Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has become the first person in history to surpass $200 billion in net worth after his company’s stock rose by 2% on Wednesday.
According to the Bloomberg Billionaire’s Index, Bezos is now worth $75 billion more than the world’s second-wealthiest person, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates. Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg ($111 billion) and Tesla CEO Elon Musk ($105 billion) round out the centibillionaire’s club.
The combined wealth of those four men is roughly equivalent to the gross domestic product of Thailand or Sweden, the world’s 22nd and 23rd largest economies, according to World Bank figures.
“The fact that Jeff Bezos became the world’s first $200 billion man at a time of unprecedented human pain and suffering is morally grotesque,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) tweeted in response to the news. “Billionaires should not be able to make $800 billion during a pandemic,” he added, referring to newly-published research from the Institute for Policy Studies and Americans For Tax Fairness.
Progressive economist and former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich tweeted that “American capitalism is off the rails,” lamenting the billionaires’ unprecedented wealth at a time when “30 million Americans report that their households don’t have enough food in the past week.”
The Washington Examiner reports former Amazon warehouse employee Chris Smalls led a Thursday protest outside Bezos’ Washington, D.C. home in response to the news of the Washington Post owner’s milestone.
Around 100 protesters rallied in the tony Kalorama neighborhood, some of them building a mock guillotine on the sidewalk outside Bezos’ $23 million mansion.
“If we’re working for you and you’re not taking care of us, we’re coming for you,” declared Smalls, according to Bloomberg Technology. “Give a reason why we don’t deserve a $30 minimum wage when this man makes $4,000 a second,” he added.
Smalls then led demonstrators in a chant of, “If we don’t get it, shut it down!”
“Hey Jeff Bezos, I’m going to let you know something today,” said Smalls. “We are just getting started. We’re going to every single location you’ve got across the country and set up shop until you meet our demands as workers.”
Smalls told the gathered crowd about his own employment history at Amazon, and accused the company of not doing enough to protect its workers during the coronavirus pandemic. Smalls was fired shortly after helping to organize a work stoppage at the company’s Staten Island warehouse over a lack of protective gear and hazard pay during the deadly outbreak.
David Zapolsky, Amazon’s general counsel, then told Bezos and other company executives that public relations efforts should focus on smearing Smalls, who he described as “not smart or articulate.”
It’s not only warehouse workers who are speaking—and walking—out; in May, Tim Bray, a well-known senior engineer and vice president, resigned in “dismay” over what he called the “chickenshit” move of “firing whistleblowers who were making noise about warehouse employees frightened of Covid-19.”
Much of Bezos’ new wealth is a result of changing consumer habits during the pandemic. Amazon stock has surged more than 80% since January.
Bezos would be even richer had he not divorced his ex-wife MacKenzie Scott last year. As part of their settlement, he agreed to hand over 25% of his Amazon stock, which is now worth $63 billion, according to Forbes.
Comparisun, a business research company, projects Bezos will become the world’s first trillionaire by the year 2026.
There have been growing calls to break up big tech companies like Amazon. Lawmakers including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (R-N.Y.) have said that Amazon and other tech giants should be broken up on antitrust grounds.
Warren says this is necessary in order “to restore the balance of power in our democracy, to promote competition, and to ensure that the next generation of technology innovation is as vibrant as the last,” while senior Ocasio-Ortez adviser Dan Riffle has famously asserted that “every billionaire is a policy failure.”
Last month, Bezos, along with other tech CEOs including Zuckerberg, Apple’s Tim Cook, and Sundar Pichai of Google’s parent company Alphabet, faced a grilling from lawmakers on Capitol Hill during which Rep. David Cicilline (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Antitrust Subcommittee, called them “emperors of the online economy.”
“[They] enjoy the power to pick winners and losers, shake down small businesses, and enrich themselves while choking off competitors,” said Cicilline.