A simple process which delivers something major – voting’s a bit like sex

by Joanne Black / 22 September, 2017
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The downside of voting is that if you don’t like the result, it’s a long wait till next time.

Acting on the advice to “vote early, vote often” – or half of it, actually – this week I trekked down to the New Zealand Embassy to cast my ballot in the general election.

There were a couple of workmen waiting in the foyer. “I guess you’re not here to vote,” I said. “No, we’re here to fix the boiler,” one of them replied. I couldn’t help but wonder which of us was doing the more useful service.

After voting, I took my little Electoral Commission sticker and stuck it on my T-shirt, though I imagine only New Zealanders would recognise it. It is the same sticker that polling booths offer in New Zealand, saying, “Yes I have voted”, in a speech bubble coming from a leering, orange man who looks like a cross between a Lego figure and those blow-ups with wavy arms loved by car yards.

Around these parts, Americans who saw it might assume the wearer was making some kind of political statement and that it represented one of the “basket of deplorables” that is how Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton described Donald Trump’s supporters during the presidential campaign. Come to think of it, that particular skin tone does seem vaguely familiar.

Walking home, I decided that voting is a bit like sex. Both are relatively simple, private processes, one of which delivers a government and the other potentially a baby. It seems miraculous that from something so simple that requires no ID and about which you could be casual and perfunctory, you might achieve such a complicated and significant outcome.

Well, you could also be passionate and committed, depending on the circumstances, but how you feel about doing it probably makes no difference to the outcome. The downside of voting is that you have to wait a long time to try again.

Amazon, the blue whale of the retail ocean in front of which most other retailers seem like plankton, has announced that it will build “HQ2” in a US city. It is now awaiting pitches to see which city makes the best case and, one imagines, the best offer.

The New York Times reports that since 2000, Seattle-based Amazon has received more than US$1 billion in subsidies. As a US taxpayer, this makes me queasy. Nothing is ever black and white, but as a guiding principle, I reckon that one of the behemoths of American capitalism, whose total revenue was US$136 billion last year, should see if it can get by without support from taxpayers.

In fact, I would hope that if Amazon looks at where I live as a possible HQ2, it would ask not what Washington DC can do for Amazon but what Amazon can do for Washington DC. Mostly, it will bring jobs to wherever it goes. It is promising 50,000 jobs averaging more than $100,000 each a year over the next 10-15 years.

Many of those jobs, of course, will replace others lost from businesses that cannot survive the competition from Amazon’s hugely successful model. It is a tough world and Amazon is eating up weaker businesses. I get that, and I certainly get that cities, and workers, would love a big new employer with all the flow-on benefits.

It is therefore not unreasonable for Amazon to expect planning and logistical favours to help it build, and to access transport networks. Beyond that, no taxpayer dollars should be considered, offered or accepted.

Corporations should walk the talk.

This Back to Black column was first published in the September 23, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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