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False Solutions in the New Gilded Age: Jeff Bezos just gave the Grand Rapids Community Rebuilders $5 million, which is what he make in 30 minutes

November 21, 2018

On Tuesday, I received a Media Advisory from the Grand Rapids-based group Community Rebuilders. The Media Advisory stated that the organization had received a $5 million donation from the Bezos Day One Fund, which is the charitable wing of the wealthiest man on the planet, Jeff Bezos.

$5 million dollars is a great deal of money and it will certainly contribute to the work of Community Rebuilders. The Media Advisory also quoted the Executive Director of Community Rebuilders, Vera Beech, who stated:

“Community Rebuilders is a hard-working organization, and we’re not afraid to take risks to support families experiencing homelessness. This grant will allow us to do so on an even bigger scale to more quickly reach our community’s goal of eliminating homelessness in Kent County.”

Now, I’m not questioning the success stories that Community Rebuilders has, in terms of actually helping people transition from being homeless to living in a home that they can afford. What I am questioning is the goal of Community Rebuilders, which is to eliminate homelessness in Kent County.

People who experience homelessness end up in that predicament for numerous reasons, such as people dealing with addiction, people struggling with mental health, people losing their jobs, health care costs, etc. However, we also know that there is no real reason for people to actually be homeless, since homelessness is really a byproduct of capitalism.

The economic system of capitalism is designed to make a small number of people disgustingly rich and the rest of the population at varying levels of economic insecurity. For example, the wealthiest man on the planet right now, Jeff Bezos, is estimated to be worth about $132 Billion as of May 1, 2018. Now, $132 Billion is so big that most of us can’t even wrap our heads around what that means, plus Bezos wealth was a mere $99 Billion on January 1, 2018. This means that Bezos’ wealthy increased by $33 Billion in 120 days.

The Independent news entity, Democracy Now!, broke down what Bezos’ wealth expansion means during that 120 period. “If you divide that difference by the 120 days in that period, you find that he made $275 million a day. Divide that by 24 hours in a day to get about $11.5 million per hour, the equivalent of roughly $191,000 per minute or — the clincher — $3,182 every second.” 

If we put that amount of money into perspective, the $5 million dollar grant that Community Rebuilders just received is roughly what Jeff Bezos made from January 1st to May 1st in 30 minutes.

Gilded Giving

People might remember from US History classes that the later part of the 19th Century was referred to as the Gilded Age, since there was a massive separation between the grotesquely rich and everyone else. It could be argued that we live in another Gilded Age, with the less than 1% of the population controlling most of the wealth.

The Institute for Policy Studies just released a new report that also speaks to the problem of living in another Gilded Age. Their report, Gilded Giving 2018: Top-Heavy Philanthropy and Its Risks to the Independent Sector, investigates the problem of society’s reliance on the charity of the wealthiest people. The report states:

Our charitable sector is currently experiencing a transition from broad-based support across a wide range of donors to top-heavy philanthropy increasingly dominated by a small number of very wealthy individuals and foundations. This has significant implications for the practice of fundraising, the role of the independent nonprofit sector, and the health of our larger democratic civil society.

This brings us back to the $5 million that Community Rebuilders received from the Bezos Foundation. The problem with accepting the fact that people like Jeff Bezos are allowed to make $11.5 million dollars in an hour, while a large percent of the population is one paycheck away from losing everything and record numbers experiencing poverty, is that it prevents us from questioning how so few can be so wealthy, while so many are so poor.

Relying on the handout of the super rich is a false solution

The reality is that Community Rebuilders can never end homelessness in Kent County. Relying on the charity of people like Jeff Bezos is a false solution. As long as our society accepts the current wealth gap, which allows Jeff Bezos to control the amount of wealth that he does, then we can never end homelessness, poverty or any other major social inequality.

Lastly, I would argue that as long as the economic system of capitalism remains, we will continued to see the non-profit world rely on the donations of the wealthiest people on the planet. And as long as we rely of the “charity” of the wealthiest people on the planet we will never allow ourselves to see the inherent contradiction in an economic system that is designed to reward so few, while so many suffer unnecessarily.

 

 

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