Mega-billionaire Jeff Bezos, the King of Amazon, has set a new world record for signaling his level of environmental wokeness, pledging to spend $10 billion dollars – about seven per cent of his vast fortune – on combating climate change. It’s unclear what he’ll spend it on, but like all would-be wealthy world saviors, it’ll have his name on it in big, bold, dare we say Trumpian proportions, as the “Bezos Earth Fund.” I mean, what can be more selfless and virtuous than pledging a small part of a fortune so unimaginably vast you could never conceivably spend it thoughtfully on saving anything, much less the Earth. Trump that, haters! (Disclaimer: I’m a huge consumer of Amazon’s services, and totally accept my complicity in any of the environmental impacts of my consumer choices. You’ll pry my Kindle book collection out of my cold, dead iPad.)
Some might observe that Mr. Bezos’ creation of the Earth Fund suggests that his views on protecting the Earth are a bit like his views on protecting his employees at Amazon: give them the least you can get away with to prevent people from rising up against the excesses of your competitive nature. As people, including Amazon employees, protest against cruel working conditions for miserly pay, and others point out the hypocrisy of a giant energy-consuming mega-corporation trying to greenwash itself, Bezos’ response is to increase his charitable giving to seven percent of his ever-increasing wealth.
What’s unsaid is how Mr. B is going to spend this $10 billion in any kind of effective way over any kind of impactful time scale. After all, even President Obama couldn’t manage to spend almost a trillion dollars to fix the US economy in the “timely and targeted” manner stimulus advocates promised, eventually admitting that, well, there just weren’t all those shovel-ready jobs everyone assumed to exist. Nor did throwing those billions of dollars at “green” projects like wind and solar power yield much return for anybody but the Obama photo-op team and some early “investors” in a bunch of government-supported boondoggles.
Spending ten billion dollars in a timely and targeted way would be equally challenging as Mr. Obama’s historic effort. More boondoggles like Solyndra, and Crescent Dunes, the recently kaput billion-dollar federal green-dream, are clearly on the horizon to help develop technologies that Amazon can use to appear more green.
Of course, a good capitalist would say, “Well, it’s his money to waste,” and “There’s nothing wrong with being a shrewd businessman,” and “What’s wrong with virtue signaling, anyway?” And being a proud capitalist, I’d have to agree entirely.
But. It all depends on who winds up holding the bag for the inevitable matching funds, loan-guarantees, development incentives, and all the other fancy ways of saying “stuff government gambles on with your tax dollars.” And history suggests Mr. Bezos won’t wind up holding that bag, and probably won’t even notice the diversion of seven billion dollars to build the newest pyramid in his Amazonian Empire. The one holding that bag with the smiley-Amazon swish on it is likely to be you.