It’s always fun when top executives at technology companies do something controversial: it becomes fodder for interesting discussion. The latest is Jeff Bezos’s $2.5 million donation to a campaign in Washington State supporting definition of marriage to include same-sex couples. It is not my intent with this editorial to tackle the issue of the definition of marriage—a matter that is far beyond the scope of The Data Center Journal—but it is my intent to offer a modest proposal that, for good or ill, would save Amazon and Bezos lots of trouble from both sides, not to mention a hefty wad of Bezos’s cash. It’s also one that could have some more significant benefits for technology companies and the economy at large.
The Problem: Political Actions Affect Companies Like Amazon
First, it’s important to note that it was Bezos—not Amazon—that donated money to the Washington campaign. Yes, Bezos is CEO of Amazon, but that doesn’t mean Amazon must be logically implicated in all his decisions, whether good or bad. Bezos may run a good company and simply have a penchant for donating to bad (depending on your perspective) political causes. That being said, customers of Amazon’s retail products or its cloud services are not necessarily supporting Bezos’s political views by patronizing his company. After all, every large company has employees with bizarre views—no one interviews every employee of each company before doing business. So, some distinctions must be made.
On the other hand, however, the CEO is the leader and in many ways the public face of a company, and what he or she does still has some reflection on that company. Hence, scandals erupt when, for instance, a company executive is shown to have lied or erred on a resume (Yahoo’s former CEO Scott Thompson is one example). Thus, despite the need for some distinctions between a company and its CEO, these distinctions are not always clear. If it bothers your conscience that the Amazon CEO gave money to a political cause you don’t agree with, you’re free (for now, anyway) to take your business elsewhere.
Unfortunately, far too much of life has been politicized. When something happens that someone doesn’t like, calls for new legislation invariably follow (the “there should be a law against that” syndrome)—and a cadre of politicians looking to buy votes is always at the ready to heed the call. In a nation that is on the edge of another economic recession (“Gross Says U.S. Nearing Recession as BlackRock Sees Fed Step”) and on a military collision course with even more countries (Syria and Iran), the attention of the people is far too often captured by issues that should not even be in the purview of the state (“Financial Markets Panic, Euro Riots Rage, While US Obsesses Over Gay Marriage”).
What ever should be done?
My proposal is simple. Get the state out of the marriage business. If two people want to make a binding contract between them that grants each party certain rights (e.g., hospital visitation, beneficiary status or whatever) and responsibilities, that’s their business and no one else’s. Let the courts adjudicate matters that arise under those contracts. If the parties involved want to call the contract a “marriage,” a “civil union” or a “banana,” that’s up to them. Problem solved. A cultural/intellectual battle may arise over what constitutes marriage in the ontological or moral sense, but that can be handled by individuals rather than imposed collectively by the force of a government that has no business in the matter.
Furthermore, Jeff Bezos and others would no longer need to pour money into campaigns for this or that legislation on the matter. And let’s be honest: Bezos’s donation seems large to those who aren’t super wealthy, but $2.5 million represents only about 0.01% of his net worth (“Bloomberg Billionaires Index”). That’s about the same as the average American family donating roughly $8.75 (“The American Dream Shrinks: Avg. Net Worth Falls 40% From 2007-2010”). If that doesn’t fit the definition of “chump change,” I don’t know what does. So, Bezos may have certain political/ideological inclinations regarding the definition of marriage, but he can hardly be considered a crusader at this point.
Perhaps the main objection would revolve around tax status. Marriage confers certain tax benefits that people may be aiming for. Eliminating the government’s role (regardless of level) in marriage would necessitate eliminating these benefits. So why not just cut everybody’s taxes as a compromise?
What’s the Benefit?
As I mentioned above, far too much of life has been politicized. Many (I daresay most) business owners—especially entrepreneurs in IT, data centers and related industries—would love to have reduced interaction with government by way of fewer regulations, lower taxes and less snooping in their business. The first step to de-politicizing life is to stop looking to the state to resolve matters that it has no business in. If the state doesn’t license marriage, then there’s no need for legislation on marriage—and less work for governments to do, as well as fewer workers it must collect taxes support. And this is just a relatively small matter that I have only brought to the fore because it involves a CEO of a major player in the cloud, technology and retail spaces.
Will my proposal make the issue of marriage go away? No. But it will largely take money (taxpayers’ and otherwise) out of the equation and thereby likely reduce the bitterness to a small extent. And it will defuse some of the more inane arguments from the political left and right of the issue. For instance, ostensible small-government conservatives can stop appealing to the government to involve itself in more of life, and love-and-peace liberals can stop their mean-spirited attacks on those who disagree with them. And perhaps we can all be spared the kind of whoa-is-me-not-enough-love-but-you’re-a-troglodyte vituperation displayed in a recent ZDNet article (“Straight talk on Bezos $2.5 million same-sex marriage donation”).
I’m not trying to downplay the matter of the definition of marriage. I do think some perspective is needed, however. Get government out of the marriage business and most of the problem goes away. This would also be a small but important step toward reversing the trend toward complete government intervention in and control over every aspect of life. And yes, that means some people are going to do things you don’t like. We could probably all use a bit more of a live-and-let-live attitude.
As for Jeff Bezos in particular, his donation isn’t really all that impressive when you look at how much he has at his disposal. I don’t mean to say it’s entirely insignificant, nor am I criticizing his accumulation of wealth, but it shouldn’t be viewed as a huge sacrifice. For my own part, I will continue to patronize Amazon: I think the good that it offers outweighs personal nonsense from its CEO. If Amazon itself were making contributions to this or that political campaign with which I disagreed strongly, I might reevaluate my patronage. But the point is this: if you only do business with perfect people and companies, you’re going to be permanently idle. There’s a time to draw a line in the sand, and there’s a time to overlook questionable views and behaviors. And there’s also a time to mind your own business and not someone else’s.
Photo courtesy of sam_churchill