Amazon in DC-area is bad… for America

I’m not a NIMBY.

I don’t want Amazon to come to the DC area. But this isn’t personal. It will probably make traffic worse, and drive up real estate prices — but I already own a home, so I can cash out. (And I don’t have a particular problem with Amazon or any of the technorati — they aren’t as smart as they think they are, but really, who is?)

My issue is that if Amazon comes to the DC area (three of the final twenty locations for its new second HQ are in the Capital Region) it will have ripple effects on the U.S. government and the country.

Amazon could turn DC into a jungle!

DC area real estate prices are high, not as high as the Bay Area, but high. Amazon, with its infusion of high-paying jobs, both from direct hires and the attendant businesses that will start or expand in its wake, will push real estate prices much higher. The backbone of the greater DC area is civil servants, government workers. They are compensated well, but not extravagantly. Even the very, very top-level government salaries (with some specific exceptions)are well below $200,000 — certainly enough to be comfortable, but not remarkable by tech world standards. A steep rise in real estate prices will make it difficult for government professionals — civil servants who have valuable skills and could find alternative employment — to get by. They will find more lucrative professions, exacerbating the existing brain drain of experienced civil servants. Of course, these rising real estate prices will also be bad for the less well-compensated — mid and lower level civil servants, teachers, and, well, everyone else. This broader effect will be bad for the region, but for the nation as a whole, losing talented civil servants could be devastating. While younger people may be dissuaded from a career in public service.

At the same time, one area where the U.S. government faces ongoing and severe challenges is attracting tech talent. Having Amazon in the neighborhood will create extremely lucrative opportunities that talented tech workers will find difficult to ignore. But government needs for computer science talent, from programming to theory to data science are significant. National security is one particular field that will suffer, but they are not alone. Managing and processing complex networks and enormous amounts of data is critical for agencies to serve the American people. But anyone who shows much talent — particularly if real estate prices are rising — will find the siren song of Amazon tough to resist.

Finally, the DC area, on the whole is already wealthy. The stability of government work insulated the region from some of the worst fallout of the great recession. This isn’t to say there aren’t wealth gaps and problems, but frankly Amazon might make them worse — not better. Anyway, the DC area does not need this — lots of other places in America do.

I don’t blame local politicians for pursuing Amazon, and the online shopping behemoth will probably not factor the good of the country in its decision. But here’s hoping…

Originally published at terrorwonk.blogspot.com on January 23, 2018.

AAAS Policy Fellow, formerly @UMIACS (specializing in international security), did a PhD on vice presidents, interested in a lot of stuff

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