DON'T BE EVIL? Today the New York Times tells us, under the happy headline, "Google Is Reviving Hopes For Ex-Furniture Makers," that the internet behemoth is doing the good folks of Lenoir, North Carolina a solid by locating a server farm in their area, where a lot of jobs making furniture have moved overseas. Sounds great, right? Until we get to this:

Since the deal in Lenoir (pronounced leh-NORE) was announced in February, city and county officials have found themselves on the defensive, criticized for the secrecy of the negotiations and the package of incentives, potentially worth $260 million, that Google will receive.

At Google�s request, the state legislature passed a law exempting some high-tech businesses from paying sales tax on electricity � a tax the company says it would not pay in many other states. And as long as the server farm is operational, the city and county will forgive 100 percent of the company�s personal property taxes and 80 percent of its real estate taxes for up to 30 years.

The deal�s critics point out that although Google said it would invest $600 million and create 250 jobs at an average salary of $48,000, it made no minimum guarantees, often considered an important part of shielding economic development deals from accusations that they are corporate giveaways. The incentive package is one of the largest ever in the state, and when it is broken down per job, it is as much as $1.24 million each.

In recent years, corporations have more and more brazen in the tax concessions they extort from economically depressed or vulnerable communities by dangling the prospect of jobs in front of them (or threatening to pack up existing plants). The result is an awful race to the bottom, where public officials desperate to keep their municipalities from collapsing give the companies pretty much anything and everything they ask for if they�ll bring a few jobs � or in this case, 250 jobs.

But $1.24 million for every job? Sheesh. Doesn�t Google have a company philosophy that reads, �Don�t be evil�? And if they really wanted to, couldn�t they have acted a little more like good corporate citizens and a little less like loan sharks? I hear their profits are pretty healthy; they probably could have managed it.

--Paul Waldman

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