Public Seminar: The Curious Case of Andrew Yang

May 25, 2021 State and Local Policy

During the 2020 presidential campaign, it was businessman Andrew Yang who was the most explicitly anti-corporate tax incentive candidate in the field. He literally had a policy page on his website calling to “End Bidding Wars for Corporate Relocation.” His correct reasoning?: “These subsidies amount to money that could otherwise go to school, road repair, and other important functions. These incentives are meant to steal jobs and investment from other states, not from offshoring or to entice businesses to expand when they otherwise wouldn’t.”

But now that Yang has morphed from presidential long shot to one of the front-runners in the New York City mayoral race, his position has gotten, well, weird. He’s trying to placate business interests who love corporate handouts, while still not ticking off the activists who rightly fight against inequitable deals, resulting in a policy mish-mash that leaves him nowhere.

Yang’s  transformation shows how local politics screw up the debate over corporate incentives, even when the pols in question know just what a boondoggle these giveaways are.

During the 2020 race, Yang pegged his criticism of corporate handouts to the nationally embarrassing effort by cities and states to offer up billions of dollars in tax giveaways and outright subsidies to Amazon, in an effort to win the nod for the company’s HQ2. He noted rightly that Amazon was going to what it wanted to do, regardless of tax breaks. “The recent circus surrounding Amazon’s HQ2 project should highlight how damaging the practice of allowing localities to ‘bid’ for investment from corporations can be to our country, and how important it is for us to find a solution to this problem,” he said in his campaign platform. “Considering Amazon’s business, DC and NY were likely locations for HQ2 even before they received 238 proposals from cities across the country.” (The recent reveal in Brad Stone’s Amazon Unbound that Philadelphia was in the running, till a top executive joked he disliked the city only solidifies Yang’s critique.)