A few days ago, a friend of mine who had just graduated in computer programming with a focus on artificial learning informed me that she received an offer to work for Apple at the big spaceship-looking building in the suburb of Cupertino, California. She turned down the offer, and instead accepted a job from a non-tech Seattle corporation. She was very honest about what influenced her decision. Both corporations offered about the same amount of money, but one of the offers was made in a state with income tax, and that would cost her over $15,000 year. Washington State has no such tax.
What her example made clear to me was the absence of this tax was, in effect, a subsidy for corporations competing for national and international talent. For incomes over $100k, a Seattle company like Amazon could always add think-twice kind of money ($10,000 to $30,000), a bonus paid by the public.
The maintenance of this edge partially explains Amazon's current attack on Seattle's democracy. But the head tax is much smaller than, say, Cali's income tax (when all is said done it would be a 0.7 percent payroll tax). Is this what the fight is about? Before giving an answer, I want the reader to consider this: Amazon is not a futuristic corporation. It is doing the same thing as Boeing did 2001, or that all other corporations have done in one way or another in the history of "embedded markets."
Do not be fooled with the image of Jeff Bezos walking a robot dog. This is nothing but a mystification of the fact that Amazon begins and ends every day with M — M' (money making more money). And there are really only two ways to do that. Increase the time in which workers, during work, are making money for the company (surplus labor); and decrease the time when they are working for themselves (necessary labor time). The other way is to replace workers with machines: or increase the part of constant capital and decrease the part of variable capital (labor power) in a productive or distributive process. This was the case in Adam's Smith's pin factories (though more about the pins in another post), and still the case at Amazon Go (more about that place in another post).
So, in the year we are celebrating the 200th birthday of Karl Marx, what is this stand off in Seattle about? It's really about activating the monster called HQ2.
On Monday, there were a number of reports about how Amazon wanted to learn from the mistakes made in Seattle. As Nathalie Graham wrote in "Slog AM":
How will the HQ2 city handle increased traffic? How will it fund affordable housing? The company is scapegoated for a lot of things in Seattle. The blanket issue Seattle has with Amazon is that the company caused too much change too fast. Amazon doesn't want to tread those same waters in a new city.Graham linked to a NYT story that basically portrayed Amazon as a company that grew much too fast for Seattle, and is now exasperated with being blamed for all of its problems (the problems that came with the gift of a "booming economy"): rising rents, worsening traffic, the explosion of homelessness. The story failed to mention the most important mistake Amazon wanted the next city to avoid. That mistake was revealed on Tuesday, when it shut down construction on a new office site because of the council's pending vote on the head tax. This shutdown revealed the mistake, democracy, and also debuted the thing that the mad scientist had been working on in the basement all of this time. It stepped out: it's huge, it's terrifying, it's HQ2.
It's at once a machine for disciplining Seattle's democracy, and a machine for raiding the public coffer of a whole North American city. This is the shutdown. This is capitalism today. And there is nothing new or futuristic about it. It is primitive accumulation all over again. Cities in the running for HQ2 now understand that, one, even more has to be done to get that H2Q, and, two, they must avoid the mistakes of democracy.
Seattle had a head tax until 2009, when the Chamber of Commerce threw their weight around during a recession and cowed the council. They preferred then that we cut human services. They still think they're the victims https://t.co/S76VktrpBd
— Mike McGinn (@mayormcginn) May 3, 2018