Back in June, a representative for Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos reached out to nonprofit Feeding America to determine whether they could effectively channel his philanthropy.
A network of hundreds of food banks, the organization was providing crucial aid to the tens of millions of Americans who were then out of work. And they apparently impressed Bezos enough that he cut them a check for $100 million.
The fact that this sum constituted around 0.07% of Bezos’ wealth at the time — the equivalent of an average American family giving about $65 to charity — didn’t seem to figure in most of the headlines praising the donation. He was widely lauded for his generosity.
But by the time Thanksgiving rolled around, millions of Americans had experienced food insecurity for the first time in their lives, and Jeff Bezos had added around $70 billion to his 2019 wealth. So it’s kind of like he did a tiny fraction of what was needed while profiting immensely off the crisis that was causing these problems in the first place… Hmm.
But just in case the issue wasn’t already obvious, Bezos’ ex-wife, novelist Mackenzie Scott, just stepped up to show him what philanthropy is supposed to look like. On Tuesday night Scott announced that she had donated more than $4.1 billion to nearly 400 charities in recent months, focusing on areas and issues closely connected to the COVID pandemic.
MacKenzie Scott says gave more than $4 billion to charity amid pandemic
Compared to her remaining wealth of around $55 billion, it’s a relatively paltry sum. But compared to the charity Jeff Bezos has provided to those dealing with the worst financial impact of the pandemic, it seems shockingly adequate.
In a blog post entitled “384 Ways to Help” Scott discussed her data-driven philanthropy, and wrote, “This pandemic has been a wrecking ball in the lives of Americans already struggling … Meanwhile, it has substantially increased the wealth of billionaires.” None more so than her ex-husband.
This is hardly the first time Scott has publicly humiliated her ex. She set a precedent for doing just that when they got divorced and she absorbed nearly $40 billion in Amazon shares in the largest divorce settlement in history.
She continued that tradition back in July when she signed the Giving Pledge, promising to give at least half of her wealth to charity in her lifetime. Initiated by Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates, the Giving Pledge is a campaign to encourage the super-wealthy to put some portion of their vast hoards to good use. Jeff Bezos has yet to sign on…
That same month, she announced that she had already given away around $1.7 billion to 116 charities. But Scott’s latest announcement truly highlights what a stingy, greedy man Jeff Bezos has been.
While Americans have been facing an unprecedented rent crisis — with tens of millions living under the threat of eviction, and at least $70 billion in unpaid household rent — Jeff Bezos was making that amount of money for himself alone. And unlike Scott, he has held onto the vast majority.
But the incredibly wasteful business model of direct-to-consumer hyper-convenience that has allowed him to amass so much money is incompatible with a serious approach to climate change. And Bezos’ pledge came around a month after it was revealed that Amazon had threatened to fire employees who were pushing for more environmentally sustainable business practices.
Prior to that scandal, Jeff Bezos was recognized as one of the least charitable of the world’s real-life dragons — sitting smugly on his hoard of gold and saying things like, “The only way that I can see to deploy this much financial resource is by converting my Amazon winnings into space travel.”
But just in case there was any doubt what kind of man Jeff Bezos really is, Mackenzie Scott has now exposed him more effectively than Saudi phone hackers (or his girlfriend’s brother) ever could. In one dramatic move, she gave away more than six times as much as he has in 2020, despite having less than one third his wealth.
Scott has given away nearly $6 billion so far in 2020. That’s around 10% of her wealth, meaning that Jeff Bezos would need to give away more than $17 billion in the next two weeks just to match her generosity.
In reality, of course, neither of them are doing enough. They should both give away enough money to no longer be billionaires, because the concept of a billionaire is a disgusting insult in any world where homelessness and hunger are still rampant.
Amazon Workers striking in May
But what’s even worse is that Jeff Bezos has amassed unheard-of riches by perfecting the very system of consumer capitalism that is ravaging the planet. What’s even worse is that Amazon thrives while local businesses collapse around the country and wealth becomes consolidated in the hands of a few corporations. What’s worse is the systematic way they squash efforts to unionize among their exploited workers.
What’s even worse is a system of pro-billionaire propaganda, funded by corporate tax cuts, propagating the idea that the government’s only role is to protect the interests of the wealthy. What’s even worse than Jeff Bezos’s failure to donate his wealth is a prevailing political discourse that treats the simultaneous growth of billionaires and homelessness as “meritocracy.”
But, since Jeff Bezos is apparently incapable of feeling the shame that these practices should evoke in him, public humiliation is a nice consolation prize. So if Mackenzie Scott wants to continue absolving herself of wealth in gestures that undermine Amazon’s pathetic PR bandaids, more power to her.