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To Hopelessly Misunderstand Jeff Bezos’ Philanthropy

It did have to be the snowflakes at Vox who misunderstood Jeff Bezos’ point on philanthropy. The ruling ethos at that outlet does appear to be that government can do everything better than the private sector – as ludicrous an assertion as the Randroids opposite insistence that only the private sector can ever doing anything sensibly at all. The truth is that different systems of management are better at solving different sets of problems. We have tried the private sector approach to armies and really didn’t enjoy the Wars of the Roses all that much. We’ve also had varied government schemes of food provision and only the insane enjoyed the Soviet version.

Horses for courses that is. But then we get this sort of nonsense:[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””] Despite these realities, Bezos seems to have decided that Seattle’s — and, presumably, the nation’s — homeless populations are best served by the nonprofit and private sectors. At the September event at the Economic Club of Washington, he succinctly summed up his thoughts on how best to solve not only the homelessness crisis but other problems of poverty and inequality. “If you have a mission you can do it with government, you can do it with nonprofit or for-profit,” he said, as quoted by CityLab. “If you can figure out how to do it with for-profit that has a lot of advantages: It’s self-sustaining.” In other words, anything government does, a nonprofit can do better. And anything a nonprofit does can be done more efficiently by the private sector. [/perfectpullquote]

No, that’s not what he said, not at all. He’s musing that there are different ways of solving a problem, different organisational methods. Sure, he’s right. But he hasn’t then made the assertion that it is the for profit private sector which is the best manner of solving all of them. Rather, horses for courses. And if we’re trying to solve a problem which is indeed amenable to a for profit, private, solution then that’s great. Because that very profit that is being made does indeed mean that the solution is self supporting.

But there are still obviously problems that can’t be solved in this for profit and private manner. Not even Jeff Bezos is going to argue that the US Army be organised in that manner for example.

And yes, this is important, for what’s the subject under discussion? Homelessness:

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””] This philosophy explains why, despite supporting organizations like Mary’s Place, Amazon was instrumental in killing a bill in its home city of Seattle that would have taxed small businesses in order to fund affordable housing projects that keep people from becoming homeless in the first place. The bill, which the Seattle City Council unanimously passed in June, would have placed a $275-per-employee tax on local businesses making more than $20 million a year — businesses like Amazon. (Amazon declined to comment on the record, but an Amazon spokesperson did clarify that the Day 1 Fund is Bezos’s private philanthropic project and is therefore independent of Amazon.) It should have been a success story. Instead, the City Council repealed the bill less than a month after it passed. Local lawmakers and community organizers said Amazon was the culprit. Before the bill passed, Amazon announced it was halting construction on its new Seattle building indefinitely — the very tower that was supposed to house Mary’s Place’s new 200-bed shelter. After the bill passed, Amazon donated $25,000 to a committee called No Tax on Jobs, which was created with the express purpose of repealing the tax through a referendum; Bring Seattle Home, the pro-tax group that formed before the bill passed, had raised just $30,000 from all donors, according to the Atlantic. Rather than facing a referendum, the City Council voted to repeal the bill. After the repeal, Amazon was jubilant. “Today’s vote by the Seattle City Council to repeal the tax on job creation is the right decision for the region’s economic prosperity,” Drew Herdener, an Amazon vice president, told the Atlantic in a statement. “We are deeply committed to being part of the solution to end homelessness in Seattle and will continue to invest in local nonprofits like Mary’s Place and FareStart that are making a difference on this important issue.” [/perfectpullquote]

Well, we know how to beat homelessness. We build more homes. You know, lack of homes, make more, have more homes, less problem. And we’ve really done very well indeed over the centuries by having the private sector trying to make a profit in building homes. Works rather well and better than any other system anyone has tried as yet. True, we do need to stop government preventing the building of homes through overzealous zoning policies but that lust for profit really does work.

Bezos is saying, and only an idiot would disagree, that different problems require different solutions. Sometimes that will indeed be a governmental one, sometimes it will be a non-profit one – food banks seem to work better on that local and voluntary scale – and often enough it will be the for profit private sector. Choose the one that works best for the specific problem. What he’s not saying is the drivel that’s been suggested. But then, you know, someone saying something about the private sector in Vox. Can’t be allowed to stand, can it?

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2 years ago

Basing your economic philosophy on a civil war that happened over six hundred years ago might be just a tad out of date. The USA does quite well out of privatised warfare. Government doesn’t own a single tank or airplane factory and it still outsources the production of soldiers to private enterprise. Here in Sunny South Africa we have a huge industry of private armies protecting one’s household and person from undocumented intruders and if the UK policing experience is anything to go by, that’s the way the North Atlantic countries are headed too. Post, water, electricity, telephones, all government… Read more »

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