If I had Jeff Bezos’ Money

Holland, Geoffrey | May 24, 2018 | Leave a Comment Download as PDF

Jeff Bezos by Mathieu Thouvenin | Flickr | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

At this moment in time, Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com, is the richest man in the world.  According to Forbes, Bezos alone has a net worth of $131 billion… that’s billion with a B. Let’s put that in perspective. A hundred billion is 1,000 million times 100.  If you spent $10 million every passing day, it would take more than 35 years to exhaust the Bezos coffers.

I’m not interested in judging Jeff Bezos on how he is actually spending his unprecedented wealth. He owns Amazon and its increasing diverse network of profitable spin-offs. He owns the Washington Post Media empire. He also owns a space technology company. The latter appears to be his primary passion. Nothing wrong with any of that. He can buy anything he wants. He can do pretty much anything he wants. Sadly, up to now, there appears to be nothing earth-shaking or transcendent about the Jeff Bezos story. Unless, of course, you count the way his success with online sales and distribution has changed the way we acquire the products we need… and in a lot of cases, don’t need. Shopping malls and retail chains like Toys R’ Us are disappearing across America, in large part because of the ‘Amazon’ revolution.

Anyway, back to Bezos’ money.  Even a modest share of $131 billion dollars is enough money to have a huge impact on the human culture. If I had that kind of wealth, I would use it to encourage a fundamental reshaping of the increasingly dysfunctional world we know.

Let’s start with the assumption that if I set aside $10 million for myself, that would be more than enough money for me and my family to live very comfortably for the rest of our time on Earth. That leaves a ton of money available to effect the kind of change I want to see.

What kind of change would that be? Perhaps the most important change would be to prioritize biodiversity protection. Ecologist, Michael Tobias calls biodiversity the economic bottom line for the planet. It is the essential currency of the biosphere all life depends on.

At the moment, the market brand of capitalism that has defined the human culture for the past two centuries is about exploiting our biosphere for all it’s worth. That no longer works with a population that has doubled in just in the last 50 years.  At the moment, there are about 7.6 billion humans on Earth.  By 2100, there could be 10-12 billion. The Earth has not gotten any bigger. Too many people, too few resources…that’s what it amounts to.

To preserve our planet’s biodiversity, humans cannot take all the planet’s resources for themselves. We cannot. We should not, but that’s exactly what we are doing. We must mend our ways and learn to live within the planet’s ability to provide. We need genuine leadership from good people with money, who are able and willing to use their financial resources to reshape the world we know.

The reality is even $131 billion will evaporate quickly if passed out as direct subsidies to meet the needs of the 7.6 billion people currently living on Earth.

So, if I had billions in my bank account, and my business was raking in revenue, and needed less and less of my time, why not become a change agent of the highest order.

I would start by focusing on gender equality and economic fairness. We are a long way from that at the moment.

So, gender equality and economic fairness, that’s a must if we are to evolve a human culture that is inclusive, with dignity a fundamental right we extend to every person.  Dignity is something that comes from having clean water, enough to eat, and comfortable shelter. I would also include health care and free access to education for all as basic human rights.

The way to take care of the biosphere and assure dignity for all is to reshape the culture, so its organizing institutions, principally government, provide the economic and social structure needed to encourage those basic goals. That’s a tall order. For a very long time government has been subject to manipulation by billionaires, bankers, and giant multi-national corporations.  There is no mystery about where their money-driven political machinations have left us.

In the early part of the 21st century, our Earth and its resources are being exploited to near exhaustion by ravenous human demands. At this moment, one billion people have limited access to clean water, or adequate sanitation.  Chronic food insecurity is a reality for a substantial share of humanity. We are cutting down our forests, losing critical top soils, strip mining the life from our oceans, and causing a deadly dangerous warming of our atmosphere. Humanity is currently on a sure path to self-destruction. The evidence is everywhere… nothing fake about it.

As a global human culture we must choose a new direction that offers the best chance to deliver dignity for all and a sustainable relationship with the Earth and its biosphere.

If I had Jeff Bezos’ money, here is how I would use it to shape the new, life-affirming change I wish for.

1. Acquire TV, radio, and other select media outlets across the country, or buy in significantly to media syndicates that own multiple media outlets. Instill a commitment in those media outlets to honestly report the news, and encourage dignity for all and responsible planetary stewardship in entertainment and educational programming.

2. Support a Constitutional Amendment that gets the dirty influence money out of our politics.

3. Provide financial support for politicians who support dignity for all and responsible planetary stewardship.

4. Provide financial support for non-profit groups that fight for dignity for all, and responsible planetary stewardship

5. Provide financial support for new, nature friendly technologies that move us toward the sustainable world we wish for.

6. Use my platform to speak out personally to encourage a cultural transformation that is life-affirming and sustainable.

It’s going to take a real leader, or a group of leaders ­–people who possess wealth like Jeff Bezos– who will muster their courage and their wealth to push back against the old ways. They must focus on reshaping the world to be life-affirming and sustainable.

Over all of human history, tens of billions of humans have come and gone. Most leave little or no reason to remember them. Only a very small number make a mark on history. A glaring and unfortunate fact about lasting fame is that it is something that happens pretty much only to men.  Of those men, many are remembered for being exceptionally murderous, cruel, or contemptible: Hitler, Stalin, and Vlad the Impaler come to mind. Others, like Gandhi,  Mandela, and Abraham Lincoln have achieved lasting adulation for their courage and  transcendent leadership.

One can become a giant of history for the right reasons and also for the wrong reasons.

If I were the richest person on Earth, as Jeff Bezos apparently is, I would choose to be remembered for my transformative presence and my assertive commitment to reshaping the human culture in a way that views dignity as a universal right and caring stewardship of the planet as a responsibility shared by all.

If wealth is the standard, Jeff Bezos is already the most successful business person of all time. He can be so much more. If he steps up and helps the world transition to a future that is genuinely worthy of our species. If he does that, he will forever be lionized as one of the most consequential humans that ever lived. Perhaps Mr. Bezos already has this in mind. I hope so.

Geoffrey Holland is a Portland, Oregon based writer/producer, and principal author of The Hydrogen Age, Gibbs-Smith Publishing, 2007

The MAHB Blog is a venture of the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere. Questions should be directed to joan@mahbonline.org

MAHB Blog: https://mahb.stanford.edu/blog/jeff-bezos-money/

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The views and opinions expressed through the MAHB Website are those of the contributing authors and do not necessarily reflect an official position of the MAHB. The MAHB aims to share a range of perspectives and welcomes the discussions that they prompt.
  • trilemmaman

    What I would do with just $1 billion is set up systems and structures within the US that would document within all 435 US congressional districts the exact economic, health and environmental costs resulting from injustices of US government policies both here at home and abroad. And then inform the American people of these cost to their income level, health, and children’s future. If American’s really knew how much it is costing each of us to keep national sovereignty (the right of every government to do whatever it wants, whenever it wants, to whom ever it wants) above the protection of human rights — there would be a stampede to drain the swamp. FYI: There is approximately $32 trillion stashed in offshore accounts by kleptocrats (Putin may be even richer than Bezos), drug cartels, and capitalists avoiding taxes. That is roughly enough money to give every person in the US (including undocumented immigrants) $100,000. If Americans knew how much money they would be saving by investing in human rights protections instead of government policies that foment wars, genocides, hunger, infectious disease, climate change, tax avoidance, over fishing, air pollution, water pollution, terrorism… we could all be living the life of kings. And that would be sustainable IF we were responsible about our consumption patterns. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals is the only comprehensive measure now available to humanity to put us on the right path. The amazing thing is. We don’t need billions or even millions of dollars to do this. It’s something each of us can participate in within our own Congressional District…if we cared enough about real lives and our children’s future…instead of defending and debating ideas that result in zero change. If you want to take action send me an email ‘chuck@igc.org’. Connect the dots! See the Web! Work for Justice! Or, prepare for the Consequences.

    • Geoffrey Holland

      What you suggest is a very good idea. I believe there are NGOs that keep a good record of what our elected reps are doing already. The challenge is getting that information into the minds of voters. The commercial media should be doing that, but are failing big time. That won’t change as long as the media puts profit ahead of all else.

  • Mike Hanauer

    To my knowledge, the only really rich guy who has gone after authentic sustainability and its component solutions, is Dick Smith in Australia. Perhaps a goal for us is to try to find a way to change that.

    • Geoffrey Holland

      Bill and Melinda Gates are trying to do good with their wealth. There are others. It would be awesome if Jeff Bezos joined that very exclusive club.

      • Mike Hanauer

        Yes, but have the Gates ever emphasized the impact of overpop on the environment, including in developed countries? Do they go for authentic sustainability? I think that is imperative.

        • Geoffrey Holland

          The Gates Foundation does provide funds to support reproductive choice, and the education of women…these are the critical steps in dealing with population growth. Are Bill and Melinda doing enough? Let’s just say they could be doing more. I don’t think Bill Gates is doing much that is transcendent. He could be a world changer if he chose to embrace the truly trans formative role of championing a new global era built around dignity for all and shared planetary responsibility.

  • Jim Boyer

    I’m assuming that the wise and noble comments made herein are based on a rational person of great wealth. Bezos is an addict whose only goal is to aquire more wealth. He’s an addict. He treats his employees as ‘tools’ that he uses and discards without remorse. His detachment from ‘normal’ society is complete. ‘Enough’ wealth is beyond his comprehension. We should never give people like this our honor or praise or hope to appeal to their generosity. It doesn’t exist.

    • Geoffrey Holland

      Yes, a rationale person is required. It does seem like the billionaire club is dominated by men, who believe their bank accounts, and their yachts, private jets, and other excesses of wealth are a way to show off their worthiness. Men like that are quickly forgotten when they pass on. They might be adept at escaping taxes, but death is at the end of every man’s road. A genuinely transcendent person can be remembered for all time for infamy or for the nobility of their purpose. Billionaires like Mr. Bezos can’t take their wealth with them. But, they can become transcendent in the annals of history by choosing to shape a future that is life-affirming and sustainable.

  • Heartlander11

    Maybe I come at this from my own, and different perspective, as a professional working in philanthropy. I am always a little wary of incredibly rich individuals using their money to sway public opinion, skew public decision making, or impose their agendas on the rest of us. There are wonderful lesson from the history of philanthropy over the past 100 years where “titans” who made huge fortunes would actually work with communities to achieve solutions to the problems they, the community, want to solve. Example: rather than back specific candidates – how about helping more people engage in the political process and get meaningful information about candidates so that we, the people, can make better decisions? Give communities funds for needed projects and programs so they are not always trying to finagle money from some one or another government program that doesnt quite fit their needs? Go into small towns in rural american and get ideas about what the people who have deep roots in these towns see as potential opportunities. Big fortunes are always asked to tackle “big ideas” — maybe you could do a million small ideas driven by local needs and local capacity and actually see progress.

    • Geoffrey Holland

      I appreciate what you are saying, however I contend that if you want to fundamentally transform the way our political economic system works, disbursing your financial resources to countless small, local projects will feed the brand of economic inertia that drives our current, dysfunctional culture, but will not contribute much to changing it.

      I believe what we need to work for is a civilization model that makes dignity a right for every human and proper stewardship of the biosphere as a responsibility that every human has. Dignity and responsibility go hand in hand. That’s why, for me, stripping the ability of billionaires and corporations to use their money to manipulate public policy is job one. Once our systems of governance go back to putting the public interest first, then our politics will prioritize and begin to fund all those countless local initiatives that collectively add up to dignity and service to the common good.

      • trilemmaman

        Americans ignore our system of government unless their ox is gored. Our system is open to citizen input 365 days a year via direct communication with our elected officials via phone, fax, email, and personal meetings. Yet most people think their only input is a vote… once every 2 or 4 years… and only half of eligible voters even show up every 4 years. A few might contribute money…but most have no real information about the world and the influence that science and technology are having on every aspect of our lives…as well as virtually uncontrolled global forces via corrupt governments, corporations, terrorists, hackers, and drug lords. Our culture is fundamentally ill. Too many Americans are soft, irresponsible, detached, easily distracted, and undisciplined. Too much freedom, too little empathy or concern for others. FYI: If you make over $30,000 a year…you are in the top 1% of humanity regarding income.

        • Geoffrey Holland

          I like to think the 2018 mid-term elections will motivate voters to push back against the extreme corruption, racism, and misogyny that defines our current government.

  • stevenearlsalmony

    In order to sidestep the emerging and converging threats to life as we know it, Earth’s ecology, and future human well being, perhaps the human family could choose to do four things simultaneously:

    1) sharing more fairly and equitably the world’s super-abundant food harvests, considering that the world food supply that currently exists could meet the primary needs of all those who alive today;

    2) instituting incentives to support a voluntary “one child per family” or Stop@2 child policy, insisting on a global family planning/health education-based programs of action consonant based upon universally shared, humane values;

    3) placing a limit on the conspicuous per capita on the
    consumption of finite natural resources; and

    4) beginning carefully and skillfully to regulate INCREASES ONLY in the historically unchecked growth of the human food supply, as the means for moving the family of humanity from a “primrose path,” marked by soon to become patently unsustainable global human consumption, production and propagation activities toward a more reality-oriented path and a sustainable future, having accepted human biological limits and adapted to the physical limitations of our planetary home.

    • stevenearlsalmony
    • Geoffrey Holland

      All good, but this will only happen when special interest greed is marginalized, so that public policy can be shaped to serve a life-affirming, sustainable future..

      • stevenearlsalmony

        Geoffrey Holland, What gives rise to the idea that we can benignly let time go by while we all wait until “…special interest greed is marginalized…”? Can we simply wait for favorable circumstances such as you describe to occur somehow before beginning to acknowledge, address and hopefully overcome the ominously looming, human-induced global challenges threatening the future of life as we know it on our watch?

        Please help us understand the point of ignoring the root cause of what ails humankind. Human population numbers have exploded by 5+ billion in my lifetime. The best available ecological science of human population dynamics accounts for this staggering, patently unsustainable growth of H. sapiens on a planet of the size, composition and ecology of Earth. We know the cause of the problem H. sapiens presents to itself, worldwide biodiversity, and the integrity of Earth as a planetary home fit for human habitation. If the ongoing human population explosion is in fact the root cause of cascading global ecological threats to future human well being and environmental health, what can account for our conspicuous refusal to confront that challenge? Pray tell, what are we waiting for?

        • Geoffrey Holland

          I agree that human population growth is the biggest challenge we face. It is the dynamic that drives all other global scale challenges. If there were one issue I could personally impact immediately, population would be that issue. There is no direct path to stabilizing the human population. I very much wish there was.

          A big part of the problem is the media, which is focused primarily on generating profit, not on educating and informing. Getting all of humanity on the same page.on population starts with a global media grounded in truth that tells us what we need to know. .


          • stevenearlsalmony

            I agree with what you report. While “there is no direct path to stabilizing the human population,” there is much we can do as well as much to be done now here. We can begin by disclosing when and wherever we can the ecological science of human population dynamics. This science is utterly simple to understand because the evidence makes it possible for us to see that human population dynamics is essentially similar to the population dynamics of other species. Food is the independent variable in the relationship between food and population numbers. That means the annual increases in the total production of food for human consumption worldwide are effectively fueling the skyrocketing growth of absolute global human population numbers as well as increasing the number of starving and hungry people on the planet. Yes, it is also true that more people are being fed as the years pass by. The numbers of people who are well fed and the numbers of malnourished people go up annually, as scientific research indicates.

          • Geoffrey Holland

            It does seem like we are inevitably headed toward a reckoning with nature.
            Our collective hubris is already causing unprecedented suffering. Nature has its ways of correcting over reach. My guess is it will be something like an airborne strain of a deadly contagious disease like Ebola that will reshape the living landscape..

          • stevenearlsalmony

            Geoffrey Holland, I find myself to be in agreement with you once again. Yes, “It does seem like we are inevitably headed toward a reckoning with nature.” But I am not yet willing to stand by and wait for nature to take its expected course. Inasmuch as humans appear to have precipitated the global predicament looming before the family of humanity, perhaps there are some meaningful things our species can do to respond ably to this wicked existential situation. Do you or anyone else in the MAHB community have an interest in sharing an understanding about why, how and what distinctly human behavior has gotten us into this predicament? If so, then a foundation can be laid for thinking about what can be done carefully and skillfully to do things differently from the ways we are doing them now here. Simply for the sake of providing an example of the direction I would like to go, please consider the problem presented to humankind and life as we know it by anthropogenic climate change. We could take this problem (and other human-induced problems one by one) and develop “best practice” models for behavior change with regard to each problem. The following short video could be usefully examined as one element of a larger plan of action to begin acknowledging, addressing and overcoming the discreet human-driven challenges that give shape to The Global Predicament already dimly visible in the offing.


          • Geoffrey Holland

            I’m with you. My next piece for MAHB will be focused on reshaping the media away from mindless profiteering to something akin to a ‘nervous system’ for humanity that informs and inspires.

          • stevenearlsalmony

            We can still make a difference that makes a difference. Please do keep going.

          • stevenearlsalmony

            I agree with what you report. While “there is no direct path to stabilizing the human population,” there is much we can do as well as much to be done now here. We can begin by disclosing when and wherever we can the ecological science of human population dynamics. This science is utterly simple to understand because it makes it possible for us to see that human population dynamics are essentially similar to the population dynamics of other species. This is something the human community needs to know by means of widely sharing extant scientific research and discussing it. If we can succeed somehow in overcoming all cascading, distinctly human-induced ecological threats to future human well being and environmental health but fail to stabilize the unbridled growth of absolute global human population numbers, what more can we claim than a series of Pyrrhic victories? The War for survival of life as we know it and Earth as a fit place for human habitation will be lost in all likelihood, will it not?