In February 2020, tweets and screenshots appeared, claiming that Amazon chief executive officer Jeff Bezos had recently purchased a $165 million house — typically with the caveat that the acquisition was about the same as someone who made $60,000 a year buying a house for $75:
By the time we got there, the Twitter account above was apparently suspended. However, the undated screenshot of a tweet read:
jeff bezos just spent $165,000,000.00 on a HOUSE and it didn’t cost him more than 18th of 1% of his fortune
if you make $60,000 a year, that’s like spending $75 on a house
.@ravenscooon suspsended for being honest
Jeff Bezos just spent $165,000,000 on a house and it didn’t cost him more than 1/8 of 1% of his fortune. If you make $60k a year, that’s like spending $75 on a house. We must eat the rich, owning that much wealth is criminal and immoral pic.twitter.com/GyvK1W0TEr
— Emily Kristen 🔜 NGHTMRE (@emkristen) February 14, 2020
Jeff Bezos bought the most expensive property in LA for $165 million ising an eighth of a percent of his net worth
— Pete (@peteccowan) February 14, 2020
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has bought the most expensive property in LA for $165 million.
(For context, $165 million is an eigth of a percent of Bezos’ $131.9 billion net worth. If you make $60,000 a year, that’s like spending $75 on a house)https://t.co/AO91ab3JmG
— PropertyCohort (@PropertyCohort) February 13, 2020
Let me say this again
Jeff Bezos buying a Beverly Hills mansion for $165 MILLION
Is like a person making $60,000 buying a house for $75.00
How did we let our country get to the point where this #inequality is acceptable, even banal?
— William Luddy (@luddy) February 13, 2020
The original tweet in the screenshot did not completely match the cited email. Cropped out were these words:
we must eat the rich. owning that much wealth is criminal and immoral
First things first: Bezos did purchase a mansion in Beverly Hills for $165 million, according to a February 12 2020 Wall Street Journal report:
Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos has purchased the Warner Estate from media mogul David Geffen for $165 million, according to people familiar with the transaction.
One element of the tweets which was accurately stated but was a somewhat variable comparison was that the home’s price tag purportedly referenced one-eighth of one percent of Bezos’ net worth. The comparison involved an annual salary of $60,000 for an average American, not their net worth. Wealth of tycoons and titans of industry is typically measured in terms of net worth, while most average wage earners’ annual salaries are the marker of their fiscal power.
One such page was strikingly similar in that it compared Bezos donating $98 million to a donation of $45 to a person earning $50,000 annually:
Clearly, our hypothetical everyman has had a good year thus far, receiving a $10,000 raise from $50,000 a year to $60,000 — earning 20 percent more year over year.
As for Bezos, his net worth according to Forbes was $129.7 billion on February 14 2020, down a billion from the previous day:
However, Bezos’ net worth was up considerably from $110 billion on November 26 2019, the day we published the $50,000/$45 fact check. And the claim to hand was a similar expression of mathematical concepts, namely: Is $165,000,000 to $129,000,000,000 as $75 is to $60,000?
Part of the claim is that $165,000,000 amounted to one-eighth of Bezos’ net worth, which was $129 billion on February 14 2020. We used a percentage calculator to determine what percent $165 million was of $130 billion:
Due to the number of zeroes, we ran the calculation several times and calculated 0.126 percent, indeed roughly one-eighth of one percent of Bezos’ net worth. Although $165 million sounds like a lot of money, it is not necessarily a lot when compared to even one billion — of which it is just over 16 percent.
Since the math as presented used net worth for super-wealthy people and an annual salary for an average American, the next portion involved the proportional value of $165 million when placed in terms of a $60,000 salary. For perspective, the median household income — for an entire household, not one wage earner — was $63,179 as of 2018 (the most up-to-date figures available in early 2020.)
So we have our percentage of Bezos’ net worth — 0.126 — which we can apply to the $60,000 figure to see if it totaled $75. We plugged those numbers into the same calculator:
Using the 0.126 percent value derived from the proportion of Bezos’ new $165 million house to his $129 or $130 billion net worth, we applied it to $60,000. In actuality, the putative house purchase would cost the $60,000 wage earner $75.60, not $75 even.
With a few caveats, the claims Jeff Bezos’ $165 million home purchase in February 2020 was one-eighth of a percentage of his then-current net worth and that the same percentage was equivalent to around $75 for a person making $60,000 a year are true. It is also true that Bezos’ net worth was not an annual salary per se, not money he necessarily received year-over-year like a salaried employee would. That discrepancy was largely due to standard wealth measurements as they applied to the very wealthy versus the middle class, whose wealth was more measurable in terms of the wages they earned than a net worth. Nevertheless, the very specific proportions were accurate and checked out down to about 60 cents rounded off.
Update, 2/18/2020 1:43pm: Changed “less than” to “roughly” in the following sentence: “Due to the number of zeroes, we ran the calculation several times, and calculated 0.126 percent, indeed roughly one-eighth of one percent of Bezos’ net worth.” We apologize for the error.