SUBPRIME

Jeff Bezos still hasn’t signed the Giving Pledge

All the way to the bank.
All the way to the bank.
Image: Reuters/Lindsey Wasson
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Jeff Bezos is the richest man in the tech sector, in the US, and in the world. And if present trends continue, he’s about to get a whole lot richer: Over the past 12 months, he doubled his net worth, at a rate completely unlike any other billionaire. Some calculations suggest his wealth may be growing at $260 million per day, which would bring his wealth to slightly under $200 billion by the end of 2018.

There’s another important difference between Bezos and his peers. Of the top five richest Americans, only Bezos has not signed the Giving Pledge. Originally set up by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, this philanthropic effort invites billionaires to “publicly dedicate the majority of their wealth to philanthropy.” No one really needs a billion dollars, after all—let alone $100 billion. (Bezos’ PR team did not respond to a request for comment.)

Though Bezos has dipped a toe into charitable giving, his efforts remain small potatoes, relatively speaking. In September, he pledged to give $2 billion away through the Bezos Day One Fund, by supporting preschool education for low-income communities and helping the homeless. It represented a commitment of about 1.3% of his total net worth at the time of the promise. For the average American family, with a median household net worth of $80,039, it’s the equivalent of a donation of just $1,040. The difference, of course, is that Bezos has more money than he—and many generations of his family—can possibly use.

Last year, Bezos hinted at some of his future philanthropic plans in a tweet. “I’m thinking about a philanthropy strategy that is the opposite of how I mostly spend my time—working on the long term,” he wrote. “For philanthropy, I find I’m drawn to the other end of the spectrum: the right now.” The Bezos Day One Fund seems to be the end result of that noodling—but it’s a disappointingly minimal response.

Still, if Bezos isn’t comfortable giving away more than half of his wealth—or even more than 1.3% of it—he has another alternative to do good: having Amazon pay more taxes. Amazon’s strategy has often involved the company bullying or wheedling its way out of tax payments. In Seattle, for instance, a city-specific tax that would have cost the company around $20 million a year was nixed after Amazon paused construction on a new office tower and threatened to sublease space rather than expand in Seattle. Perhaps ironically, given Bezos’ philanthropic efforts, it would have raised $45 million to $49 million in annual revenue to fund projects for the homeless.