After a months-long, high-stakes, razzle-dazzle, headline-grabbing beauty pageant, Amazon is reportedly planning not to create a second headquarters in a hard-up or overlooked region, as many had hoped, but instead to put large offices in two places along the prosperous northeast corridor: Long Island City in Queens, New York, and Crystal City in Arlington County, Virginia.
If made, it is a decision that reflects the winner-take-all nature of the American economy. It is not just that the richest people have pulled away from the 99 percent, but that the richest places have pulled away from the rest of the country, too. In the past few decades, a handful of urban areas—D.C., New York, San Francisco, Houston, Seattle, and Boston among them—have contributed more and more to growth and absorbed more and more wealth. Just five metro regions, out of the nearly 400 across the country, produce more than a quarter of all economic output; allowing more Americans to move to high-productivity cities would increase economic activity by more than $1 trillion, economists estimate.
Amazon’s decision would also highlight the way that, since the Reagan years, Washington has been transformed from a sleepy, starchy, and staid company town into a vibrant economic powerhouse—less like Canberra and Brasília, more like London and Lagos. The D.C. region is one of the richest in the country, by some measures at least. The city has undergone a dramatic urban revitalization and a wrenching period of gentrification. And that is in no small part thanks to the American taxpayer.