't complain too much as I'm part of the problem, but to equate some sort of utopia with high-earners and out of control housing costs is just nuts.

      What's happening is the loss of the middle class, which pushes the lower class even further down. Ultimately that will lead to collapse. I just hope I'm still alive to see it so I can buy a house for a reasonable price and die in my recliner like a civilized human being.

      • ActuallyNotLibertarian says:

        Who the hell equates high-earners with some sort of utopia ? The point is that they do bring more money into the city and do raise property value which in turn also brings more money to the city, so saying that this increases Amazon moral obligation to pay more taxes to the city before scrutinizing the city's use of that extra revenue to offset the increased housing pressure is taking the mob way out.

        Same in SF - tech brings more money and people to the city and housing costs rise because building is damn near impossible because for every person who pays ridiculous rent there's a landlord who charges that rent and has zero incentive for it to change and yet you people keep pavlovianly approving additional taxes whenever some lofty cause is being waved in spite of every evidence being available that your city is too incompetent, too corrupt or both to actually make use of it effectively.

        The middle class is disappearing among other reasons because it used to be a lot less gullible.

  3. ActuallyNotLibertarian says:

    Bezos can take a spacewalk without a spacesuit afaic, but in this case he's doing a service to pretty much everybody in Seattle including other employers.

    The people trying to shakedown the guy you don't like are not your friends.

    How are all the ballot measures and tax hikes in the bay area that were supposed to help the homeless and alleviate the housing crisis working so far ?

    • MattyJ says:

      Maybe I'd have more sympathy for the richest man in the world if he didn't use loopholes to pay (emphasis mine) ZERO TAXES on 3 billion dollars PROFIT (not net) while I'm sitting here like a chump giving the government almost a third of my earnings.

      I credit Seattle with trying to get at least _something_ out of Amazon while they skirt their civic responsibility. I hardly call that a shakedown.

      People don't seem to realize that you don't become the richest person on earth by _spending_ your money on worthy causes, you get that way by hoarding it.

      • mr_mercer says:

        Amazon doesn't really make a profit. In terms of GAAP free cash flow Amazon is burning through about $4 billion per quarter. That's why they don't pay taxes. You'll see headlines about a small net income, but that's some questionable accounting, and in any case it's a small amount.

        • MattyJ says:

          I was unaware until just this moment that Jeff Bezos' net worth was acquired through a wish-granting leprechaun. And here I thought it was from Amazon profits.

          In any case, businesses that lose money generally still pay taxes.

          • mr_mercer says:

            Bezos's net worth is acquired by a wish granting leprechaun. Good way of putting it. He's been personally juicing the stock and dumping it for many years. The wish granters are naive investors.

  4. It says:

    Well, I live in Seattle, and I would say the reason we have so many homeless is because Seattle's enlightened laws are too soft on them. Legislatures elsewhere do everything they can to create anti-homeless laws to drive them elsewhere. The homeless don't have any money to fight the constitutionality of those laws. Homeless advocacy groups have to spend years getting them struck down, and when they finally succeed, the legislature just snickers and passes another anti-homeless law.

    Now, because Seattle doesn't do as much of this, the rest of the country's homeless move here and become our problem, and we're expected to pay for them.

    And I can tell you, middle-class Seattleites are getting extremely fed up with it, and starting to demand tougher anti-homeless laws themselves. They are sick and tired of drug addicts camping everywhere and sleeping on their front lawn, and it being basically illegal to arrest them, and they are becoming less liberal about it by the month.

    • It says:

      And to add to that, these are not "ordinary people" who can't afford Seattle housing prices. Don't let the media mislead you. They are hordes and hordes of drug addicts and the mentally ill, basically unreformable and unemployable. And we have them everywhere. Huge encampments that move around from churchyard to churchyard, run-down cars and mobile homes along the street, behind random businesses or outside your house, with expired tabs or no license plates - which you would be arrested for, but they are not - illegal campsites in public parks and private cemetaries, squats in the green strips along the freeway and the Puget Sound beachfront, along bike trails, and in any remaining unbuilt lots they can find. For years now, and it's finally starting to wear thin. And there is no reason that we have to increase taxes again and again to pay for them when they're basically mobile opportunists who come here from anywhere. They are every bit as much a bunch of parasites as are domain squatters. If you feed them, you will just get exponentially more of them - just like paying domain squatters their asking price.

      • Elusis says:

        Well fuck those parasites, am I right? We should just start rounding them up, maybe... maybe concentrate them somewhere out in the countryside where no one would have to look at them or smell them or deal with them. Maybe they could be forced to work instead of sucking the lifeblood from productive citizens. And if they got too expensive to house and feed in these... these camps or whatever, maybe we could just gas them or something? Sounds like a plan!

        • mr_mercer says:

          A great many of these people were involuntarily committed to psychiatric institutions until those were all wound down under Carter and Reagan. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and all that. In my opinion the pendulum swung way too far. There needs to be a mechanism for holding obviously mentally ill people in institutions without criminal charges.

    • ActuallyNotLibertarian says:

      Tell them to drop by SF if they think they've seen the worst of it, all while the city budget keeps growing.

  5. Perry Metzger says:

    "Amazon puts 7,000 jobs on hold because of a tax that would help Seattle's homeless population"

    Good. Because it won't help the homeless population. The problem in Seattle as in SF is that the city isn't willing to allow enough development to meet the demand for housing. Taxes aren't going to help, because subsidies for housing will only increase the shortage. The only way to fix the fact that there aren't enough homes for the number of people who want them it is to have more housing, and that means relaxing restrictions on the market. Shuffling around who gets a home is just musical chairs, and subsidizing poorer people will just mean middle class people get squeezed out instead.

    And there, JWZ, you can now attack me for "Defending Billionaires" or some such. Which I feel fine about. There's nothing wrong with being a billionaire, just as there's nothing wrong with being poor.

    • jwz says:

      Everyone who says "build more housing, there I fixed it for you" refuses to even countenance the other end of the equation, "build less office space or make the companies actually pay what it's worth", or "tie office space to housing". Nope, that would be an unfair restraint on the market. Fun fact: what the market wants is to cash out early and leave a smoking crater where a community used to be.

      • ActuallyNotLibertarian says:

        Because this is the stupid lose-lose end of the equation, less office space means fewer jobs which in turn means less income for both people and municipalities, and I don't know how much time you spent in a modern tech workplace in the last decade but excess of space is not one of their defining features nowdays.

  6. jwz says:

    Wow, who knew that any mention of spending taxes to help the homeless would bring out the hordes who think that they are all subhuman Morlocks and if we could just chase them all back underground, our Eloi cities would be shiny and clean again like in some hypothetical golden age.

    It's easier to understand how Trump got elected every day.

  7. Perry Metzger says:

    Wow, who knew that any mention of spending taxes to help the homeless would bring out the hordes who think that they are all subhuman Morlocks and if we could just chase them all back underground, our Eloi cities would be shiny and clean again like in some hypothetical golden age.

    Some of us actually want to help the homeless, which means having more housing, which means not legally preventing people from building it.

    I understand that if you criticize taxes people presume you must hate homeless people, but I don't. I started as a communist. Really. But then I learned economics, and realized that if I actually wanted to help people in need, the mechanisms employed to that effect had to have a realistic chance of working. It is easy to say "hey, I know how to fix the world, I'll just beat up on rich people", and it's another thing to make the world better.

    The principle involved here is pretty easy. When there's more demand for something than supply, the price skyrockets. Restricting development when there's a growing population results in poor people getting cut out of the housing market. You can hand them lots of money to get housing, but if you don't change the supply, all you're going to do is make the price rise more because you've increased the price people are willing to pay — you haven't actually increased the supply, so there will still be people squeezed out. There's no way to house 20 families in 10 homes no matter how much you subsidize the poorest 10 families.

    And again, I get that you aren't ever going to agree. But I think this is plain obvious. Cities that started restricting development in recent decades have skyrocketing housing prices now. Other cities, many of which are just as nice, don't have that problem.

    A city is not a museum for the existing residents to admire and preserve in amber forever, it's a place where people have to live, even poor "morlocks" who want to live in lower cost high density housing that anti-development types dislike. If you want to help poor people, let people build places to live in, and in quantities sufficient to meet their demand. Even building new luxury housing helps, because it shifts wealthy people up the housing chain and vacates the houses at the bottom of the chain, though typically no-development types allow construction of pretty single family houses while getting mad when evil developers propose constructing the sorts of homes that poor people can actually afford, i.e., high density low-cost housing that conserves scarce land.

    Anyway, I get that you'll just say I hate poor people. That's fine. It's not true, but I know I can't stop you. The problem, though, isn't people who want more development, because they're not the ones who want Eloi cities. The Eloi cities are the accidental vision of the no-development types who want to halt development so their city to look like it does today forever, because poor people can't afford to live in big single-family homes in areas with finite land resources and ever-expanding demand.

    • jwz says:

      It is nuts to think that you can solve the housing problem by untethering the construction lobby to build what they want -- which is high end luxury condos. To believe that requires some kind of "first assume a spherical cow on a frictionless surface" understanding of economics.

      But sure, the housing will "trickle down" somehow. Where have I heard that phrase before.

      And again, you like to talk about supply and demand but only when it comes to the supply of housing. No words to spare for the literally-criminally underpriced source of the demand: lobbyist-driven handouts to the tech industry. Build all the office parks you want in Mountain View, make the housing be someone else's problem.

  8. ActuallyNotLibertarian says:

    You should really separate the homelessness problem from the general housing shortage -

    Some homeless people will be helped by having more houses built, most probably won't be because they are too dysfunctional, lack any sources of income, have drug dependencies, untreated mental and physical illnesses etc. So you still need a system to treat them and hopefully then bring back some of them into society and the job-housing market, that is what city (and state and federal if the city finds itself the statewide homeless hub due to favorable conditions) taxes should legitimately be used for except there is no shortage of funds available for the city and there is little indication of anyone knowing how to do that or wanting to actually solve the problem rather than to live off it politically.

    Re housing - if what you say is true then it just serves to underscore that the city is not your friend and you don't want to be putting more money into its hands because it will not be used to your benefit whatsoever, re building condos - if the market can take luxury condos let them build luxury condos ffs, it means that the people who would be living in them are currently renting houses and apartments that are larger than the condo they would move into and overpaying for them.
    The "any scenario where the rich get the better stuff first is unacceptable" attitude is not helpful.

    • jwz says:

      So how does your "actually not libertarian" philosophy differ from "actually libertarian"? Because you haven't said anything other than "market knows all, government bad", which sounds pretty familiar to me.

      "So you still need a system to treat them and hopefully then bring back some of them into society"

      "...but I categorically reject the idea that government can be trusted to do this, so let's not try, certainly not if it involves taxes."

      • ActuallyNotLibertarian says:

        Because there are places in the world that actually manage to avoid these failure modes and they all seem to have both high taxes and governments.

      • ActuallyNotLibertarian says:

        By US standards even NYC seems to be doing much better than the bay, among other reasons because its public transit system allows for saner commute-price tradeoffs.

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