By Kishan Gandham
As a culture, we thrive off listening to others’ success stories. It’s no surprise that a nation founded on the tenets of idealism and independence finds solace in the promises and security of the American Dream: that anyone in this country can become something.
“Bill Gates is the richest man in the world. This is how he gives away his billions.”
“Warren Buffett is worth $87 billion—here are 24 facts about him.”
“Jeff Bezos net worth: Amazon CEO now the richest person in history.”
The gold-plated narratives of these men never seem far away from headline news. However, sometimes, against our better judgment, we miss the headlines that matter.
“Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and Warren Buffett are wealthier than the poorest half of the US.” Despite how much we believe in the American Dream, it’s time to wake up.
Income inequality and poverty only begin to describe the myriad of problems affecting thousands of people in this country—which is why it is so important to do something now. When Jeff Bezos announced that he was looking for a new location for the next Amazon Headquarters, a place set to employ 50,000 people, nothing short of a bidding war commenced, with cities offering donations, money, and gifts in order to convince the richest man in America to move his warehouse to their streets and grab a piece of the resulting profits. However, it's not New York, Sacramento, or even Newark that deserve those jobs. People from any of those cities will agree that it’s places like Keyser, Huntington, or Boone County, West Virginia who need these jobs, places that have seen staggering drops in coal jobs for the past decade. Move the new Amazon HQ here, Mr. Bezos. The New York Times notes in September of 2017, that with the shift towards natural gas and the increase in green energy projects, coal mining in places like Wyoming or West Virginia has become nothing more than a pipe dream. But the politics of coal mining jobs in America’s heartland affect far more than we think it does. Consumers make the world go round. Yet, when people lose their jobs they don’t have the wages to actually go out and spend—neither unemployment insurance nor welfare can cover spending that would produce an economic impact. Why’s that bad? Keynesian economics calls it the paradox of thrift—essentially the spending that one household pours in the economic system is the income that another household brings in, and so on and so forth. When coal workers lose their jobs, and the mines close for the last time, opportunity closes too. When people don’t spend and hold onto whatever money they have, local businesses surrounding the area of these mines don’t see enough revenue or profit to keep all of their employees. In turn, people working in local industries who have their jobs could actually lose them. The cycle continues, as jobs are lost, more jobs are lost, and more jobs are lost until coal towns turn into shantytowns. Truth be told, the loss of coal jobs is indicative of a move towards the future, where automation has become a new norm. However, that’s exactly why big corporations need to move to areas like these: corporate giants like Amazon, Google, or Facebook could have the potential to change the norm themselves.
Here’s how we fix it. Mr. Bezos, I know you’ve created a short list of 20 different cities that you plan to move your headquarters to, but throw out your list. Consider, instead, the benefits of bringing back jobs to sectors and regions that currently have none, of bringing jobs to West Virginia. Here’s how this works—first, it brings in thousands of high-earning, highly skilled workers to this area that can spend. The fact that these individuals pull more than $100,000 at the least, means that the local diners and grocery stores will finally see customers filling their dust-caked aisles and tables. Furthermore, with the added rise in populations, other businesses must follow. Places in West Virginia and Wyoming oft lack large populations which means that when 50,000 new jobs and people show up in these small towns, local laundromats, dry cleaners, plumbing services, car mechanics, convenience stores, movie theaters—you name it, have to be there to provide services for all these added people. That’s job creation or job immigration. For people who work in the coal mines who are laid off, living on welfare, these low-skill, high-need jobs are perfect especially because they do not necessarily require much educational training. This fills the gap in jobs that exists in the status quo. But, regardless of whether Amazon is employing these West Virginia natives, the new businesses that are created can. Nevertheless, when people have more money to spend, this, in turn, bolsters local businesses and expands them, encouraging them to start higher more people and potentially, increase wages throughout. If people in these small economies began to spend more, if more people move into these areas, those are more people paying SALT taxes and federal income taxes in these poor states. This in turn not only gives state governments more money to attempt public works programs or to get pork barrel projects to again, stimulate jobs, but also gives the federal government revenue when more and more people began to get employed rather than lose their jobs.
So Mr. Bezos, whether you decide to listen is your prerogative, but if not you, convince your contemporaries to do something. I don’t suspect that your net worth will fall anytime soon, but the disparity of your wealth compared to a poor America will only continue to grow.
Mr. Bezos, you, unlike the government, unlike the state, have the ability to do something important and impact thousands of lives. In your keynote address to Princeton University, you addressed the graduating class with advice that you once received yourself: “It’s harder to be kind than clever.” So please Mr. Bezos, choose kindness.
Just like we’ve done in the past, success stories will continue to make headline news. Except for once, I think it’s time we stop listening to the headlines and starting thinking of the people starving in the breadlines.