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How Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos can help save our democracy

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Andy Serwer, Yahoo Finance’s Editor in Chief joins the Yahoo Finance Live panel to discuss how Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos can help save our democracy.

Video Transcript

ZACK GUZMAN: Well, of course, they say the rich get richer. And America's tech billionaires are proving that to be the case in this pandemic. Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Amazon's Jeff Bezos have both seen their wealth soar, along with other tech billionaires. So what role should they be playing in helping the nation now?

Here for more on that is Yahoo Finance's editor in chief Andy Serwer. And Andy, as you point out in your latest column, I mean, both those guys trail Bill Gates by a bit in terms of charity. So what more could they be doing here?

ANDY SERWER: Yeah, Zack, you know, it's kind of not fair to compare Elon and even Jeff Bezos to Bill Gates in a sense because Bill Gates has been richer a lot longer. Although, of course, Jeff Bezos has been wealthy for some time right now.

But you know, it's kind of a moving target. In other words, this is a problem that Andy Serwer and Zack Guzman probably do not have, which is when your wealth increased by billions and billions and billions and tens of billions of every month, every year, every week, every day, which is what's happened with these guys. So particularly with Elon, I mean, for instance, you know, in September the guy was worth $60 billion. And now is worth almost $200 billion.

So when he was planning his philanthropy a number of years ago, let's say he was worth a couple hundred million dollars. That means, well, you're going to plan X, Y, and Z, whereas today, it doesn't even make sense anymore.

But they need to step up. They have stepped up to a degree. And Elon even, Zack, put out a tweet just a couple of weeks ago saying, hey, listen, I need help here figuring out what to do with all my money when it comes to philanthropy.

EMILY MCCORMICK: And Andy, to that point about Elon Musk actually asking for help in directing some of his newfound wealth, I'm wondering if philanthropy is even really a reasonable long-term solution to this issue or if it is going to take policy changes and other solutions out of Washington, potentially, to enact some of these changes and redistribute this wealth.

ANDY SERWER: Yeah. I mean, that's a great point, Emily. And when you look at Bill Gates, I actually think that he's thinking about dispersing his wealth, redistributing his wealth. And that's what the Giving Pledge that he's done with Warren Buffett, which is giving away at least half of your money-- and he's been very active doing that.

But with people like Musk and Bezos, they're not particularly interested in doing that. They have such great wealth and power through their companies, of course, Amazon and Musk's company for Tesla and all the rest of them, that they've got incredible market and economic power as well.

And so sure, the government can look to break them up. Or these people could look to break these companies up themselves, which sounds like a radical step. But actually, if you put your ego aside, you guys, I think it's a really great solution because what it does is it minimizes this concentration of power.

And it also would probably provide excess returns for shareholders as well. It is true that you never CEOs doing this unless their companies are underperforming. And you certainly can't say that about Tesla and Amazon right now. But at some point, to preempt the natural entropy that's going to happen to their companies just when they get too big and/or to actually preempt government action, I really think it's something that these guys and others like Sundar Pichai and maybe even Tim Cook and certainly Mark Zuckerberg should consider.

ZACK GUZMAN: Yeah. And you wonder how much pressure might be added by some of the regulations we're talking about now. Obviously, image matters in that battle and trying to stave off increased pressure to maybe break up some of these companies.

And I don't know individually. On an individual basis, I'm not sure how much more pressure is maybe added in the Bezos situation because of his ex-wife's increasing role in philanthropy as well. I mean, we've seen MacKenzie Bezos Scott do quite a bit of things recently.

ANDY SERWER: Yes, she's a really interesting situation. And you know, first of all, there's this war between Bezos and Musk as to which one's richer. If Jeff Bezos and MacKenzie Scott had not gotten divorced, they'd be richer by far. I mean, that would be in excess of $250 billion towards $300 billion. And so MacKenzie Scott, yeah, got divorced from Bezos two years ago and now has ended up with $60 billion or so.

And she's been giving away her money at a very rapid clip and just doesn't want to sit there with it. And actually, I think, may have spurred Bezos to do what is apparently the biggest philanthropic gift of 2020, which was $10 billion. So this sort of one-upmanship, if you will, between two ex-spouses might be really benefiting Americans and people around the world. Interesting stuff.

ZACK GUZMAN: Yeah, that might be the one takeaway, Andy, there for people who might not be billionaires. Still an important decision on marriage and wealth and how that factors into all these things as well. But Andy Serwer, editor in chief of Yahoo Finance, appreciate you coming on here to chat.