MacKenzie Scott acknowledges what so few rich people are willing to say

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Meghan and Harry ink a Spotify deal, Paris’s mayor is happy to pay a gender parity fine, and MacKenzie Scott acknowledges an ugly truth. Have a wonderful Wednesday.

– Money talks. In May 2019, when MacKenzie Scott, the former wife of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, signed the Giving Pledge—a commitment by some of the world’s wealthiest couples and individuals to give away their fortunes—she made an additional vow to swiftly dispense of her billions: “I won’t wait,” she wrote.

Based on the past 18 months, we should take the elusive Scott at her word.

In a Medium post on Tuesday, Scott announced that she’s given away $4.2 billion in the past four months, on top of $1.7 billion in gifts she announced in July.

The latest round of money went to 384 organizations, some of which are focused on meeting basic needs, like food banks, while others target systemic inequalities, such as legal defense funds. Scott’s donations come without earmarks. She says that her team’s due diligence is intended to identify well-run, impactful organizations and to “pave the way for unsolicited and unexpected gifts given with full trust and no strings attached.”

The nature and rapid pace of Scott’s giving are nearly unheard-of in the philanthropic world.

“You think of all these tech fortunes, they’re the great disrupters, but she’s disrupting the norms around billionaire philanthropy by moving quickly, not creating a private foundation for her great-grandchildren to give the money away,” Chuck Collins, director of the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies, told the New York Times.

Still, Scott is accumulating wealth faster than she can give it away. Her fortune, totaling $60.9 billion, has grown by $23.8 billion this year, making her the world’s 18th richest person. The Amazon shares she received in her divorce from Bezos account for the vast sum, and they’ve been on a tear in 2020 as the pandemic forced more shoppers online.

The COVID-19 crisis, as we well know, has exacerbated inequalities that already existed. The world’s richest people offer the starkest example. An October report found that the 500 wealthiest people had gained $813 billion collectively so far in 2020. On his own, the world’s richest person, Scott’s ex, has accrued $70.5 billion in new wealth this year. Many constituents of the 99%, meanwhile, lost their jobs, lost their homes, and joined food lines.

Scott is one of the few beneficiaries of the pandemic to acknowledge—even indirectly—this ugly truth; that she’s gotten richer because of a crisis that’s devastated so many.

She says as much in her Medium post: “This pandemic has been a wrecking ball in the lives of Americans already struggling. Economic losses and health outcomes alike have been worse for women, for people of color, and for people living in poverty. Meanwhile, it has substantially increased the wealth of billionaires.”

Scott could let her money do all the talking, but even as she shuns media interviews and speaking engagements, she seems determined insert herself into the conversation about mass wealth and inequality—and her commentary promises to be more frank than what’s offered by her (mostly male) peers.

Claire Zillman

Today’s Broadsheet was curated by Emma Hinchliffe

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