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Jeff Bezos is donating money to fix a problem his company perpetuates

Jeff Bezos is donating money to fix a problem his company perpetuates
[Photo: Senior Master Sgt. Adrian Cadiz/James N. Mattis/Flickr]

Insanely rich human being Jeff Bezos announced today his intention to do something he rarely ever does: philanthropy. On Twitter, he posted a screenshot of an announcement pledging to donate $2 billion to fund “existing non-profits that help homeless families, and [create] a network of new, non-profit, tier-one preschools in low-income communities.”

He ends his announcement with the very human statement of “It fills me with gratitude and optimism to be part of a species so bent on self-improvement.” (Thanks for reassuring us that we’re part of the same species.)

Of course, philanthropy is good and $2 billion seems like a lot of money. Jeff Bezos’s net worth is about $150 billion, so this campaign represents a little over 1% of that. But before we applaud the effort too enthusiastically, perhaps we should also look at who is perpetuating this poverty. For example, the new book Winners Take All makes the claim that while the elite have a penchant for donating their money to worthy causes, they made this money by exploiting workers and regulations, thus systematically creating the very problem they are giving donations to fix.

For Bezos, this is especially acute. Amazon warehouse employees are known to have awful working conditions, pitiful wages, and have even been forced into homelessness after workplace injuries. While his and Amazon investors’ wealth increases—and the company’s market capitalization approaches $1 trillion—what makes the business so efficient is that relies on automation and low-cost labor. Amazon, it should be said, has responded to these claims before, calling them “inaccurate and misleading.”

It’s good that Bezos understands that there is a poverty problem, but by throwing his money at third-party organizations–and not focusing on fixing the systemic income gaps his company creates–he is only further proving the point of those who critique the tone-deafness of tech billionaires.

So, Jeff, from one member of the human species to another, I implore you to not only engage in philanthropy but also try to understand how you can fix Amazon’s problems to set a better example.

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