A segment on CBS This Morning about Jeff Bezos donating yet another $100 million gave me pause. But the correct response by Tony Dokoupil, likely the youngest panelist, gave me hope.
Did Jeff Bezos really earn it?
A few months ago, Jeff Bezos donated $100 million each to Van Jones and Jose Andres to do whatever they wanted with the money. CNN Business reported it as follows.
Jeff Bezos, the Amazon (AMZN) founder and world’s wealthiest man, said Tuesday after flying to the edge of space that he planned to award $100 million each to CNN contributor Van Jones and chef José Andrés. Bezos said that Jones and Andres were free to do “what they want” with the money. “They can give it all to their own charity,” Bezos said at a press conference after his trip to space. “Or they can share the wealth. It is up to them.”
Jones, accepting the award, said that “sometimes dreams come true.”
“You bet on me and I appreciate it,” Jones told Bezos, later adding that it was money for him to “give to others who have a similar spirit.”
Andrés, who has poured his efforts into feeding those in need around the world, said that the award itself “cannot feed the world on its own.”
“But,” Andrés added, “this is a start of a new chapter for us.”
Bezos was at it again as he decided to give another $100 million to Dolly Parton. CBS reported this donation as follows.
Legendary country singer and songwriter Dolly Parton has been awarded a $100 million Courage and Civility award by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and his partner, Lauren Sanchez. The money is to be directed toward charities that the recipient sees fit, Sanchez said Friday when announcing the award.
“When people are in a position to help, you should help. And I know that I’ve always said, ‘I try to put my money where my heart is,’ and I think you do the same thing,” Parton said to Bezos when accepting to grant.
Parton tweeted that she would “do my best to do good things with this money.”
Neither one of those reports questioned why one person had the ability to anoint another with that much money. Did he really earn that money? Did his productivity make him worthy of his wealth? Absolutely not. When billionaires and super millionaires put themselves in the public eye, it is essential that we ask these questions. This critique is not about wealth envy but fairness and democracy.
We have been indoctrinated into the belief that having a great idea entitles one to singularly use the resources of our country for the enrichment of just a few. CBS This Morning did a segment I could not be more proud of yesterday. More importantly, the youngest panelist had the most sensible response.
Vladimir Duthiers pointed out that Bezo’s announcement coincided closely with the announcement that Amazon was laying off 10,000+ employees.
“He could use that money to help those people,” he said. “And there is the question about these workers who helped him build that wealth.”
And then Tony Dokoupil shocked me with his most prescient observation.
“The other thing about charitable giving from these super-rich billionaires and so forth is,” Dokoupil said. “If you are having trouble where t give it, write a check to the treasury. Then we, as a country, as a democracy, can decide how to spend it. After all, the economy was built by taxpayer dollars and government research.”
Dokoupil then made a more profound point.
“When you take private assets, and then you plow it into whatever you care about,” Dokoupil said. “It is not really a democratic process. It’s a controversial thing these days. We have richer people than ever. They have more influence than ever. Is that what we want to be doing?”
Vladimir Duthiers, in the end, played conciliator, saying we can say he did a good thing by giving away the money but understanding he made it on the backs of many.
I admire several billionaires for their ability to use a flawed economic system to maximize their wealth and then do good with their wealth. What is missing is that in a closed system, and our economic system is a closed system. The maximization of their wealth came at the expense of wealth denied to others.
The billions that Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey accumulated for themselves is the wealth denied to those who created every component of their billions.
Absent the engineers and scientists who created the technologies to broadcast Oprah throughout the world, she would not have attained her wealth. Yet they are paid once as she maximized their developments.
Bill Gates bought an already-developed product and licensed it to IBM. That was the genesis of his propulsion to becoming a billionaire. He licensed his purchased product to IBM while the person he bought it from got paid once. Is he more productive? NO! It is an economic system with structures that favor a few of the invited. After all, the biggest fallacy is that America is a meritocracy.
This subject is the topic of discussion today on Politics Done Right on KPFT 90.1 FM Houston today at Noon Central Time (1 PM Eastern/10 AM Pacific/11 AM Mountain). You can listen to it on air at 90.1 FM in the Houston metropolitan area or at politicsdoneright.tv.