The study saying Bezos will be a trillionaire is bogus, but the criticism of Bezos it prompted is real.
No, Jeff Bezos is not about to become a trillionaire.
A new swell of outrage headed toward the world’s richest man on Thursday when a few news outlets re-aggregated a months-old, flimsy projection from a “small business advice platform.” By midday, leading progressives like Elizabeth Warren were tweeting that Bezos “is on track to become the world’s first trillionaire in the middle of a pandemic.”
The dust-up — as untethered from reality as it may be — was a reminder of just how angry many on the left are are about the tech elite’s wealth, and how much Bezos has become a caricature for the country’s billionaire class. He has become an easy punching bag, and will remain one even if he doesn’t indeed become a trillionaire.
Even during the market calamity the coronavirus pandemic has caused, Bezos has been consistently one of the few exceptions in the billionaire class who has always been in the green. Amazon is more essential than ever, and its stock is up 25% this year, as is Bezos’s net worth. That success while the economy craters made him a target for Bernie Sanders, too on Thursday.
Bezos has become a household name over the last few years, and especially so since he became the world’s single wealthiest person. That distinction has thrust him into the spotlight, often uncomfortably, and made for unfriendly contrasts when juxtaposed against, say, working-class Amazon warehouse workers who say their employer hasn’t been compensating them enough or doing enough to protect them from exposure to the coronavirus.
That might explain why an overblown prediction went viral at this very moment. Internal tensions at Amazon now involve its corporate workforce and are growing, as is Bezos’s net worth, which now measures at $144 billion.
Bezos’s wealth is closely tied to Amazon, which he founded in 1994 and of which he owns about 11 percent. And Amazon’s stock has been on absolute tear over the last five years, growing by about 560%. Bezos’s net worth has closely followed. He was worth a mere $38.3 billion in May 2015.
The climb in Bezos’s net worth is even more extraordinary given that he signed the world’s largest divorce settlement ever last year for $35 billion when he split with his then-wife, MacKenzie. But that loss was quickly recouped by Amazon’s bull run.
Bezos isn’t alone. Billionaire founders of companies that are on hot streaks have found that their net worths have skyrocketed as the stock market boomed over the last decade, even for those who have pledged to begin giving away all of their money in their lifetimes. The rich also often get richer, in general, because they have better access to unique investment opportunities that the average American does not, further insulating them from downturns.
That brings us back to the viral projection about Bezos’s wealth, prepared by a company called Comparisun. The methodology for its startling claim? It calculated each billionaire’s average growth in their net worths over the last five years and projected how much those would increase if it continued to grow at that rate.
So basically: If Amazon has another five years like its last five years, then Jeff Bezos, Comparisun claims, would be the world’s first trillionaire in 2026.
That projection makes a lot of assumptions. The American economy has been on a decade-long bull run that won’t replicate easily. Past performance, as the saying goes, isn’t indicative of future performance, especially given that mature companies don’t typically grow by the same rate as younger companies do. It’s possible that Amazon would continue this meteoric growth, but saying that Bezos is “on track” to do it is quite a stretch.
After all, the methodology essentially suggests that if you find a $100 bill on a sidewalk — and if it took you a single second to find it — then, hey, you might become a trillionaire before Jeff Bezos.
2026 is a long time away. Jeff Bezos will probably still be doing fine just — and he’ll probably remain a symbol for the grotesquely rich, trillionaire or not.