That’s rich: Seattle and the world’s two wealthiest men

Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos are the two richest people on earth and both live in metro Seattle. Is it us or is it them?

I can never match the late Emmett Watson, the revered columnist who created the fictional Lesser Seattle organization. But I do claim credit for the term “Bill Luck” to explain much of Seattle’s economic success.

As in Bill Boeing and Bill Gates. What if they had based their companies in, say, Detroit and Albuquerque? If not for Bill Luck, the history of the Puget Sound region would have been quite different. Two men, two different eras and industries — although Boeing is now a high-tech company in its own right and Microsoft is in the cloud.

Alas, Bill Luck must make way for the Jeff Bezos windfall. It has been profound.

Earlier this spring, Bloomberg calculated that the No. 1 and No. 2 richest people on the planet were Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos. As of today, Gates’ net worth is pegged at $87.4 billion and Bezos stands at $82 billion. In the latter case, not bad for a kid from New Mexico who bootstrapped his way up with brains, hard work and a $300,000 loan from his parents.

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My colleague Danny Westneat discussed how these and most other local toffs don’t live in the city proper, so they would be immune to Seattle’s proposed income tax.  Instead, I wonder what it means that the two richest men in the world have their primary residences in metropolitan Seattle? Maybe it doesn’t mean anything. Charles and David Koch, No. 10 and 11 on the list, are from Wichita, Kan. Warren Buffett, No. 4, is the Oracle of similarly modest Omaha.

On the other hand, perhaps it is leavened with meaning.

One can hardly say Seattle is an anti-business blue-city hellhole when it attracts such moguls — and, more importantly, the headquarters and thousands of well-paying jobs from their enterprises. On the other hand, it’s got to chap the angriest of the local progressives that Gates and Bezos are here. In their cosmology, inequality is worsening because the market has unfairly rewarded people like these two.

That’s an argument for another day, and it would have some merit if the debate focused on the loss of a progressive tax system, which allows for the accumulation of vast fortunes while public needs are starved.

Gates and Bezos are emblematic of the sharp evolution of Seattle from a city with a large middle-class majority to one with unprecedented wealth held by a relative minority. Advanced technology’s leaders have become the railroad barons of today. But install the kind of taxation that existed in mid-20th century America, when the middle class was at its height, and this kismet of the two richest people being here would likely still be a reality.

Gates and Bezos are metropolitan assets, too. In addition to locating their companies and many jobs here, each has given a great deal. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is not…

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