Jeff Bezos Is the World's Only $100 Billionaire. Will He Finally Start Giving his Money Away?

Black Friday was a particularly nice day to be Jeff Bezos. His company Amazon clearly won the day, pulling in an estimated half of all online sales. Those sales totaled more than $5 billion, so you do the math. Wall Street did, and Amazon’s stock price shot up almost $30 to $1,186. Bezos was already the richest man on Earth, having beaten out Bill Gates this past year. But now his net worth is north of $100 billion, an almost unimaginable number. It’s bigger than the GDP of most nations. It’s a 1 followed by 11 zeros. [Updated: Bezos’ worth dipped just below $100 billion based on after-hours stock trades but I’m willing to bet Amazon’s continued dominance of online sales puts him back at 12 figures next week.]

Unfortunately, Bezos is exceptional among billionaires in other ways as well. He’s conspicuous by his absence among signers of The Giving Pledge, created by Gates and Warren Buffett. Billionaires who sign the pledge promise to give away the majority of their wealth. So far, Bezos’ most high-profile bit of philanthropy is incorporating a 65-room homeless shelter into Amazon’s new Seattle headquarters. Don’t get me wrong–that’s a great move in many ways and I admire Bezos’ willingness to have homeless people mingling with Amazon employees. He and his family have also made donations in the millions to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Princeton University (which Bezos attended), and more recently, a $1 million donation each to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and to St Mary’s Center in Massachusetts which provides lodging and job training to homeless women, children, and families. That’s all great, but it’s not much compared to the philanthropy of other American billionaires. The world’s only $100-billionaire can do better.

Last summer, Bezos stirred a lot of interest with a tweet asking for philanthropic suggestions. Some believed it signaled a new focus on charitable activity, but it more likely signaled a fear of embarrassment. The tweet came only after the New York Times asked the about-to-be world’s richest human about his charitable plans. He got more than 50,000 suggestions in response to his tweet and so far does not seem to have acted on many of them.

Bezos has never openly declared a political affiliation but friends say he has libertarian leanings. If so, he’s failing to live up to libertarian ideals, which argue that private donations can and should replace government programs for helping those in need. But his non-philanthropy may change in the future. Back when Bill Gates ran Microsoft, he himself was once criticized by his mother for giving too little away. He responded that he would get around to giving once his role as CEO was behind him, and he’s kept that promise in a big way. 

Some who know Bezos say the same will happen with him. For the moment, he’s too absorbed in achieving world domination for Amazon to put much thought into a philanthropic strategy or direction. But in time, he will come to focus more on philanthropy and then we may all see some impressive giving. 

I certainly hope that’s true. The world is full of really big problems his money could help to solve.