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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has finally joined the ranks of tech billionaires who use their sprawling wealth to shape the world through charity.

Why it matters: A new class of tech elites is using ambitious philanthropic strategies, a stated desire to "change the world" and unprecedented resources to transform money into influence. And there’s nobody on the planet with more to give away than Bezos.

The details: Bezos and his wife, novelist MacKenzie Bezos, say they will start by spending $2 billion to give to non-profit organizations working on homelessness and to build and operate a network of free, Montessori-inspired preschools for low-income areas.

"If a kid falls behind, it's really difficult to catch up. That head start compounds fantastically. Money spent there will pay gigantic dividends for decades."
— Jeff Bezos, speaking at the Economic Club of Washington Thursday evening

Bezos is following in the footsteps of Bill Gates and other successful tech players whose philanthropic giving shares common qualities:

  • They influence big social debates. Bezos is tackling homelessness and access to early childhood education while the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and Laurene Powell Jobs’ Emerson Collective work on a range of public policy issues. (The Emerson Collective is an investor in Axios.)
  • They combine charity with Silicon Valley methods and mindset. Bezos said in a statement that his project's network of preschools would treat children like “the customer.” Zuckerberg and his wife, physician Priscilla Chan, have built a significant technology team within their philanthropic initiative.
  • They deploy their money in unconventional ways. Tech donors have often built their philanthropic organizations to allow for impact investing or political activities. Bezos’s organization, meanwhile, will not just fund preschools but operate them as well.

Bezos did not say in his statement how the Day One Fund would be structured, which can have an impact on transparency.

  • Earlier this year, however, he and his wife incorporated a nonprofit in Washington State called Bezos Foundation, according to public records, and someone reserved the name “Bezos Day 1 Foundation” for a nonprofit on Wednesday.
  • The structure of the fund helps determine what kind of tax advantages the donation might offer Bezos.

Yes, but: Bezos is getting into the philanthropy game late, and only after becoming the world’s richest person.

  • He is under growing pressure over Amazon’s role in fueling inequality, from the city around its Seattle headquarters to conditions in its warehouses and on delivery routes.
  • Bezos asked for philanthropic ideas via Twitter last year, and he said he "read through thousands and thousands of responses."
  • Speaking at the Economic Club of Washington Thursday night, he said he didn't know how much of his fortune he would end up giving away.
"I'm going to give away a lot of money in a non-profit model, but I'm also going to invest a lot of money in something that most investors might say is a terrible investment — like Blue Origin — but that I think is important."
— Bezos

Author Anand Giridharadas argues in his new book Winners Take All that the wealthy pursue social change without uprooting the systems that produce inequality. He said that Bezos has a “a stark opportunity to be a traitor to his class, to actually think about giving in ways that transform the system atop which he stands.”

  • "It is great to be a winner who gives back,” Giridharadas said. “It is even better to be a winner who thinks about how winners can take less."

Go deeper

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3D printing's next act: big metal objects

Chief Scientist Andy Bayramian makes modifications to the laser system on Seurat's 3D metal printer. Photo courtesy of Seurat Technologies.

A new metal 3D printing technology could revolutionize the way large industrial products like planes and cars are made, reducing the cost and carbon footprint of mass manufacturing.

Why it matters: 3D printing — also called additive manufacturing — has been used since the 1980s to make small plastic parts and prototypes. Metal printing is newer, and the challenge has been figuring out how to make things like large car parts faster and cheaper than traditional methods.

Rising rates may hammer the stock market

Illustration: Sarah Grillo / Axios

Stocks are much more vulnerable to interest rate swings than they used to be.

Why it matters: A sharp rise in rates in early 2022 is the key reason the stock market is off to an ugly start. And with the Federal Reserve making noise about trying to keep inflation in check, rates could go higher.

Ina Fried, author of Login
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Microsoft's Activision Blizzard deal complicates Big Tech regulation

Illustration: Megan Robinson/Axios

Microsoft's surprise $68 billion deal to buy Activision Blizzard is adding a fresh twist to the heated debate over which tech companies have monopolies that need to be reined in.

The big picture: The deal could force a question the company has happily ducked for a decade: whether its size and power make it just as deserving of regulatory scrutiny as its Big Tech rivals.