The philosophical assault on philanthropy is really about extending government control
After years of public speculation about what Amazon founder Jeff Bezos would do with his massive fortune, he finally gave us an answer this fall. Bezos announced he would donate $2 billion to charitable organizations that provide food and shelter to the homeless and to a new network of Montessori preschools in low-income areas. To say that early childhood education and homeless shelters are among the favorite causes of the left would be an understatement. Yet the reaction to Bezos’s generosity was decidedly muted in liberal circles. Indeed, a tweet from Slate described his donation as “morally fraught,” whatever that might mean.
As the Slate critic Jordan Weissman explained, “While [Bezos] is busy trying to use his fortune to help the poorest of the poor, his company has become an almost perfect diorama of American inequality—from his own outrageous wealth, to the highly paid executives and tech employees, to the underpaid warehouse workers who often need to use food stamps to get by. Especially since so much of his wealth is tied up in the stock value of his company, every dollar Bezos gives away is in part a reminder that many of his workers could use a raise.” Bezos, in other words, piled up his fortune by exploiting his workers; therefore his charitable donations are the fruits of an unjust enterprise.
But the critics go further and insist that, in addition to being rebuked for the way he made his money, Bezos should be condemned because he does not support government efforts to assist the homeless and the poor. As Weissman writes, “the timing of Bezos’ new venture is especially fraught, given Amazon’s recent role in killing a tax that Seattle lawmakers had hoped would fund the city’s own anti-homelessness efforts.” Progressive critics prefer that social problems be addressed with tax dollars rather than through private initiatives.
James Piereson is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.
Naomi Schaefer Riley is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.