A small town in Wyoming is hoping that Bill Gates will pick it for his upcoming $1 billion next-generation nuclear power plant, which could save hundreds of local jobs.
TerraPower, Gates’ nuclear-power company, is considering Glenrock, Wyoming, for its first advanced Natrium reactor, per the Associated Press (AP). Gates has said the reactor would be safer and cost less than a traditional nuclear reactor.
A coal-fired power plant in Glenrock is due to shut in 2027, according to plans published by energy company PacifiCorp, the plant’s owner. The plant, called the Dave Johnston Power Plant, employs nearly 200 people from Glenrock and two nearby towns, Wyoming News reported.
Glenrock Mayor Bruce Roumell told Fox Business that the site could more than make up for lost coal jobs.
“We’ve been told it’ll be close to 250 people,” Roumell told Fox Business when asked how many jobs could be created. “They’ve also said there would be around 1,500 people in the construction phase. That’s a pretty good influx into this area for us.”
Gates said in a June press briefing that the Natirum reactor, which uses liquid sodium as its coolant instead of water, would be safer and cost less than a traditional nuclear reactor. In October 2020, the US Department of Energy awarded the project $80 million in initial funding, per a TerraPower press release.
In June, TerraPower said in a press release that it would select a town in Wyoming for its first reactor project, and that it would announce the site by the end of the year. Gillette, Kemmerer, and Rock Springs are the three other towns under consideration, per the AP.
TerraPower previously said the project would cost about $1 billion, Reuters reported.
Fox Business said that nearly all of Glenrock’s residents it spoke to were excited at the idea of TerraPower moving into town.
“We’ve got to do something,” resident Deb Schell told Fox Business. “I think it’s the wave of the future. Coal is on its way out so we have to do something.”
TerraPower and PacifiCorp did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
A former top executive at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has said that staff are “freaking out” about the nonprofit’s future, according to a report in the Financial Times.
“I think people are freaking out a little bit,” the unnamed former insider told the newspaper. “People are really worried that the credibility and standing of the foundation is in jeopardy now, especially in areas like gender empowerment.”
The Financial Times on Sunday reported hearing “murmurs of dissent and doubts” about the organization’s future.
Insider has reached out to the foundation for comment.
On Wednesday, the foundation announced that it would add trustees, saying those new voices would help drive its “strategic direction.” Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates also committed another $15 billion to the foundation.
“These new resources and the evolution of the foundation’s governance will sustain this ambitious mission and vital work for years to come,” Gates said Wednesday.
French Gates said: “I believe deeply in the foundation’s mission and remain fully committed as co-chair to its work.”
However, the release also signaled a shaky bond at the foundation’s highest level, with Gates and French Gates agreeing to only a two-year committement as co-chairs.
The press statement said the decision for both to remain was to “ensure the continuity of the foundation’s work.”
But, it said that “if after two years either decides they cannot continue to work together as co-chairs, French Gates will resign her position as co-chair and trustee.”
Warren Buffett and Bill Gates are very close friends who have partnered in philanthropy, political activism, and online bridge. Their iconic friendship began almost 30 years to the day on Fourth of July weekend, 1991.
Buffett was visiting Meg Greenfield, a Washington Post editor based in Washington state at the time, he recalled at Berkshire Hathaway’s annual meeting in 2000. Greenfield was friends with Gates’ parents, so she took Buffett down to visit them. Gates initially had no interest in meeting Buffett as he had little respect for the investor’s livelihood.
“I didn’t even want to meet Warren because I thought, ‘Hey, this guy buys and sells things, and so he found imperfections in terms of markets – that’s not value added to society, that’s a zero-sum game that is almost parasitic.’ That was my view before I met him … he wasn’t going to tell me about inventing something,” Gates said at a conference in 2019.
However, Gates changed his mind after Buffett began peppering him with “amazingly good questions that nobody had ever asked,” he recalled in a 2016 blog post.
Buffett wasn’t thrilled to meet Gates either, but he quickly warmed to the Microsoft cofounder.
“We hit it off immediately,” the investor said in 2000. “We had a great time. He had this chimpanzee to whom he was going to try and explain this technical stuff. But I was kind of an interesting chimpanzee to him, and he’s a terrific teacher.”
The fateful meeting ultimately led to Buffett pledging in 2006 to give virtually all of his wealth to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and four other foundations. He reached the halfway mark towards that goal last month, and decided it was the right time to resign as a trustee of the Gates Foundation.
Buffett and Gates have engaged in plenty of antics over the past three decades, from competing in newspaper-tossing and table-tennis competitions, to buying lunch at McDonald’s with coupons and picking up a shift at Berkshire-owned Dairy Queen. Gates also baked a cake to celebrate Buffett’s 90th birthday last fall.
Given their special bond, both billionaires must be very happy that they didn’t skip that Fourth of July gathering 30 years ago.
After 27 years in charge, Jeff Bezos is stepping down as Amazon CEO.
Over the last 16 months, Amazon experienced a surge in demand as the coronavirus pandemic forced people to shop online more than ever. And as Amazon’s stock has hit new highs, Bezos’ net worth has jumped as well: These days, he’s worth $199 billion, according to Bloomberg.
It hasn’t been all smooth sailing, however. Bezos began his career in the hedge fund world in the 1990s, then left a cushy job to launch his own startup that didn’t turn a profit for years. In 2018, he weathered a high-profile divorce scandal, and Amazon has faced scrutiny over how it treats its workers and the impact it has on the environment.
Here’s how Bezos got his start and built a trillion-dollar empire.
Allana Akhtar contributed to an earlier version of this story.
Jeff Bezos’ mom, Jackie, was a teenager when she had him in January 1964. She had recently married Cuban immigrant Miguel Bezos, who adopted Jeff. Jeff didn’t learn that Miguel wasn’t his real father until he was 10, but says he was more fazed about learning he needed to get glasses than he was about the news.
When Bezos was 4, his mother told his biological father, who previously had worked as a circus performer, to stay out of their lives. When Brad Stone interviewed Bezos’ biological father for Stone’s book “The Everything Store,” Bezos’ dad had no idea who his son had become.
His grandfather, Preston Gise, was a huge inspiration for Bezos and helped kindle his passion for intellectual pursuits. At a commencement address in 2010, Bezos said Gise taught him “it’s harder to be kind than clever.”
Bezos fell in love with reruns of the original “Star Trek” and became a fan of later versions too. Early on, he considered naming Amazon MakeItSo.com, a reference to a line from Captain Jean-Luc Picard.
After spending a miserable summer working at McDonald’s as a teen, Bezos, together with his girlfriend, started the Dream Institute, a 10-day summer camp for kids. They charged $600 a kid and managed to sign up six students. The “Lord of the Rings” series made the required reading list.
Meanwhile, Bezos was taking ballroom dancing classes as part of a scheme to increase his “women flow.” Just as Wall Streeters have a process for increasing their “deal flow,” Bezos thought analytically about meeting women.
In 1994, Bezos read that the web had grown 2,300% in one year. This number astounded him, and he decided he needed to find some way to take advantage of its rapid growth. He made a list of 20 possible products to sell online and decided books were the best option.
Bezos decided to leave D.E. Shaw even though he had a great job. His boss at the firm, David E. Shaw, tried to persuade Bezos to stay. But Bezos was already determined to start his own company – he felt he’d rather try and fail at a startup than never try at all.
“When you are in the thick of things, you can get confused by small stuff,” he said later. “I knew when I was 80 that I would never, for example, think about why I walked away from my 1994 Wall Street bonus right in the middle of the year at the worst possible time. That kind of thing just isn’t something you worry about when you’re 80 years old.”
“At the same time, I knew that I might sincerely regret not having participated in this thing called the Internet that I thought was going to be a revolutionizing event,” he added. “When I thought about it that way … it was incredibly easy to make the decision.”
And so Amazon was born. MacKenzie and Jeff flew to Texas to borrow a car from his father, and then they drove to Seattle. Bezos was making revenue projections in the passenger seat the whole way, though the couple did stop to watch the sunrise at the Grand Canyon.
In the early days, a bell would ring in the office every time someone made a purchase, and everyone would gather around to see whether anyone knew the customer. It took only a few weeks before it was ringing so often they had to make it stop.
Bezos is known for banning PowerPoint presentations at Amazon. Instead, he requires his staff to turn in papers of a specific length on their proposals to encourage critical thinking over simplistic bullet points.
Bezos is also known for creating a frugal company culture that doesn’t offer perks like free food or massages.
In 1998, Bezos became an early investor in Google. He invested $250,000, which was worth about 3.3 million shares when the company went public in 2004. Those would be worth billions today (Bezos hasn’t said whether he kept any of his stock after the initial public offering).
In January 2017, Bezos purchased the Textile Museum, a pair of mansions in Washington, D.C.’s Kalorama neighborhood. The property sold for $23 million and is the largest in Washington. He’s currently spending $12 million to renovate the place.
Bezos also owns four apartments at 212 Fifth Avenue in New York City. His most recent purchase in the building was last April, when he paid a reported $16 million for a three-bedroom unit, bringing his total real estate holdings in the building to nearly $100 million.
In February 2020, Bezos became the new owner of the Warner estate, a sprawling compound in Beverly Hills, California, that he reportedly purchased for $165 million. A few months later, Bezos added to the compound with an adjacent house worth $10 million.
In August 2017, Amazon officially acquired Whole Foods for $13.7 billion. The Amazon influence became immediately clear: Customers who are Amazon Prime subscribers can get 10% of sale prices, and you’ll see some Amazon branded items offered, including tech products like the popular Amazon Echo line.
In January 2019, Bezos and his wife of 25 years, novelist MacKenzie Bezos, announced they were divorcing. “As our family and close friends know, after a long period of loving exploration and trial separation, we have decided to divorce and continue our shared lives as friends,” the couple wrote in the statement. “If we had known we would separate after 25 years, we would do it all again.”
Shortly after the Bezoses announced their divorce last January, news broke that Bezos was dating TV host and helicopter pilot Lauren Sanchez.
At the time, the National Enquirer said it had conducted a four-month investigation into Bezos and Sanchez’s relationship and had obtained texts and explicit photos the couple had sent to each other.
Almost immediately, questions arose about the Enquirer’s motives for investigating Bezos and Sanchez and the tabloid’s connection to President Trump — Bezos immediately launched an investigation into who had leaked his personal messages.
Then, in February, Bezos dropped a bombshell of his own: an explosive blog post titled “No thank you, Mr. Pecker,” in which he accused Pecker and AMI of trying to blackmail him. As a result, Bezos published the emails he’d received from AMI.
“Rather than capitulate to extortion and blackmail, I’ve decided to publish exactly what they sent me, despite the personal cost and embarrassment they threaten,” Bezos wrote.
The Bezoses announced on Twitter they had finalized the term of their divorce in April 2019. MacKenzie retained more than $35 billion in Amazon stock, making her one of the world’s richest women.
During the coronavirus outbreak, Amazon saw a surge in demand as more people were forced to shop online. Amazon created more jobs and raised pay for workers, but Bezos and the company faced scrutiny over worker safety during the outbreak.
The company is also facing antitrust concerns, particularly the company’s practices when it comes to third-party sellers on its platform. Bezos and other major tech CEOs will testified in front of Congress at the end of July 2020.
After the killing of George Floyd and the protests that followed, Bezos was outspoken about his support for the Black Lives Matter movement, publicly shaming customers who sent racist emails about his and Amazon’s support. In an Instagram post, he posted a screenshot of a customer email and described the man as “the kind of customer I’m happy to lose.”
In recent months, Bezos and Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk have seen their respective net worths spike. The two moguls have flip-flopped for the spot of world’s richest person, though it appears Bezos is staying on top with a fortune worth nearly $200 billion.
“Being the CEO of Amazon is a deep responsibility, and it’s consuming,” Bezos wrote. “When you have a responsibility like that, it’s hard to put attention on anything else.”
Bezos said that while he will still be involved in important initiatives at Amazon, he plans to spend more time on philanthropy — including the Bezos Earth Fund and his Day 1 Fund — as well as his two other major endeavors: the Washington Post, which he purchased 2013, and his rocket company, Blue Origin.
Bezos’ next adventure won’t take place on planet Earth. On July 20, he’ll take an 11-minute voyage to the edge of space aboard a Blue Origin spacecraft. He’ll be accompanied by his brother, Mark; a mysterious bidder who bought the seat for $28 million; and Wally Funk, an 82-year-old aviator who trained to go to space in the ’60s but was ultimately denied the opportunity because she was a woman.
During Microsoft’s early days in the late 80’s and early 90’s, Bill Gates had a propensity for partying, insiders said.
On more than one occasion, during nights he wasn’t working his usual 17-hour days, he invited friends and dancers from local all-nude nightclubs to swim naked at his Laurelhurst bachelor pad overlooking Lake Washington, James Wallace, who wrote two biographies on Gates, said.
“Gates himself rounded up the girls and brought them over there,” Wallace said. “I don’t know if he physically transported them or if he just told them where to show up.”
Gates was a regular attendee of exclusive after-parties at major computer expo trade conferences like Comdex and Demo, where Gates was often the keynote speaker. “Bill drank, and he got drunk pretty easily,” said Robert X. Cringely, who wrote a popular computer gossip column for InfoWorld around that time.
“All of us will have been at some affair where Bill was clearly impaired. He was happier” drunk, Cringely said.
Gates preferred to keep his romantic options open while he was dating Melinda, and he struggled to commit to her. “Bill wanted to be married, but he didn’t know whether he could actually commit to it and have Microsoft,” Melinda said of the time they were dating in an interview for the Netflix docuseries “Inside Bill’s Brain: Decoding Bill Gates.
In a statement, Gates’ spokesperson said, “It is extremely disappointing that there have been so many lies published about the cause, the circumstances and the timeline of Bill Gates’s divorce. The rumors and speculation surrounding Mr. Gates are becoming increasingly absurd and it’s unfortunate that people who have little to no knowledge are being characterized as ‘sources.'”
Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates think of their charitable foundation as another one of their children, according to reporting in The Wall Street Journal.
Gates Foundation CEO Mark Suzman told the Journal that the pair, who have three kids together, “view this as, this is their fourth child.” Gates and French Gates have put much of their $130 billion fortune towards philanthropic efforts through their foundation.
The foundation is committing $2.1 billion over five years to efforts to achieve gender equality, the Journal reported Wednesday. The money will go toward broadening access to birth control, securing training and financial services for women, and propelling women into leadership positions in economics, health, and law, according to the Journal.
The announcement tracks with French Gates’ prior advocacy on women’s issues. The philanthropist previously pledged $1 billion towards gender equality initiatives in 2019.
The Microsoft cofounder and French Gates intend to remain co-chairs of their foundation despite divorcing in May after 27 years of marriage.
“After a great deal of thought and a lot of work on our relationship, we have made the decision to end our marriage,” Gates and French Gates said at the time. “Over the last 27 years, we have raised three incredible children and built a foundation that works all over the world to enable all people to lead healthy, productive lives. We continue to share a belief in that mission and will continue our work together at the foundation, but we no longer believe we can grow together as a couple in this next phase of our lives.”
Weeks after the two announced their split, Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett resigned as a trustee of the Gates Foundation.
“My goals are 100% in sync with those of the foundation, and my physical participation is in no way needed to achieve these goals,” Buffett said in his announcement.
America’s 10 wealthiest billionaire families saw their median wealth grow by 25%, per a new report from the left-leaning Institute for Policy Studies. Their net worth collectively increased by $136 billion since the pandemic began in March 2020.
Titled “Silver Spoon Oligarchs,” the report examines the growing concentration of wealth in the US by looking at the top 50 dynastically wealthy families from Forbes’ inaugural ranking of America’s wealthiest clans, published in December 2020, and data from the Federal Reserve‘s Survey of Consumer Finance.
Each family’s wealth comes from companies started by an earlier generation, whether a parent or distant ancestor, according to the report, and each represents a wealth dynasty passing generation to generation.
The ranks of these dynastic fortunes have remained largely unchanged for decades, per the report, and their wealth has grown exponentially during the pandemic.
The Lauder family, the cosmetics magnate behind the Estée Lauder empire, gained the most during the pandemic, nearly doubling its wealth with 83% growth. Even the family with the smallest wealth gains, SC Johnson, saw 9% growth – an increase of just over $1 billion.
“At a time when unemployment rates have skyrocketed and many American families have been struggling to get by, the very wealthiest families in the country have watched their assets multiply,” the report reads.
The pandemic exacerbated America’s wealth disparities
It’s the latest in the story of America’s K-shaped recovery. The pandemic widened wealth inequality in America, exposing preexisting disparities in wealth, in the sense that when the recovery began, upper middle class and wealthy Americans formed an upward leg of a K shape, while the rest saw their fortunes worsen.
But some billionaires have been thinking twice about how they’re tackling generational wealth. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett plan to give most of their money away through the Giving Pledge, instead of keeping it in the family.
It claims to provide an insight into how prominent billionaires such as Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Michael Bloomberg take advantage of “tax avoidance strategies” beyond the reach of ordinary people.
Though there is general public consensus on the illegality of tax evasion – the act of deliberately not paying taxes that are due – much more variance exists in how the public evaluates and scrutinizes tax avoidance strategies that seek to minimize the amount an individual pays through legal loopholes. There is no suggestion that the billionaires in the ProPublica report did anything illegal.
A poll taken just before the 2016 election found that nearly half of Americans agreed with Donald Trump – another wealthy individual not averse to tax avoidance strategies – who noted that paying minimal or no taxes is “smart.” But two-thirds said it is “selfish” and 61% declared it to be “unpatriotic.”
As a scholar who studies business ethics, I see these differences in how individuals view and rationalize tax avoidance as being dependent on a person’s ethical foundations. Ethical foundations are the principles, norms, and values that guide individual or group beliefs and behaviors. They can shape what people believe is important – such as fairness, care for oneself or others, loyalty, and liberty – and guide judgments about what is right, or ethical, and what is wrong, or unethical.
Philosophers have debated these ethical foundations for centuries, coming up broadly with three different perspectives that are worth exploring in the context of tax avoidance strategies.
Thinkers from Immanuel Kant to John Rawls have offered what has been called the deontological argument. This emphasizes ethics based on adherence to rules, regulations, laws, and norms. Such an approach suggests that “what is right” is defined as that which is most in line with an individual’s responsibility and duty toward society.
Meanwhile, utilitarian philosophers such as John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham put forward an argument that recognizes the costs and benefits, or even trade-offs, in pursuing what is right. Under this belief system, called consequentialism, behaviors are ethical if the outcome is beneficial to the greatest number of people, even if it comes at a cost.
A third perspective comes in the shape of what is called the virtue ethical foundation that is associated with Aristotle and other Greek philosophers. This suggests that what is right is that which elevates the individual’s virtues and efforts toward moral excellence – defined by both avoiding vices and striving to do good. In this way, ethical behavior is that which enables the individual to achieve his or her most excellent moral self.
On morals and money
When applied to the tax avoidance strategies of individuals, each perspective offers a unique understanding of why individuals differ on what they view to be “right.”
An individual who adopts the deontological perspective likely evaluates a public figure’s tax avoidance strategies – and that of others – with less scrutiny. As long as an individual follows the tax code, and acts legally, the tax avoidance strategies are likely to be viewed by that individual as ethical.
In contrast, a consequentialist is likely to evaluate tax avoidance strategies by also looking at how those taxes could have been used to benefit society – by paying for schools and hospitals, for example. When one individual – be it a billionaire or any other person – avoids taxes, it increases the costs experienced by everyone else while also decreasing the benefits experienced by society as a whole.
The cost to society in terms of lesser funding for programs and services supported by tax dollars may be even greater when a wealthy individual avoids taxes, given what is likely a higher tax responsibility than that of individuals with modest incomes. Thus, consequentialist individuals may well conclude that tax avoidance strategies are unethical.
An individual who adopts the virtue perspective of Aristotle might evaluate tax avoidance strategies in the context of an individual’s other virtuous behaviors. If someone avoids taxes but provides financial support to other institutions or entities that are meaningful to the tax avoider but also produce benefits for society, then the virtuous individual may view this behavior with less disdain.
For example, someone may use tax avoidance strategies and direct some wealth to provide funding directly to an academic health care center for cancer research. But if that person employs tax avoidance strategies in the absence of any other virtuous behaviors, then the tax avoidance is likely to be seen and rationalized as unethical.
So whether tax avoidance strategies are viewed and rationalized as ethical or unethical likely depends on the ethical foundations of the person judging such actions.
But when it comes to public figures and the superrich, there are additional ethical concerns at play here. Public figures are evaluated not just on their own personal morality, but also by what influence their behaviors could have on others. If the superrich avoid taxes, it might signal to the public to do the same, which could have greater consequences. The public often demands more of the superrich – and ethics are no exception. The expectation is that these individuals, as leaders in society, should create benefits for society through their behaviors. As a result, these individuals may be held to a higher ethical standard and their behaviors more closely scrutinized.
As such, the question of whether the tax avoidance strategies of the ultrawealthy are “ethical” depends not only on the ethical foundation of the individual who views and judges the behavior but also on the expectation of the ultrawealthy to create benefits for society.
Bezos can skip paying taxes on his accumulated wealth from the Amazon stock because stock gains aren’t taxed until they are realized by selling off the stock: Since those stocks represent value, but cannot be used as tender, they aren’t counted as “income” – even if they appreciate in value tremendously, like those of Amazon and Tesla.
As a result, though Bezos’ net worth increased by a reported $127 billion between 2006 and 2018, he only reported an income of $6.5 billion for those 12 years, according to ProPublica, resulting in a tax bill of around $1.4 billion.
That puts his federal income tax rate at about 21%, but his reported income doesn’t account for the massive increase in his net worth tied to stock ownership.
If you account for the $127 billion increase to his net worth that came from stocks appreciating in value over time, that $1.4 billion in federal income taxes accounts for just over 1%.
Moreover, Bezos and other stock-holding billionaires are able to turn those stocks into usable cash without having to sell: By borrowing money against their stock holdings, they’re able to lock in a lower loan interest rate than what they would pay through capital gains taxes that are applied after a stock is sold.
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Occasionally, Cohen said the spouses of very wealthy people don’t ask for as much money as they could and instead settle for much less. He added that if he thinks a client is about to do a deal he thinks is “egregiously bad,” he’ll advise them to not to take it.
“I might push them a little bit and try to get them to see the other side of it,” he said. “Remember: for the unmoneyed spouse, it’s likely to be the largest business deal that they’ll ever do in their life. And they really need to think about it, because they may not have a second opportunity.”
Some clients will find a happy medium between the extremes of accepting too little or demanding too much of their spouse, and those are the cases Cohen says he resolves fairly easily out of court.
If Cohen were to represent the wife of a man who’s worth $500 million, he said it wouldn’t be unusual for that client to ask him to win a settlement closer to $100 million or $115 million, rather than a full $250 million. In such a case, Cohen said he could simply call up the lawyer representing the hypothetical husband – it’s a small number of elite divorce lawyers handling these cases, and they all know each other.
“You’ll never get that deal again,” Cohen said. “Because if we go to court and we have to fight about that, you know what the end result is going to be, because I know what the end result is going to be, and you’re a smart guy.”
Though the famed Manhattan lawyer has a long reputation for being “mean” and a “killer,” Cohen said people would be surprised by how fair he tries to be. He said he often has to remind his clients that what they consider fair may be very different from what their spouse considers fair.
“One of my jobs is not only to do well for my client, but I think one of my jobs is also to make it possible that both parties at the end of the day feel reasonably good about the resolution,” he said. “Especially if there are children involved.”
Cohen considers himself something of an expert at determining what’s a square deal: He’s known for winning the first major equitable-distribution case in New York in 1985, Karp v. Karp, after the state’s divorce laws required marital assets to be split “equitably” – which means the assets must be distributed fairly, but not necessarily 50/50.
“To be candid, I’d like my client to come out a little better than ‘reasonably fair,’ but nevertheless, I want both people to walk away and say, ‘I did okay,'” Cohen said.
But he acknowledged that he has to get “clever” at times when fairness doesn’t cut it. When neither side can agree on the amount of money that should be paid to or received by a given spouse, Cohen often will propose taking that sum and creating a trust for the couple’s children.
“You’re doing something you’re likely to do anyway, which is leave money to your kids,” he said. “It’s a way to sort of get around the delta that we sometimes run into.”