I was sent an email asking what I myself thought of the recent Jeff Bezos charity query, and that email contained a number of questions. I’m not at liberty to reproduce it, but with some minor edits I think you will be able to make sense of my responses, as given here:
- Since the marginal value of extra consumption by him (or even far less wealthy people) is essentially zero, there are many “good enough” charitable ventures.
- The rate of abandonment is high for charitable support.
- Often the key is for a super-productive person, with lots of stimulating opportunities at his or her disposal (if only running the status quo businesses, or say meeting other famous people), is to find something charitable that will hold his or her interest. But how can it possibly be as fun as the earlier successes and extending them?
- I disagree with your descriptions of the philanthropic strategies offered in your email. I suspect that most or all are attempted examples of my #3, namely what is actually short-run thinking.
- They are all super short-term strategies, once the attention constraint is measured.
- In this regard, there is nothing strange about Bezos’s plea and expressed desire to do some good in the short term, except its transparency.
- Perhaps earlier philanthropists, such as Carnegie, had many fewer opportunities for fun, if only because their times were so primitive and backward. That made it easier for them to keep up enthusiasm for truly long-term projects.
- I still think the real opportunities are for *true* long-run thinking, admittedly subject to the constraint that it keeps one’s short-term interest up.
- Cultivating one’s own weirdness, or having a lot of it in the first place, is one way to ease the congruence I mention in #8.
- Even truly smart and wise people often “give to people” rather than to projects. This is for one thing a strategy for keeping one’s own interest up.
So to tie this all back in to Jeff Bezos, I don’t know what he should do. I don’t know him personally, nor do I even have an especially strong knowledge of the second-hand sources about him.
But I think he is exactly on the right track to be thinking about what motivates him personally, and what is likely to hold his attention. And I don’t think his approach is any more “short term” than most of the other philanthropy of the super-rich.