Even Madonna, the world famous popstar, joined the debate. She is a graduate of Rochester Adams High School, about 30 miles north of Detroit, and so she invited Bezos on a trip with her to the Motor City, hash-tagging her Twitter reply with charities in the area.

Many of the replies are straightforward reminders of poverty and global hunger. And it is when we think about urgent need that we start to really focus our minds on how to do the most good with the money we have to donate.

In light of this, there is one Twitter responder who is worthy of particular attention. Peter Singer, the well-known moral philosopher, also threw himself into the fray, offering—like Madonna—to personally interact with Bezos. Singer is the founder of the “effective altruism” movement. He contends that we—all of us with a disposable income—have a so-called “duty of easy rescue.”

He famously argues that in circumstances of crisis, we are morally bound to donate—to intervene—in precisely the same way we might be morally obliged to rescue a hypothetical child we discovered drowning in a shallow pond. Because the cost of rescue is so small to anyone with disposable income, and the reward for the recipient can be so enormously high, everyone is constantly morally bound to help out in the most useful way possible. They should give money. And, Singer argues, they should give it to causes where it will have the most impact.

Bezos has a staggeringly large amount of money at his disposal. He can do a lot more than most. He also says on Twitter that he wants to make an immediate difference with his philanthropy, in the “here and now.” Following Singer, a good place to start would be to look at impact in relation to need, and target his money where that impact is greatest. And there are websites such as The Life You can Save and Give Well that make this easy for Bezos (or anyone else looking to give effectively), which outline how effective different charities are, based on different criteria.

Charity starts at home

There is some more difficult advice to give Bezos. It is reasonable to ask him how he has come to be in a position of such enormous power in the first place. After all, he is one of the eight people that Oxfam estimate own the same wealth as the remainder of the world population combined.

That money mostly comes from labour hours. Despite his undoubted entrepreneurial talent, at root he makes a profit from the time of others. That is the nature of commerce: Amazon famously employs large numbers of agency staff and questions have been asked about their treatment. Like all profit-seeking companies, Amazon is concerned with profit margins.

This brings things full circle to Wilde’s comment that charity should not blind us to the root causes of poverty. It is difficult to think of a more intuitive way for Bezos to improve the world than paying his workers well, while also ensuring that everyone in Amazon’s enormous global supply chain can make ends meet.

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