Paul McNamee: We can all be change-makers

The technological leaps driven by Bezos and Gates have brought labour-saving to society – but also narrowed our horizons

Jeff Bezos is the world’s richest man. Or at least he was. For an hour or two.

Last week it was nip and tuck between him and Bill Gates for the crown. At one point, there was $1bn separating them. Or as some financial pages had it, just $1bn. Just.

Forget Love Island. Forget Scaramucci and his sound and fury. The thing driving headlines was a race to riches that would make Croesus blush.

And what’s so wrong with that? Both men have been responsible for a change in the way we live that is so influential it’s up there with the invention of the internal combustion engine.

Such is their vast wealth that both men are dealing with their guilt by trying to give money away and do good

Amazon now accounts for 43 per cent of EVERYTHING sold online in the US alone. We’ve all been touched by the Microsoft revolution. Such is their vast wealth that both men are dealing with their guilt by trying to give money away and do good.

Gates’ money is helping eradicate polio. That’s worth applause. And he has some smart thinking around how taxes on automation could mean there is a future for us all.

Bezos, who has previously been a little reluctant to really splash it, said he wanted to help “people in the here and now – short term – at the intersection of urgent need and lasting impact”.

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Sounds like he wants to get on The Big Issue Prevention bus. If you do, you’re very welcome Jeff. Give us a shout.

There are, of course, issues with such extreme wealth being funnelled to a few individuals.

With their companies, issues arise around monopolies and the lifeblood not flowing to smaller companies. And there are issues around our own consumerist desires that have grown as Amazon has grown. What precipitated what? John Bird has some things to say about this. Of course, The Big Issue Shop offers an alternative. Shopping that does good, while still delivering what you need. It’s a way ahead.

However, the most fundamental change that the technological leaps driven by Bezos and Gates have brought is behavioural. Their smarts have led to labour-saving but also to narrowed horizons.

The Big Issue men and women make a difference and leave an indelible mark

We don’t need to go outside. And the less we need to go outside, the less we see the world in all its beauty and its brutal glory. The less chance we will have of meeting people like Chris McCormack.

Chris (below) was a Big Issue man, one of our vendors. He died very recently. The outpouring of grief has been incredibly moving. A lot of readers have contacted The Big Issue passing on their tributes. Newspapers, including The i, have run special memorial pieces.

Chris touched lives. Like so many of our vendors, he was a treasured part of his community. His death, coming so soon after the death of Bob MacLeod, another Big Issue man, much loved by his customers and friends in Brighton, illustrates two things.

Chris McCormack

The first, that life for our vendors, for the most vulnerable in society, is hard. Death comes early. It is an unforgiving place. We need to tackle this, and stop people ravaged by poverty ending up on the streets in the first place.

It also shows how The Big Issue men and women make a difference and leave an indelible mark. We should do more to notice them. Not to be so internal but to go out and look around and speak.

“Sometimes you feel invisible,” said Chris last year. “If people acknowledge me and say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ that’s alright, at least they know I’m here and I’m getting a bit of social interaction with them.”

Spread the word. It doesn’t take much.