February 9, 2012

Beyonce, Jay-Z, and… Steinbeck?

It has always seemed strange to me... the things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling, are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest, are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second.” – John Steinbeck

It would be unfair of me to place Beyonce Knowles and husband Shawn Carter (better known as Jay-Z, I guess) in either of Steinbeck’s above classifications.  But I’ll do it anyway.  At least partially.

In risk of classifying myself as judgmental I’ll declare the famous newbie parents as greedy.  Any other assumptions would be gut reactions (Shawn’s lyrics certainly paint a picture of a self-loving egotist, but maybe that’s just his Jay-Z character), but I’ve got some numbers to indicate their greed.

According to therichest.org, in 2011 Jay-Z had a net worth of $450 million while Beyonce rang in at $300 million.  Together, that’s 3/4 billion dollars, which is roughly 3/4 billion dollars more than my net worth.

While specific charitable donations are difficult to uncover, I found Beyonce donated $100,000 in 2008 to the Gulf Coast Ike Relief Fund.  She’s also agreed to donate $100,000 annually to a cosmetology center she and her mom opened in 2010.

According to multiple sources, Jay-Z and Sean Combs together donated $1 million to the Red Cross for Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.  Beyond that donation, most of Jay-Z’s philanthropic efforts come through words and a little bit of time.

Let’s give the couple the benefit of the doubt and just prorate Jay-Z’s Red Cross donation and Beyonce’s Gulf Coast Relief Fund donation over five years and even tack on a little extra for good measure.  Let’s say their charitable donations annually are $500,000.  It’s quite clear they’re not, but let’s just say they are.

With estimated collective earnings in 2011 of $72 million (according to therichest.org), their $500,000 charitable donations would be just under 0.7% of their income.

Contrast this with the $600,000 gold rocking horse Jay-Z bought for their new baby and an estimated $900,000 in additional expenses spent on the baby in its first days of life.

My point isn’t that we should give all our money to charity and not spoil our babies at least a little, but come on.  Imagine how many starving children could have lived off the money for that rocking horse.

And I really don’t mean to pick on Beyonce and Shawn.  They’ve both got decent rags to riches tales that I admire.  It’s just a shame their riches have blinded them to what it means to still be in rags.

I’m also aware that their income and charitable donations are not my business.  Honestly, I wish there wasn’t so much easily attainable information like this on the Internet.

Picking on the wealthy is like shooting fish in a barrel for those of us far from their financial fortune.  Does some of my anger come from jealousy?  Sure.  But in this world where people live in cardboard boxes and eat garbage and drink contaminated water, who has the ego to buy a $600,000 gold rocking horse for a baby that can’t tell the difference between gold, plastic, and wood?

This kind of behavior sickens me, but more than anything, it motivates me.  Anyone else want to become rich and famous so we can teach these people the real value of their wealth?  Let’s go.