By Jason O’Toole, who has worked as a senior feature writer for the Irish Daily Mail, a columnist with the Irish Sunday Mirror and senior editor of Hot Press magazine. He is also the author of several bestselling books
17 Apr, 2020
While the rest of us nervously await our fates in the looming economic armageddon, the Amazon founder’s wealth shot up by $24 billion this week, to $138 billion. Fear not, though: he’s kindly giving 0.1% of it to some food banks.
At first glance, Jeff Bezos appears to be one of those lucky entrepreneurs whose phenomenal success is rooted in a few core business beliefs. But after I read up on him last night, this famous Groucho Marx quote sprung to mind: “Those are my principles; if you don’t like them… well, I have others.”
Amazon might tell us that “Speed matters in business” – it is one of the company’s main leadership principles – but Bezos, as reflected in his modus operandi so far during the pandemic, has also clearly bought into Gordon Gekko’s dubious philosophy of “greed is good.”
And the richest man on the planet is getting wealthier by the minute thanks to the pandemic, with Amazon chalking up a record $11,000 every second on its products.
Amazon is the “clear winner” from the coronavirus, according to financial analysts quoted in the Guardian’s front-page story on Wednesday.
As the world faces a recession that is shaping up to be far worse than the Great Depression, it’s predicted Amazon will increase its sales by nearly 20% to reach approx. $335 billion this year. But who’s to say it couldn’t be even greater the longer the crisis drags on?
And again, in a time of redundancies and wage cuts, Amazon is bucking the trend by hiring an additional 175,000 new staff.
Its share prices are continuing to rise, and the company’s value now stands at $1.15 trillion.
Yet while Rome is burning, Bezos’ answer this week was to donate $100 million to the charity food bank Feeding America. But it’s only a drop in the ocean for him – a mere 0.1% of his total wealth. In truth, he should be doing much more.
In a normal economy, Amazon best illustrates why capitalism was already a broken model. Bezos’ empire squeezed the lifeblood out of the Mom-and-Pop stores and “destroyed the retail industry across the United States,” according to the US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Ditto Europe. Then there’s the company’s too-numerous-to-mention allegations of unscrupulous business and work practises, such as banning unions and ripping off other small sellers’ successful ideas that they clock working on their website.
It’s a monopoly no matter how you look at it, which shouldn’t be tolerated at the best of times. But Amazon’s current growth comes as a result of an utterly unfair playing field, with high street stores being forcibly shut.
There is, therefore, a strong argument here that Amazon should pay a new additional “coronavirus tax” during 2020 – or at the very least make a public commitment to donate a substantial percentage to organisations on the frontline of tackling the disease.
But I wouldn’t hold my breath. Amazon is notorious for tax dodging in the good times and appears hell-bent on making hay while the sun shines only on them in these dark days.
From day one of the pandemic, Amazon should’ve assisted with the much-needed delivery of PPE, but Bezos is only getting around to talking seriously about it now.
I don’t think Amazon believes it should be in the market of being a Good Samaritan during the pandemic. Just look at Bezos’ ridiculous knee-jerk reaction to threaten to pull out of France for the duration of the pandemic after the courts there decided to fine Amazon €1 million a day if it continued to sell “non essential” items. It’s a good example of the baby throwing its toys out of the pram.
Mercifully, there’s been only one known Amazon employee who has succumbed to the coronavirus and just 75 of their US workers are infected with it, according to the Washington Post, which is owned by Bezos.
But Amazon ruthlessly fired two employees earlier this week after they voiced concerns about the company not doing enough to protect staff from the virus. If such alarming allegations are true, Bezos is far more than just a deplorable money-grubber. He would literally be a risk taker – with real lives at stake here.
Amazon’s founder, CEO and director – to give Bezos his full title – clearly doesn’t believe in the pay-it-forward mentality either. Otherwise he wouldn’t have refused to publicly commit, like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, to the Giving Pledge, which encourages billionaires to donate half their wealth to philanthropy.
As the old adage goes, revenge is a dish best served cold. And his ex-wife MacKenzie certainly rubbed his nose in it when she pledged half her recent $38 billion divorce settlement to charitable causes.
The novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald once said to Ernest Hemingway: “The rich are different from you and me.” And Papa famously replied, “Yes, they’ve got more money.”
In the case of Bezos, there isn’t anyone richer than him – and that’s partly the problem, because he can afford to ignore the rules.
With his personal fortune growing by a further $24 billion to $138 billion during the past four months, I don’t know how Bezos can sleep comfortably at night when he hasn’t done enough in the way of philanthropy.
He may be the most successful man on the planet, but could he also be the most selfish one too?