A recent article in Bloomberg Technology reports that Jeff Bezos, the brilliant founder and builder of retailing revolutionary Amazon.com, is under pressure from altruists to give away his fortune. The article, For Bezos, Now World’s Richest, Philanthropy Is 'Saved for Later' is accompanied by the subtitle, “Amazon’s founder wants to change the world, but he’s still deciding on his approach to giving.”
Bezos wants to “change the world?” What the hell is Amazon, a company that radically changed the world for the better? Like Wal-Mart two generations ago, Amazon harnessed emerging cutting-edge technology to create a retailing value that hundreds of millions of consumers have enthusiastically embraced. Amazon has lowered the general cost of goods by bypassing the traditional “brick-and-mortar” strategy, thus raising the standard of living of average people while making the shopping experience more convenient. And don’t forget that Amazon is a jobs machine. Which is why politicians across America have been scrambling in a bidding war to get Amazon to locate its planned Second Headquarters in their states and communities, which will bring an estimated 50,000 good-paying jobs with it. The secondary benefits of Amazon’s success are undoubtedly almost incalculable. All this thanks to the vision, drive, and ability of one man!
Yet, altruists focus only on how Bezos can give his fortune away. According to Karen Weise and Dina Bass:
Amazon.com Inc. founder Jeff Bezos may have surpassed Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates to be the richest person in the world, but there's one title he isn't likely to claim: world's most generous.
Even with more than $90 billion to his name, Bezos has yet to make a major philanthropic mark, but with the new mantle of the world’s richest, the pressure on Bezos to give will only grow. Nonprofits and other foundations are desperate to see what he’ll do, says giving consultant and researcher Amy Schiller. “Bezos has probably had philanthropy in his mental cart for a while,” she says, “and kept clicking `save for later.'”
Why are they so desperate? If the welfare of others is their goal, they should want Bezos to “save philanthropy for later”; building a business does far more good that giving away. Now I realize that philanthropic foundations have their own interests in mind. After all, their job is to give away other people’s money, not earn it. But even by that standard, can’t they see that production, not handouts, is the most humanitarian of pursuits? Give the guy a break.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with philanthropy (the voluntary kind). It definitely has its place in a progressive society. But it’s instructive that Bill Gates is held up in comparison. The next paragraph indicates a dark side of the “giving” crusaders:
As Gates built Microsoft, he also faced increasing pressure from the public -- and even his own parents -- to give more. When his mother prodded him one night, Gates snapped back, "I'm just trying to run my company!" the Wall Street Journal reported in 2009. Gates didn't fully throw himself into philanthropy until he stepped down as chief executive officer of Microsoft in 2000, but since then he's helped build the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation into the largest foundation in the country. A representative said Gates was unavailable to comment.
Was Gates pressured into abandoning his dream to focus on philanthropy? Now, I don’t claim to know whether Gates succumbed to the pressure and stepped down from running his company before he was ready. I remember reading or hearing that Gates left Microsoft in the aftermath of the US government’s vicious antitrust assault on the company, saying that the assault made his job “not fun anymore.” But it’s rotten for people to have pressured Gates into quitting what he wanted to do—run his business—for the sake of giving away his fortune to people who didn’t earn it. And by his own mother, no less! But this is altruism. In the name of “helping the less fortunate,” they callously disregard the desires of those who actually make the money that the “less fortunate”—which includes not only people down on their luck through no fault of their own, but also the lazy, the incompetent, the moocher, and, worst of all, the envious haters of success and achievement—supposedly need.
The irony is that Bezos already donates substantial amounts of money, and some of the donations are listed in the article. So, what are the altruists after? Here’s a hint: ““His giving so far is not meaningful in terms of a direction,” said one CEO of an organization that tracks Tech giving. What will be “meaningful?” Giving up his passion?
As I write this, Bezos is closing in on becoming America’s first $100 billion man, thanks to the continuing growth of Amazon—which thanks to Bezos’s continuing genius and tolerance for calculated risk that is inherent in entrepreneurialism is finding new avenues of growth (Amazon recently bought Whole Foods). Good for him! Capitalist fortune builders are by far mankind’s greatest-ever humanitarians, before or regardless of whether they give away their first dime.
To his credit, Ed Lazowska, Bill & Melinda Gates Chair in Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington, who himself has solicited donations from Bezos, said, “Jeff is probably not quite ready to step down yet, but this is a guy who, like Bill, is fixated on changing the world in really important ways. It’s a full-time job. You have to imagine he will be every bit as philanthropic as Gates. Nobody has any right to make demands, and they have to give the guy time.”
Exactly right. No one has any moral right. As someone who uses Amazon, let me extend a hearty thank you to Jeff Bezos. May he resist the heartless attempts to pressure and guilt him into philanthropy. Here’s to encouraging Bezos to continue to run and grow his business, if that is what he wants to do.
THE GUILT PLEDGE—Don Watkins and Yaron Brook