Nearly two months after her divorce from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos ended, MacKenzie Bezos has made a plan to be far more generous than she and her former husband were as a couple. When the couple split, she became one of the richest women in the world, with a fortune estimated to be worth over $ 36 billion. Now she wants to start giving it away.
"I have a disproportionate amount of money to share," wrote MacKenzie, a novelist, entirely in an otherwise literary letter announcing her to join Giving Pledge Tuesday. "My approach to philanthropy will continue to be well thought out. It will take time and effort and care. But I will not wait. And I will hold it until security is empty."
Since it was founded by remarkable rich people Bill Gates , Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet in 201[ads1]0, Giving Pledge has attracted over 200 wealthy people from all over the world who publicly commit to donating at least half of their money either in life or in their will. Although signaling you're about to spread at least $ 18 billion, it is under no circumstances remarkable, MacKenzie's announcement was particularly attentive, partly because Bezo's fortune has been tightly held so far. Jeff, literally the richest person in the world, has engaged far less in philanthropic efforts. Last year, he announced that he would spend only $ 2 billion of his $ 150 billion fortune on charity.
But even Jeff was willing to congratulate MacKenzie on his decision on Tuesday. "MacKenzie is going to be awesome and thoughtful and effective at philanthropy, and I am proud of her," he wrote on Twitter. "Pay tax, Jeff," someone else replied . (Amazon did not pay federal income tax in 2018, mainly due to Republican tax cuts passed the previous year.)
This exchange just summarizes the debate on the role of philanthropy in the United States today.
In 1889, the steel magnet Andrew Carnegie, perhaps the richest man in history, wrote a pamphlet called "The Wealth of Evangelies," where he told the rich to spend their lives donating to public institutions such as libraries and universities. Carnegie called the exercise "the true antidote to the temporary unequal distribution of wealth, reconciliation of the rich and the poor – a ruler of harmony." The only problem is that it hasn't worked. Differences in the US are probably worse than in the Carnegie era, despite the fact that the number of registered non-profit organizations in the United States has a balloon.
At the same time, the technology sector has made a small group of founders, early employees, and investors extremely wealthy. Some of them have begun to rebrand as philanthropists, as WhatsApp co-founded Brian Acton, Pinterest co-founder Paul Sciarra, and Brian Armstrong, CEO of Cryptocurrency Exchange Coinbase, who all signed Giving Pledge in the past year.
But critics of Giving the promise and similar initiatives say that they make up a little more than promotional games. If MacKenzie and her elites use their assets more slowly than they expect, there will be no consequences: They have no legal obligation to meet the requirements of the Giving Pledge, which the site describes as a "moral agreement". It is difficult to track whether each billionaire who accompanies the mortgage and several may not have done so, according to a 2015 Bloomberg report.
However, the charity work done by 1 percent does not make systemic problems of inequality they have benefited of. "The richest and most powerful people in the world are ignorant fighting on both sides of a war," Anand Giridharadas, author of Winners Take All and a prominent critic of charity work in the technology sector, said at a WIRED conference last year. "Cause of daylight, problems that they simply will never regret by philanthropic moonlight."
Rich people often channel their money to pet causes, rather than direct assistance to people in material distress. Groups funded by members of the Koch family, which produced billions in the oil and gas industry, have helped kill public transport initiatives across the country. North Carolina Multimillionaire Art Pope has used his wealth to fund organizations that continued to advocate voting laws of oppression. Some of this wealth has also flowed to liberal problems, says David Callahan in his book The Givers: Wealth, Power and Philanthropy in a New Golden Age . He points to Tim Gill, for example, a software engineer who sold his company and later donated hundreds of millions to LGBTQ reasons.
But even when the rich donate to admirable efforts, the money does not always have the intended effect. When Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg donated $ 100 million to the schools in Newark, New Jersey, the return on investment was mixed: Student performance levels increased somewhat in English, but not in math. As explained in Dale Russakoff's 2015 book Prize: Who is at the expense of American schools? Teachers, parents and students were often left out of the decision-making process about what to do with the money. Some of the original money was spent on consultants, who were paid up to $ 1000 a day.
Of course, it is almost certainly better for billionaires to give away their fortunes than to pay homage to them, especially when the funds go to support basic needs like food and health. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, for example, says it has committed nearly $ 3 billion in grants to fight malaria, a disease affecting over 200 million people around the world each year. Since 2010, the World Health Organization has estimated that malaria mortality has fallen 29 percent, thanks to preventive and controlling measures. (Meanwhile, Bill Gates continues to gather wealth.) Meanwhile, setbacks to inequality continue to grow. A recent survey found 76 percent of US registered voters that the richest should pay more in taxes. Presidential candidates such as Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have proposed raising taxes on the rich, which means that forcing 1 percent to pay their fair share would be a true antidote to inequality rather than charity.
For now, MacKenzie Bezos has not revealed many details about how she plans to distribute her fortune. In 2014, she started an organization that speaks against bullying, and it is possible that some of the money could go to similar efforts. No matter what MacKenzie will give money, MacKenzie will exert tremendous power that few people in the world can match.
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