Out Of Every Jeff Bezos Controversy, One Stands Above The Rest

Few of us can afford to court controversy the way Jeff Bezos does, but one of the richest men in the world didn't become a centibillionaire by concerning himself with rules, judgment, and fair play. From accusations of employee exploitation, antitrust violations, and that salacious extramarital affair and alleged extortion plot, the list of his diabolical acts is long. It is difficult to gauge which is more egregious than others, but let's give it a go.

Recent criticism includes spending billions on a tax-free joyride to the edge of space. With fundamental issues such as climate change and a global pandemic, Blue Origin's taxpayer-supported endeavor was especially glaring during a time when systemic inequities became more apparent. A poll, courtesy of Vox and Data for Progress, shows that 79% of those polled resent that the rich made out like bandits during the pandemic, and the poor became even less financially secure. In fact, according to recode (posted at Vox), Americans believe the rich got richer unfairly, and instead of philanthropy, should pay their fair share of taxes instead.

Bezos thanked "every Amazon employee and every Amazon customer because you guys paid for all this." To which frequent critic Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) tweeted, "Jeff Bezos forgot to thank all the hardworking Americans who actually paid taxes to keep this country running while he and Amazon paid nothing" (via Geekwire).

Jeff Bezos is sheltered

One way the affluent continue to pay nothing in taxes is through charitable contributions. Bezos' post-flight spiel included a donation of $100 million each to journalist Van Jones and Chef Jose Andres for their charities as part of his Courage and Civility initiative. "We live in a world where sometimes instead of disagreeing with someone's ideas, we question their character or their motives. What we should always be doing is questioning ideas, not the person. We need unifiers and not vilifiers," said the man notorious for bullying his critics.

Vilifiers would shine a light on the fact his ex-wife, MacKenzie Scott, gave away approximately $10 billion to roughly 780 charities for immediate use in less than two years. Most of Bezos' donations are pledges to be distributed over time and are less than 1% of his estimated $185 billion fortune. MacKenzie, who is worth an estimated $60 billion, has given away 14 percent of hers, notes Forbes.

Bezos received praise for his philanthropy. "This is incredible. @JeffBezos is remaking charity in his own innovative way. The leverage these awards will create will be something incredible to watch — and almost certain to inspire a better planet Earth for us all," Chris Lewicki, a self-described "space industrialist," wrote on Twitter.

Blue Origin founder's control issues

Still, others saw this gesture as "reputation laundering," especially when the richest person on the planet contributes less than his fellow billionaires. Many of the world's wealthiest people signed the Giving Pledge, a commitment to use most of their resources for good causes. Bezos has declined such a commitment (via SCMP). Of the charities he contributes to, his own charities received the most donations, allowing him to avoid capital gains taxes and claim the gift as a charitable deduction. This lessens his personal tax burden, sometimes for years (per The New York Times).

After diminishing fellow pseudo-astronaut Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic New Shepard spacecraft, Bezos sued NASA for awarding Elon Musk's SpaceX the Moon Lander contract he wanted. He even tried to buy the contract by throwing $2 billion at the problem. NASA opted to stick with Musk, so Bezos forced the issue, which puts the project on hold again because he can't take "no" for an answer (per BBC). Meanwhile, CNBC reports that top talent has left Blue Origin since the July 20 flight in the aftermath of the NASA lawsuit.

There are other atrocities — destroying brick and mortar book stores and department stores, only to announce that Amazon will open department stores (via Ars Technica), and a congressional antitrust probe where Amazon, along with Google, Apple, and Facebook, faced accusations of being anti-competitive monopolies come to mind (per The Verge).

Former Amazon CEO downplayed employee exploitation controversy

A Bezos controversy compilation would not be complete without mentioning the cheating scandal that ended his marriage to MacKenzie Scott. After the National Inquirer published lewd pictures of Bezos, who owns the Washington Post, with agent Patrick Whitesell's wife Lauren Sanchez, Bezos opted to face public scrutiny in a Medium blog post, rather than allow an alleged Inquirer extortion plot to fester. One might think that drama, which includes a defamation suit by Sanchez's brother, would be the most controversial act by the centibillionaire (via Page Six). Not so much.

A Business Insider report on the inhumane realities of Amazon warehouse workers and delivery drivers appears to be especially incendiary to the masses. Amazon employees have attempted to unionize many times, but the effort continues to fail. Amazon employees have long complained of hostile work environments and inhumane treatment. For instance, workers have said that to keep up with demand, they urinated in bottles and defecated in bags during their shifts, as The Intercept reported. While Bezos denied such inhumanity existed, the evidence says otherwise. Representative Mark Pocan spoke for many when he tweeted, "Paying workers $15/hr. doesn't make you a 'progressive workplace' when you union-bust & make workers urinate in water bottles."

Despite the criticism, Fortune reports that a Survey Monkey poll from June 2020 shows Bezos isn't unpopular, either. Although he is not as popular as Apple CEO Tim Cook or Satya Nadella, Microsoft's CEO, Bezos' popularity score is higher than President Joe Biden and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook.