The Bezos divorce is not just a headline for gossip tabloids. It is a symbol of the preposterous amount of wealth that exists in America.
Multi-billionaires are capable of great change when their resources are funneled toward positive causes, but sometimes that’s not the case. These billions sit in the hands of the few while almost 80 percent of American workers live paycheck to paycheck, according to The Guardian. There’s something to be said about levels of social responsibility when that amount of money could help balance the inequality in our society.
The writer and soon-to-be-ex-wife of Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos could receive half of his fortune due to the absence of a prenuptial agreement. Washington’s community property laws designate marital property be split equally in cases of divorce. Reported by CNBC, that half adds up to somewhere around $66 billion of the total $134.9 billion net worth. To put their shared fortune in perspective, a minuscule .5 percent of a $1 billion fortune is $5 million. The average American salary is roughly $35,000, according to the United States Census Bureau. Assuming one would work for 40 years and maintain the same salary, it would only amount to $1.4 million.
Billions aren’t made independently, yet the near-endless power of having billions comes down to individuals. Bezos will get a divorce that will divide more money than almost every other person in the U.S. will see in their lifetime, and it barely minimizes his assets.
Extremely wealthy individuals have the resources to change lives. Hoarding billions isn’t just negligent, it’s actively cruel. All over the world, there is suffering based on wealth inequality. Hunger, houselessness, water crises, outbreaks—all problems that require wealth to fix. Money is power. Billionaires must realize they have a responsibility to humanity to share that power.
Some—such as Bill Gates, who has donated $35.8 billion to his own foundation for the reducement of poverty—understand this concept. Yet in a country with a widening income inequality issue, the existence of billionaires itself becomes a source of frustration. CNN reports the top 1 percent owns 38 percent of private wealth in the U.S.—more than enough disposable income to contribute to fixing issues of poverty and infrastructure.
Bezos has been a controversial figure over the past decade-plus. The billionaire hasn’t exactly made his living ethically, as the poor working conditions and general management of Amazon warehouses make apparent. Newsweek reports stories of workers “urinating in bottles and trash cans around the warehouse” to avoid missing deadlines or shamed for an on-the-job injury. For every 11.5 seconds on the job Quartz estimates the CEO makes the entirety of his lowest-level workers yearly salary (about $30,000). Not to mention, Politifact has confirmed that Amazon didn’t pay federal income taxes last fiscal year. Personal character aside, these facts reflect poorly on Bezos and his company.
A report published by Business Insider states Bezos hasn’t engaged in much philanthropy or financial donations relative to his wealth. For example, in September he announced a homeless family and education fund. “It will begin with a commitment of $2 billion and focus on two areas: funding existing non-profits that help homeless families, and creating a network of new, non-profit, tier-one preschools in low-income communities,” he wrote on Twitter.
According to CNBC, a $2 billion donation for Bezos would be equivalent to $1,187 with the median American household income (about $97,300), according to calculations done by CNBC. Moreover, it’s estimated that Bezos earns $275 million per day. The fund, therefore, only cost a week’s worth of wages.
There is a blatant discrepancy between the amount of money he has contributed to charitable causes. This starking contrast makes it apparent that his agenda is not to subdue the wider implications of his wealth.
A billion dollars is a near inconceivable amount of wealth. The combined Bezos fortune of $134.9 billion will continue to increase as time passes. Even a fraction of $66 billion could do so much for so many people. No individual has the use for this much money.
If more billionaires don’t distribute their wealth, it’s not just a moral loss: It’s an active choice to contribute to economic inequality.