We're looking for curious conversation on HN. Reflexively dumping on someone or something you dislike is not interesting, no matter how righteous you are or feel. When lots of people start doing it, it compounds into a nasty thread and ultimately a nasty community. Think of it like peeing in the swimming pool. You're asked to avoid that here.
Things rarely change because most (all?) founders and CEOs truly believe they're doing good. Whether it's just attachment to their vision despite it being an overall loss for society, or doing the math and concluding there's marginally more good than bad, or maybe just justifying a small "bad" as a price for the big "good". They are never the ones paying the price for that bad so that won't disturb their world view.
That's one common trait I discovered in almost every successful CEO or founder, the capability to brush aside any criticism in their pursuit of their vision, as long as the price highlighted by that criticism fell on shoulders outside of the company.
Nobody believes he's the bad guy no matter the outcomes. It's a convenient cliche for movies but just that
Unlike normal scale issues where you may be convinced (or even see yourself) you were doing wrong even with the best of intentions, with successful founders and CEOs that's nigh impossible. They genuinely cannot acknowledge this because even hard numbers will look like "it needs a small tweak but my vision and implementation are still great".
DuPont CEOs surely see it as a net benefit that everyone can cook in teflon pans even if the price was heavy pollution. Same for big oil companies. Because they will always sell the narrative that "the bad had to come with the good". In reality the bad can almost exclusively be traced back to the desire for more profit, not to the ability to survive to deliver the good.
A warehouse worker or truck driver don't need to be squeezed for every drop of productivity or underpayed just so you can get your Amazon package on time. They're squeezed so Amazon can make an even bigger profit while you still get the package on time.
Turns out that while you can't necessarily come up with a perfectly accurate estimate of benefit/harm, you can come up with obvious candidates for improvement that are consistently disregarded by those successful founders and CEOs who saw the money rolling in and everything else stopped mattering. The bad stopped mattering or even existing in their view.
It's not a matter of calculating benefit/harm, it's a matter of them not acknowledging the harm even exists.
How about contributing to dealing with global hunger and lack of education? Consider what would have happened had we actively helped developing countries become developed? That change alone would have accelerated the rate we make discoveries and improve technology simply because there are more brains at the task.
Sure his Day One fund exist, but until proven otherwise, I will take the cynical perspective and doubt the rich are willing to do anything besides pay lip service with respect to homelessness/lack of education. He could start by paying his workers a decent wage.
He doesn't owe us anything. He's free to spend his time on what he thinks is important. That's what you and I do as well. The difference is he actually works on things that make the world better. I don't know about you, but I don't. Not yet anyway.
He can start by not avoiding his taxes. That would be a good help.
> He doesn't owe us anything.
Naive. He owes at least the taxes he avoided. Any business that avoids taxes ends up costing the society more simply because they make use of infrastructure which needs maintenance, it likely pollutes the environment either directly or by proxy, and it ends up exploiting people for their bottom line, people who then need to be financed by the society. He also owes back for the brains he amassed that end up not giving back to the society, brains that were likely educated on the tax payer's pocket.
> He's free to spend his time on what he thinks is important
He is free, but he can also not be pretentious, or put his money where his mouth is.
The argument for helping other people instead of creating new ventures to pat your back is quite simple, but goes over most people's heads; the more scientists we have that actually tackle problems, the easier it becomes to deal with issues like cancer that plague everyone, the rich included. By accepting that the probability that many people smarter than us are impoverished, or born in awful circumstances is large, we see that the expectation that comes from dealing with poverty/lack of education has greater impact on our life expectancy and overall QOL over starting new projects and trying to sample people from a limited pool of candidates.
I'm sorry, do you pay more taxes than you owe? Why would anyone do that.
I see a lot of armchair criticism of billionaires in general. It's usually not well thought out and comes across to me as plain old jealously and sour grapes.
Put forward a real criticism if you want, and you'd better remove the log from your own eye first.
There's a difference between tax avoidance and paying more than you owe, but IIRC you could donate to the US, though I don't know why anyone would do that.
I did put forward real criticism, I said, straight out, that if they actually wanted to help, besides patting their backs and paying lip service, they would actually bring more brains out of poverty and there are many ways one can do that. They are certainly not as profitable as money laundering charities, but what does a proletariat know of the world of billionaires? Perhaps I am too stupid to see how amassing billions while underpaying workers, and making money off children in sweat shops makes the world a better place.
There is indeed some bitterness, I wasn't born lucky, heart defects, mental illnesses, poverty, all the good stuff.
No, that's the same. Using your brain to legally reduce your tax bill is quite reasonable and we all do it. If you have a problem with how much taxes presumably Amazon, not Jeff, pays, take it up with your lawmakers.
> Perhaps I am too stupid to see how amassing billions while underpaying workers, and making money off children in sweat shops makes the world a better place.
That's a pretty uncharitable characterization of Amazon. I can make an economics argument that to have a company of 1.6 trillion dollars in value means it probably brought more than that much in value to people around the world. But it doesn't really matter, he didn't do it to make the world a better place.
Some of the things he's focusing on now, including blue origin, he is doing, I think chiefly, to make the world a better place given his past statements about why he started that company.
Bending and modifying the law because you can exactly because you amassed money in order to amass more money isn't smart, it is literally the equivalent of the rich kid buying power in a pay to win game.
> That's a pretty uncharitable characterization of Amazon. I can make an economics argument that to have a company of 1.6 trillion dollars in value means it probably brought more than that much in value to people around the world. But it doesn't really matter, he didn't do it to make the world a better place.
I wasn't thinking just of amazon at the time, but also apple.
I could make a political science argument as to why Apple/Amazon/big corp not enforcing standards on sweatshops only enables further exploitation of people.
Obviously, being able to get just about anything delivered in a day is nice. But at what cost to the environment?
Is it a net good?
To answer your question from my view, yes Amazon is freaking awesome and has made the world better for me. It has saved me literally thousands of hours of doing things I don't enjoy, which are driving and shopping in stores. In exchange I even get a better experience and lower prices! It has also funded TV shows I like, made books and audiobooks easier to access than ever before, made it easier for me to eat healthy foods by allowing me to order fresh food online without owning a car. Also, it has made it easier than ever to start an online business because it pioneered the cloud. I could go on.
Just because someone is not doing the exact thing you want them to do doesn't make them bad. There's endless problems to solve, and Amazon decided to solve a subset of them that they deemed important and profitable. It's not like all the problems in the world would be gone without Amazon. Walmart wasn't a shining beacon of hope when Amazon didn't exist, and neither was any other large retailer.
Climate change is a big problem, but you can't force people to work on only the things you think are important. I'd rather live in a world where everything goes to shit but we still get to choose what we do with our lives than one where you decide for me what problems I need to dedicate my life to. The government should be providing much higher incentives/disincentives for dealing with climate change, and businesses will solve problems when the incentives line up. Don't expect businesses to shoot themselves in the foot for no reason.
I guess one of the downsides of great wealth is that people assume you can solve problems that have plagued humanity for millenia, but are just choosing not to
Taxes are not a panacea to improve the lives of the lowest in society.
Have you looked at what happened in China over the past several decades? Amazon definitely had a hand in that.
Based on his quote, sounds like he realized Amazon is no longer important to him. The chair role is to give the impression that he's still involved, like Gates and Schmidt. He can do whatever he wants, so has seemingly decided on full Dr. Evil, with the front conglomerate, obsession with rockets, and even the friggin' hollowed out mountain.
On one hand we have people who are starving because they don't have access to a reliable food source.
On the other, we have people who have severe health complications due to poor nutrition/obesity/whatnot.
I believe it is also a mistake to compare relative suffering--e.g. perhaps (hypothetically) more people are obese than starving, but starving sounds more painful than being obese: these comparisons also run afoul of subjective experience and understanding.
Both problems are significant, and require attention which we are capable of doing, as a civilization: we can multi-task. I believe it is naive to frame them in opposition to each other as well.
Apologies if my reading of your post is not what you intended.
As hunger, obesity, and climate change seem to share common root causes, solutions will likely be interconnected.
Hunger? Amazon's subscribe and save isn't as insanely cheap, but it's still quite a deal.
I would say that he's done a pretty good job on both of these fronts already.
What am I going to do with kindle unlimited if I need to pay for price fixed scientific books ?
> Hunger? Amazon's subscribe and save isn't as insanely cheap, but it's still quite a deal.
He can't guarantee a good meal and roof for his workers. What are you on about?
Um, help workers get off food stamps?
If you want companies to not have any employees like that on government assistance, they'll just stop hiring single mothers and disabled people. Their skills aren't suddenly worth $25/hr just because they have children.
The government subsidizing their pay is a good thing, and I hope it happens to more people like those 4000 at Amazon.
The government is really subsidising the money into Jeff Bezos's accounts.
The skills aren't considered worth $25/h because they are not paid according to the value they are providing, which is evident by the grotesque profits that Amazon is making.
Amazon arguably has monopoly power over this type of job, which means there isn't competition for the workers, and they aren't paid correctly.
That should be corrected, rather than subsidised.
Also, Amazon does not have anything near a monopoly on warehouse work. Are you kidding with that?
How is that true? The pool of workers that Amazon employs for warehouse jobs is unskilled which Amazon certainly does not have a monopoly on. Walmart & McDonalds are in this category and are two of the largest employers in the world.
If I understand correctly, you are saying that the value delivered by the robots that perform the automation has nothing to do with Amazon's minimum wage workers. That value can go straight into Jeff Bezos's bank account, and justice will be served, because he is the lawful owner of the robots. He created the company that earned the profits that were reinvested in the R&D that developed and paid for those robots, so he deserves the profits from them.
If you look a little closer, you'll see that every dollar of those profits over time came from the actual work that each minimum wage worker put in for every hour they worked. What they got back was $12 per hour, or $15 per hour even, but what they contributed to Amazon was more like $25 per hour, or $50 per hour, or $200 per hour - it depends on the profit margin of the goods they were transceiving.
The economic system you are familiar with awards all those profits to the owner of the capital, and even demands of him less tax for earnings than it does of the hourly labourer. The minimum wage workers get a fixed amount per hour, whilst the owner of capital gets a variable amount per hour.
That doesn't make it right, or fair, or just. To be fair and just, all of those thousands of minimum wage workers over the last 20 years would have received equity that was proportional to the share of the effort they contributed to build the business.
But the workers received no equity. At least, the unskilled workers received no equity. Equity was only offer to workers higher up.
Why? That's the system.
Why is that the system? It would take a longer discussion than we are having here, in a broader context to really shine a light on it. We can have that discussion whenever you like. In the meantime, don't assume all the value came from Jeff Bezos's sweaty hands. The truth is not as clean as that.
> if those types of workers vanished, Amazon would not have any value.
I disagree, in a world with only higher wage workers, a business like Amazon's would be even more important since they have such a focus on automation. Look at what happened during COVID. A lot of low wage work was shut down and who took their place in the economy? A few large companies.
Those workers are definitely a temporary problem until those warehouses are 100% automated. Once all the people are gone, all the labor concerns are gone as well. No more safety. AC costs are minimized to what is needed for product safety. No more restrooms with no more plumbing. Just machines which ingest goods and distribute goods.
No offense intended. But do you classify yourself as part of humanity? Or one of the good ones?
I mean, I know one or two people who profess to think this, and they admit they themselves are just as disgusting, so at least I can have some respect for their self-reflection.
So it's not so much "good one" vs "bad ones" as brains that optimize for short-term reproductive fitness vs ones that don't. It's not an epic struggle between good and evil, it's just, quite literally, evolution in action. Like all living things, I want "my side" to win. The tricky bit is deciding where "my side" ends and "the other" begins. Everyone has to struggle with that.
I have no problem hiring people, but I want to them to do work rather than other shit. However, people need so much care that it is so draining.
The crazy thing is that these problems don't manifest until a business is reasonably successful and the medium growth spurt happens. That's when you need to get HR, and at the moment the business becomes a prison.
As an engineer, this reading resonates for me to some degree. I'm naturally more interested in engineering problems than I am by payroll, performance management, and hiring.
I accept that I'm a dumb dirty primate.
The problem now feels that we have a minority of very loud people that cause expensive problems.
I can't wait until I have AI to amplify myself.
World hunger is a distribution problem related to the shape of the global politico-economic system, and the politico-economic systems in the places experiencing the most serious hunger; the problems in the latter are the main short-term problem, but they are anchored by the problems in the former which tend to make solutions both difficult and temporary.
Jeff Bezos is rich, but not “overthrow the international politico-econonic regime and institute a just world which would solve the problems creating hunger durably through simple amplication of wealth” rich.
United Fruit Company did not have a carismatic CEO but still managed to overthrow governments and create banana republics.
The main reason that Bezos doesn't end world hunger is that he can't even end Amazon worker's hunger, and he controls them with an iron fist. I agree he should stay off politics and just pay his back taxes.
I think it's *likely a motivated mega-billionaire would be far more effective with 100B than a self-interested bureaucracy.
It’s pretty much impossible to get our human minds around $185 billion, but any which way you spin it, it’s an insane amount of money. His $2bn altruistic fund is sort of like the equivalent of me giving away £1000. It’s a bit generous, but really not very much. Plus, that sort of altruism is utterly skewed to your benefit when you’re that wealthy.
If he gave away 99.99% of his net worth, he’d still have $18.5 million, a figure that’d make anyone on the planet - and their family - blissfully comfortable for the rest of their lives.
Details aside (yeh, I know it’s not actual money, it’s in stocks, yada yada), the point is it is an absolutely obscene amount of money for any individual to possess. I have no understanding how he sleeps at night knowing the world around him is full of appalling poverty that he could help solve.
There's certainly good faith arguments to be made against his choices. But I don't think one needs to imagine he's selectively blind or a hypocrite when different positive values and different time horizons serve to explain.
Bezos told me that the tremendous personal resources he had amassed liberated him. "I won't spend any time in my life working on anything I don't think is important," he told me. "I'm just not going to. I don't need to."
Letting all the otherwise important economic intricacies and potential efficiency regarding the implementation of UBI, isn't the aim of such a measure exactly what Bezos is describing here? To free oneself (laypeople in UBI's case) from personally irrelevant tasks in order to enjoy a more fulfilling life? Perhaps this could be an indicator that what is currently a huge privilege should in the future be a commonality.
You can’t just give a bunch of dollars away without either incurring an offsetting amount of time/resources to back them, or to devalue them and their siblings.
If you like food with your meals and your garbage hauled away, at the end of the chain, someone has to work to get that food to your table and the garbage away.
(I’m generally pro-UBI, but can’t figure out how to pay even a subsistence level of UBI in a sustainable way, and certainly not enough that would allow a leisurely life for most.)
Prominent economist - Greg Mankiw
Removing the needs assessment also removes the geographic location requirement, and that allows to deflate the land value inflation that is the real cause of inequality today.
Welfare spending for 2020 is estimated to be around $1.9T, around $1.0T of which is means-tested, and $0.7T is Medicaid. Total federal receipts were around $3.4T.
If you believe that the entire adult population should receive the equivalent of a $15/hr minimum wage job that was worked 2000 hours per year, you need to fund $30K/adult. There are around 250M adults living in the US, meaning that paying each of them $30K would require more than twice the total federal tax receipts for this program alone. If you restrict it to citizens only (rather than all lawful residents), it's still basically double.
Even assuming you could cut every other federal function in half, you would still need to raise taxes by +150% (to 250% of current) just to pay for a $15/hr equivalent to adults only. Add in a smaller amount per child and you could be looking at tripling current tax levels. With the top marginal rate already higher than 33%, it's obvious that those tax increases will not hit only "the rich".
Then, does $30K/adult provide for everyone to "enjoy a more fulfilling life" given the inflation that would occur to pay for the UBI? I think it does not.
There is no doubt that UBI and taxation is more efficient; it's the simple multiplication that is a problem.
Already we have it, by definition - it's an equation.
So some part of your calculation is wrong.
Likely you're over-inflating the amount paid out (it's not going to by 15/hr person) and undercounting payments (maybe disabilty/housing/local programs).
UBI given at equivalent levels to today's welfare would be strictly cheaper because of the reduced adminstration cost.
(this though is different from the question of whether payments should be higher and paid by increased taxation.
And off-topic, but taxation doesn't need to be increased - it can be payed by helicopter money, but actually not cause inflation, because of geographic mobility deflating that aspect of the economy).
"When a billionaire is insecure because Elon Musk gets all the press and adoration and is pulling humanity's sorry ass forward more or less by himself (as a corporate leader)."
Perhaps I just don't have the ego to be a billionaire.
Agreed, but I kind of figure that comes with the territory.
Elon is called an idiot and a charlatan more often because of things like Hyperloop and the Joe Rogan interview. I'm probably projecting but that'd hurt me more than the guillotine.
Musk has been trolling him for over a decade on Blue Origin, and it keeps plodding along. It's the SpaceX fanboys who can't stop talking about JB as though it's all some d**fest.