Amazon’s decision to abandon New York City—leaving a $3 billion goodie bag of incentives on the table—represents a break in the progressive alliance between an increasingly radicalized Left and the new technocratic elite.
For a decade, the oligarchs of Silicon Valley and Puget Sound worked overtime to win over progressives. For the most part, they enthusiastically back the Left on its immigration, environmental, gender, and racial agendas. The merger of the tech oligarchs with the Democrats went swimmingly—until the contradictions became too obvious. Even as they muzzled conservatives both inside and outside their companies and donated heavily to President Obama and other Democrats, they have remained at their core ruthless capitalists, determined to crush competition and shape society to their liking.
As Amazon has discovered, though, progressives now seek to limit the power and influence of these monopolistic behemoths. The Left’s new firebrands, including New York’s freshman representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, much as Bernie Sanders did in 2016, openly regard both tech oligarchs and Wall Street billionaires as class enemies. The progressives’ alliance with private-sector unions, whose presence has shrunk in tech-driven urban economies like San Francisco and Seattle, has drawn attention to Amazon’s non-unionized warehouses and fulfillment centers, where widespread claims of low pay, brutal management practices, and an accelerated search to replace workers with robots have energized labor advocates. The new scrutiny is especially critical because an increasing number of millennials—soon to be the nation’s largest voting bloc—say that they prefer socialism to capitalism, threatening the future profits of even the most “woke” Silicon Valley plutocrats.
The trouble is, they went out of their way to piss off their obvious allies, the right.
Though Amazon won’t lose much by redirecting expansion elsewhere (including adding personnel to its offices elsewhere in New York), Big Tech should be worried about the company’s experience. Once viewed by the left as the Good Big Business, Big Tech has now been reclassified to the ranks of the rapacious monopolists. Meanwhile, the right is also getting less tech-friendly as it perceives Big Tech taking the other side in the culture wars. At the moment, tech has no obvious political allies.
Allies are going to be essential, because Amazon’s battles with local activists in Seattle and now New York were but the opening skirmishes in what promises to be a long war. Activists are looking to curb tech’s economic power, with whatever political tools they have at their disposal, from the special employment taxes tried in Seattle to lobbying for federal antitrust actions.
So in a war, you need allies, and they can’t all be people you’ve bought. Who will ally themselves with Big Tech?