Upton Sinclair said, “it is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it*.” This is evident in Roger Valdez’s column in Forbes today (How Jobs and Awkward White Men Are Destroying a City) in which he likens my criticism of Amazon’s overwhelming impacts on Seattle to racism against Chinese immigrants in the late 19th century. While Forbes says that, “Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own” Valdez doesn’t disclose clearly that his nonprofit’s funding appears to be largely funded by the commercial real estate developers building towers for Amazon including the Master Builder’s Association, NAIOP Washington State (Commercial Real Estate Development Association) and at least until earlier today, Vulcan – Paul Allen’s real estate development venture which owns and develops much of the property around Amazon’s headquarters.  (When I looked earlier today Vulcan was on their sponsor page, now they’re not – but you can see them in last week’s Archive.org snapshot**.)

Sinclair understood the difference between speaking out for the powerless vs. the powerful. Valdez mocks my concern and others’ in Seattle over Amazon’s disregard of women in technology (Amazon’s so far refused to release its technology workforce diversity numbers.) He also mocks my concerns for lower income Seattle residents being rapidly pushed out of neighborhoods due to the fastest rising rents in the country. He labels my criticism of Amazon’s white male-dominated culture as just another kind of discrimination.


His accusations of reverse-gender discrimination and racism remind me of what Samuel Johnson meant when he said, “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.

Coincidentally, Amazon’s headquarters is located very near the site of the city’s 19th century Denny Regrade sluicing (shown right) which rendered many residents’ homes worthless. Amazon’s the beneficiary of multi-generational disenfranchisement.

Seattle’s granted Amazon and its real estate developers one of the biggest free rides in modern times; the city’s had no impact fees. Amazon’s growth is a major (but not only) contributor to the city’s fourth worst traffic in the nation. Its in-city headquarters may be smart growth but its policies and lack of transparency on gender balance are not. Its impact on lower income residents is also a serious problem. The company and its advocates should stop dismissing these issues and their critics.

My GeekWire column which Valdez referenced went hugely viral and tapped into the pent up frustration many Seattleites have for the company’s rapid growth to date. Meanwhile, Amazon’s acquired enough real estate to at least double if not triple its in-city headcount in the next five years.


* A colleague who wished to remain anonymous emailed me the Upton Sinclair quote upon reading the Forbes piece.

** I reached out to Valdez via email tonight and he responded, “[Vulcan was] a founding sponsor for 2014. They’re putting their resources into opposing the linkage taxes [impact fees] being proposed. So they haven’t contributed for 2015. They may come back later as a sponsor.” He has not yet responded to my followup asking if the timing for the removal was related to the publication of the Forbes column (but it’s late in the evening 11:24 PM PST).

Posted by Jeff Reifman

Jeff is a technology consultant based in the Pacific Northwest.

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