Jacobin - September 2, 2021

Residents of Chicago who went for a stroll in a local park recently might have come upon an unexpected obstruction: an Amazon locker partially blocking their path. Thanks to a deal Amazon cut with the city’s parks department, forty-nine Amazon lockers — where customers can pick up and leave packages — were deployed in public parks, with another fifty-three planned for future placement.

Parkgoers and local lawmakers quickly revolted against the private co-option of public space. The outrage increased after the nonprofit news organization Block Club Chicago used a public records request to reveal that the city would receive, at most, $137,600 in payment from Amazon, which made a $7.8 billion profit last quarter alone.

“Amazon should not be occupying public space regardless of what they offer but we have to note that 137K is a slap in the face,” tweeted Chicago alderwoman Rossana Rodriguez. Amid the outcry, Amazon removed the lockers and halted deployment of others, pending the results of a project review.

This incident is emblematic of two trends, neither of which are good for taxpayers or local communities: Amazon’s increasing use of public resources to entrench its monopoly, and Illinois and Chicago’s reliance on public-private “partnerships” that result in public costs and privatized benefits. 

The Amazon Swindle

Amazon has received more than $4 billion in state and local subsidies across the country, most of which has gone toward building out its warehouse and distribution network. It uses that network as leverage to batter both rival retailers and small businesses that sell products on its platform. States and municipalities that use public funds to support Amazon’s network, in other words, are paying to harm their own local businesses and retail outlets.

Illinois has proven to be particularly fertile ground for Amazon. A recent investigation by WBEZ and the Better Government Association found that Amazon has received $741 million in taxpayer subsidies in the Chicago area alone, and that wealth was mostly extracted from black communities.

In return, those communities received dangerous Amazon warehouse jobs, strained public services, and increased pollution and traffic. There’s also constant low-level talk of Illinois building a third airport in the Chicago region, which would become a hub for Amazon as it works to put UPS and FedEx out of business.

Blocking park paths with its lockers, then, is simply par for the course. ...
Read full report at Jacobin