MacKenzie Bezos and the Pitfalls of Tech Philanthropy

MacKenzie Bezos and the Pitfalls of Tech Philanthropy

By Blair Morris

September 23, 2019

Daniel Acker/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Almost two months after her divorce from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was settled, MacKenzie Bezos has made a strategy to be much more generous than she and her former spouse were as a couple. When the pair split, she turned into one of the richest women in the world, with a fortune estimated to be worth more than $36 billion. Now she wants to begin giving it away.

” I have an out of proportion quantity of loan to share,” MacKenzie, a novelist, composed bluntly in an otherwise literary letter announcing her decision to sign up with the Offering Promise Tuesday. “My approach to philanthropy will continue to be thoughtful. It will require time and effort and care. However I will not wait. And I will keep at it till the safe is empty.”

Considering that it was founded by noteworthy rich individuals Expense Gates, Melinda Gates, and Warren Buffet in 2010, the Giving Pledge has actually brought in over 200 wealthy people from worldwide who openly devote to donate a minimum of half of their money either during their lifetimes or in their wills. While signaling you’re about to distribute at least $18 billion is notable under any scenarios, MacKenzie’s statement attracted particular attention in part because the Bezos fortune has been firmly held up until now. Jeff, actually the wealthiest individual in the world, has devoted far less to philanthropic efforts. In 2015, he announced he would invest simply $2 billion of his $150 billion fortune on charity.

But even Jeff wanted to praise MacKenzie on her decision Tuesday. “MacKenzie is going to be fantastic and thoughtful and efficient at philanthropy, and I’m proud of her,” he wrote on Twitter. “Pay taxes, Jeff,” someone else replied (Amazon paid no federal earnings taxes in 2018, in part as an outcome of Republican tax cuts passed the year before.)

That exchange neatly summarizes the debate over the role of philanthropy in the US today.

In 1889, steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie, perhaps the richest male in history, wrote a pamphlet called “ The Gospel of Wealth,” in which he promoted for the rich to invest their lives contributing to public institutions like libraries and universities. Carnegie called the practice “the real antidote for the short-term unequal distribution of wealth, the reconciliation of the rich and the poor– a reign of consistency.” The only issue is it hasn’t worked. Inequality in the United States is likely even worse than it was during Carnegie’s age, despite the reality that the variety of signed up nonprofits in the United States has swelled

Meanwhile, the innovation sector has made a little group of creators, early staff members, and investors exceptionally wealthy. Some of them have actually started rebranding as benefactors, like WhatsApp cofounder Brian Acton, Pinterest cofounder Paul Sciarra, and Brian Armstrong, CEO of cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase, who all signed the Giving Promise in the past year also.

However critics of the Providing Promise and comparable efforts say they amount to bit more than PR plays. If MacKenzie and her fellow elites invest their fortunes slower than they prepare for, there won’t be any repercussions: They aren’t under any legal responsibility to satisfy the requirements of the Giving Promise, which its site refers to as a “ethical arrangement.” It’s hard to track whether every billionaire who signs follows the promise, and numerous might not have actually done so, according to a Bloomberg report from 2015.

More broadly, charitable efforts carried out by the 1 percent do not repair the systemic problems of inequality they have actually benefited from. “The wealthiest and most powerful individuals on the planet are unsuspectingly battling on both sides of a war,” Anand Giridharadas, author of Winners Take All and a prominent critic of charity efforts in the tech sector, said at a WIRED conference in 2015. “Contributing to, by daylight, issues that they merely will never be able to undo by humanitarian moonlight.”

Abundant individuals typically carry their cash into pet causes, instead of direct aid to people in product need. Groups funded by members of the Koch household, who made billions in the oil and gas industry, have assisted kill public transport initiatives throughout the nation. North Carolina multimillionaire Art Pope has actually used his wealth to money organizations that went on to advocate for citizen suppression laws A few of this wealth has flowed to liberal issues too, notes David Callahan in his book The Givers: Wealth, Power, and Philanthropy in a New Gilded Age He indicates Tim Gill, for example, a software engineer who sold his business and later donated hundreds of millions to LGBTQ triggers.

But even when the rich contribute to admirable efforts, the cash doesn’t constantly have its intended effect. When Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg contributed a whopping $100 million to schools in Newark, New Jersey, returns on that financial investment were combined: Student achievement levels increased somewhat in English, but not in mathematics. As narrated in Dale Russakoff’s 2015 book The Reward: Who supervises of America’s Schools? teachers, moms and dads, and trainees were often excluded of the decisionmaking procedure over what should be done with the loan. Some of the preliminary money was invested on specialists, who were paid up to $1,000 a day.

Obviously, it’s practically certainly better for billionaires to hand out their fortunes than hoard them, especially when the funds go to supporting basic requirements like food and healthcare. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, for instance, states it has actually devoted practically $3 billion in grants to combat malaria, a disease that affects over 200 million individuals worldwide each year. Given That 2010, the World Health Company quotes malaria death rates have actually fallen 29 percent, thanks to avoidance and control steps. (On The Other Hand, Costs Gates continues accumulating wealth)

In the meantime, reaction versus inequality continues to grow. A current poll found 76 percent of registered United States voters believe the wealthiest ought to pay more in taxes. Presidential prospects like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have proposed increasing taxes on the abundant, presuming that forcing the 1 percent to pay their fair share would be a real remedy to inequality– instead of charity.

In the meantime, MacKenzie Bezos hasn’t exposed lots of specifics about how she plans to disperse her fortune. In 2014, she started a company that advocates versus bullying, and it’s possible some of the loan could go to comparable efforts. No matter what, in distributing her loan, MacKenzie will be exercising massive power that couple of individuals in the world can match.

Have a tip about Amazon? Contact the author at or by means of Signal at 347-966-3806

When you purchase something utilizing the retail links in our stories, we may make a little affiliate commission. Learn more about how this works

More Terrific WIRED Stories

Learn More

About Blair Morris