PAID to Play

Is anyone else sick and tired of their taxes going to welfare recipients?

You see ’em all the time, eating steak, quaffing spirits, driving new cars, swiping right on the newest iPhone, enjoying all the finer things in life, things paid for by you and me and all the other tax-paying slobs. Just thinking about how hard we work while these welfare kings and queens live la vida rica makes my blood boil.

Obviously, I am referring to corporate incentives. (If you were hoping for a diatribe about food stamps, read Ann Coulter, the queen of cruel.)

Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran is fighting a bare-knuckles battle with Governor Rick Scott over Enterprise Florida, the public-private partnership through which the state hands out millions of our dollars to incentivize businesses to relocate or expand here. Corcoran wants to kill the program. Scott, who hasn’t met a job he didn’t want to take credit for creating, wants to keep it.

Corcoran likens incentives to corporate welfare and the state picking winners and losers.

Scott says that the companies that receive millions of our dollars pay it forward by hiring our workers and making money off our communities, some of which we get back in taxes. Which sounds reasonable; everyone likes job creation and the thought of being able to afford nice things, like bridge repairs and student-to-teacher ratios somewhere below 40-to-1.

But are these companies worthy of all this welfare? Nope.

Take Amazon, for example, which last July the Jacksonville Business Journal reported was to receive $4.95 million from the state and $13.4 from the city in incentives to open up a local fulfillment center (read: sweatshop).

Now, Amazon clearly isn’t hurting for cash. But if it’s good for the community, what’s the problem with giving nearly $20 million to a company worth more than $430 billion?

Here’s the rub: It’s not good for the community. The jobs at Amazon’s sweatshops are the kinds of underpaid, backbreaking worker exploitation gigs that make the meatpacking warehouses in The Jungle look like a lateral move. Further, the overall affect of Amazon’s rampant expansion is job elimination, not creation. (See “Primed for Amazon’s Satanic Warehouse,” by David Jaffee, Nov. 30, 2016)

But that’s not the only way Amazon is bad for our community. By way of kismet, as I started writing this, local small business owner Don Myers randomly stopped by. Don and I got to talking and found that we have a common interest in Amazon. The mega-retailer is allowing Don’s company, T-Shirt Bordello, which sells shirts featuring unique designs he creates, to be run out of business by thieves.

Artwork is insanely easy to copy and sell (read: steal), especially online. Which is exactly what is happening to Don. Not only are companies stealing his designs, they’re selling them on his storefront on In fact, the T-shirts Don sells don’t even show up at the top of the listings when prospective buyers select a shirt to purchase on his company’s Amazon page.

Since becoming aware of the problem, Don has pleaded with Amazon to stop letting sellers steal his copyrighted work and sell it on his page. Which should be simple enough to accomplish. See, all products sold on Amazon are sorted by unique Amazon Standard Identification Numbers, or ASINs. In order to appear on the same page, products must have matching ASINs. So all Amazon would have to do is stop letting other sellers use Don’s ASINs.

Instead, it has essentially refused to intervene in a meaningful way. Which has been murder on his business. Last year, Don had six employees. Now he’s down to one. Soon it may be none.

Sure, this is just one small business getting shat on by a corporate monster. And just one incentive going to a corporate monster that wants to pay people $13.50/hour to work nights, weekends and holidays in 10- to 12-hour shifts spent lifting and carrying 50-pound boxes inside a 90°F coffin whilst being monitored by a dozen cameras. But it’s indicative of the corporate philosophy of nearly all large companies.

It’s no secret that business is about making money. This isn’t a criticism. But large corporations are so consumed with a desire for more, more, more, that the workforce winds up getting less, less, less. Fewer benefits, fewer vacation days, smaller wages. Which is their right, as long as it’s legal. But should we pay them millions of dollars to do it in Florida?

Corcoran doesn’t think so. You know who else doesn’t think so? The freaking Koch brothers. And the numbers back them up. In February, after analyzing data going back to 1990, Upjohn Institute for Employment Research reported that, while business incentives cost the U.S. $45 billion in 2015 alone, the effects are “always statistically insignificant,” meaning that by and large, incentives don’t convince companies to move or stay or expand. It just lines their pockets.

Welfare was never intended to be a business opportunity. Yet here we are.