How Will Jeff Bezos Spend His Billions Now?Roundup
tags: Gilded Age, philanthropy, technology, Amazon, Jeff Bezos, wealth, billionaires, Robber Barons
Ms. O’Mara is a contributing opinion writer, a history professor at the University of Washington and the author of The Code, a history of Silicon Valley.
If history is any guide, the next act of Jeff Bezos, the man who turned a crazy-at-the-time idea to sell books over the internet into a $1.67 trillion behemoth, could be more consequential than the last.
Mr. Bezos announced last week that he will step down as chief executive of Amazon, though he will continue to have a great deal of control over the direction of the company as its executive chairman and largest shareholder. His move will enable him to spend more time on other interests and find ways to spend a personal fortune that, thanks to Amazon’s booming stock price, is now about $195 billion.
That staggering number brings to mind another titan whose name became synonymous with immense wealth: John D. Rockefeller. Mr. Bezos’ anti-monopolist critics frequently compare him with the Gilded Age mogul, but there are other parallels, too.
As Mr. Bezos did with internet commerce, Mr. Rockefeller brought innovative and cost-conscious management principles to an emerging market — petroleum — and built an empire. Long considered the richest person who ever lived, Mr. Rockefeller claimed a fortune that at one point was the equivalent of nearly 2 percent of the United States’ economic output.
Mr. Bezos is stepping down as Amazon faces an antitrust investigation in Europe, the threat of a similar query in the United States and accusations of unfair labor practices. Mr. Rockefeller also stepped back from active management of his company, Standard Oil, at a moment of intense scrutiny. His retirement did not spare him evisceration: In 1902, Ida Tarbell, an investigative journalist, published “The History of the Standard Oil Company,” which cemented Mr. Rockefeller’s relentlessly rapacious image.
Although he donated to charity throughout his life, the scale of his philanthropy expanded soon after the publication of Ms. Tarbell’s exposé, beginning with a push to eradicate hookworm, a parasite then plaguing the rural South. He chartered the Rockefeller Foundation in 1913 and gave away most of his fortune by the time he died in 1937, at 97.
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