Jeff Bezos recently attended a gala for the Baby 2 Baby charity founded in honor of Kobe Bryant’s widow. According to an account in the Daily Beast, Bezos kept silent during the donation request, until another attendee donated $1 million, at which point Bezos threw in $500,000.
While the Daily Beast characterized that as a “substantial sum,” his donation produced an audible groan, ostensibly because the amount seemed small next to the $1 million that had just been donated. But the real scandal isn’t that Bezos failed to match the previous donation, it’s the the amount Bezos pledged, is miniscule compared to his net worth.
Here’s the math: $500,000 represents .000001% of Bezos’s net worth of 197.5 billion. The median household net worth of the U.S. population is $121,411. A donation from that median American household of .000001% of its net worth would be… 30 cents.
How can Bezos be so shameless? Two reasons.
First, Bezos is shrewd enough to know that when most people see $500,000, they think it’s a lot of money, because it’s more than they’ll likely see in their lifetime. So insofar as he cares about his public image, he’s not likely to take much flack for being publicly so cheap.
Second, and more important, Bezos is a perfect illustration of the well-studied phenomenon that as people get richer, they get meaner and stingier. There are exceptions–like Bezos’s ex-wife–but mostly billionaires give only to charities that benefit them in some way, often as a way to avoid taxes will still control the money involved.
Based upon his rampant cheapskatery alone, Bezos is pretty obviously, well, the popular short form of the name Richard.
As tempting as it is to look up to Bezos as a role model for entrepreneurism, his management style necessarily reflects the fact that his wealth has made him insensitive to those less fortunate. Think twice before emulating him.