As generous as Scott’s donations are, billionaires are still a policy failure, a sign that a small number of people have been able to capture the lion’s share of wealth creation. This has certainly been the case in the US in the past few decades, as the number of billionaires has jumped from
66 in 1990 to 614 in 2020. At the same time, economic inequality spiked to 50-year highs
. These trends were made possible in part by economic policies that eased tax burdens and regulations
for the super-wealthy while cutting aid
to poor and middle-class Americans.
Scott’s fortune is the product of those policies, as well as a series of structural benefits. She helped her former husband, Jeff Bezos, launch Amazon in the mid-1990s, and the company’s immense profitability has been aided by low wages and significant tax breaks
. Scott, whose divorce settlement included
more than $35 billion in Amazon stocks, understands that her wealth was not just a product of her and Bezos’s work.
Announcing her first gifts in July, she wrote
, “There’s no question in my mind that anyone’s personal wealth is the product of a collective effort, and of social structures which present opportunities to some people, and obstacles to countless others.” She has signed the Giving Pledge
, a promise made by the very rich to give away most of their wealthy. And her innovative philanthropy — using data to find effective organizations and institutions, giving money with no strings attached, targeting organizations run by people from the communities they serve — has shown that it is possible for the wealthy to act quickly, efficiently and with profound trust in the recipients of their money.
Scott’s approach makes other billionaires, even those who have also pledged
to give away most of their fortunes like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan and Microsoft’s Bill and Melinda Gates, seem like philanthropic slowpokes. And it makes Congress look unbearably incompetent. A legislative body works differently than a billionaire, of course, slowed by coalition building and constituent demands. But it has an even greater obligation to help…