A Modest Proposal: Make Room for Amazon; Tear down NYPL, Brick by Brick, Book by Book

by Bernard Krumm

Less than two months ago, New York City suffered a major economic setback when Amazon announced that it was pulling out of a plan to set up a second headquarters in Queens, taking 25,000 jobs and an estimated $27 billion in tax revenue with them. While anti-corporate and other local activists celebrated with glee, Democratic Mayor Bill De Blasio appeared blasé in an Op-Ed in the New York Times, saying that Amazon should have done more to win over Union Leaders, public-housing activists, and other

Bill De Blasio saying ‘fuhgeddaboudit’ to economic opportunity and tax revenue.

skeptics who expressed concern about what Amazon’s corporate presence would have meant for the community. Here’s what the deal would have meant for the community had the plan gone forward: 25,000 jobs and $27 billion in tax revenue. That money could have gone toward fixing New York’s ailing public transit system, a problem made worse by ineffectual policies and mismanagement. That money could have been invested in the public-housing programs that De Blasio apparently cares so much about. Instead, those jobs and that tax revenue will go to another city, or nowhere at all. Meanwhile, Governor of Virginia and moonwalk contest enterer Ralph Northam not only gets to keep his job – he gets to keep Amazon in his state. If De Blasio, a social justice warrior, doesn’t see the irony there, then he doesn’t know what irony is.

But perhaps De Blasio has a point about the need to address the concerns of critics. The city needed to dangle $3 Billion in tax incentives to get Amazon to commit (worth it), and the introduction of 25,000 high paying jobs may have brought about gentrification in the Long Island City area (also worth it, if you’ve ever been to Long Island City). So instead of upsetting local activists by reinventing Long Island City in Amazon’s corporate image, I have another solution: build it in Manhattan. Manhattan has already been gentrified, and New Yorkers have seen improvements in their life-expectancy as a result – read it and weep, Long Island City! And the Amazon workers who can’t afford to live in Manhattan can commute using New York’s newly renovated public transit system paid for by, you guessed it, Amazon. They can live in the outer boroughs, on Long Island, or maybe even in New Jersey (OK, maybe not New Jersey). But even if they don’t live in New Jersey, these well-paid workers will have their pick of (reasonably) affordable places to live in the tri-state area.  

But now the question becomes where in Manhattan we should put the Amazon Headquarters. Here is where I may lose some of you: I suggest 476 5th Avenue, where the main branch of the New York Public Library now stands, but where a brand-new

Pictured: An obsolete institution.

Amazon campus could be built. Let’s face it: physical libraries are becoming obsolete. A report by the Pew Institute shows that library use is trending downward, while people are turning more and more to online, digital resources, many of which are open-access. I myself, a PhD student in English who specializes in early modern literature, make more use of EEBO (early English books online) than I do of physical manuscripts. And I have a hard time convincing my students to visit the library here on campus when everything they really need is available online. As for you luddites who want to purchase physical copies of new and old books so that you can write in them and get that new book smell, Amazon already provides hardcovers and paperbacks at lower costs than any of their “competitors.” And since Amazon is already planning on getting into the retail bookstore business, you’ll still be able to enjoy the experience of going to a bookstore while benefiting from their Amazonian low prices. Consumers save, people get jobs, the city raises revenues. I fail to see the downside.

Book preservation is expensive, and e-books are the wave of the future, so why fight it? And, more to the point, the revenues of the Public Library don’t even come close to what Amazon would bring in – in fact, the library relies largely on government subsidies and private donors. Right about now, you’re probably thinking that the Library contributes something that is more valuable than money, namely cultural capital for the city of New York. But make no mistake, cultural capital is not worth nearly as much actual capital. So why should we continue to bankroll a “culturally significant” institution that makes no real, tangible contribution to the city? Why must we continue to put up with those hipster poseurs who sit on the library steps and take selfies to make themselves look like real New Yorkers? (A side note: real New Yorkers don’t take selfies – they don’t have the time). Finally, why should we ignore salient economic logic and kowtow to the left-wing academics and activists who will be outraged? If they truly believe in progress they should embrace my proposal. If not, well, they will always find something to be outraged about, so the city might as well make some money in the meantime.

My proposal is to bid farewell to a dying institution and embrace the inevitable. Change can be difficult, but if we hold fast to the past and let our nostalgia get the better of us we may miss out on the economic and technological opportunities that the future will bring. Thank you for your consideration and for giving my proposal a fair hearing. As a last word, I have this to say: to those of you who are still concerned about how you’re going to get your books if there are no libraries, we both know that you already use Amazon for that.

Would Amazon use a smile in their logo if they were not on the level?

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One Response

  1. Ken Lindblom April 8, 2019 at 12:36 pm |

    That’s no smile.


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