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A Bridge Too Far for Jeff Bezos?

How much is too much?

At what point do wealth and the trappings of success become excessive, extravagant and extreme? Is there a line, or an unspoken social contract?

In the Netherlands, a proposal for the temporary dismantling of a historic bridge to make way for a new superyacht reportedly built for West Coast sailor Jeff Bezos was, for some people, a step too far. Stories about the bridge quickly rippled through the internet, stoked ire, and now seem to symbolize an idea both incontrovertible and difficult to articulate.

In early February, a Dutch public broadcaster announced that the city of Rotterdam had said that it would dismantle the middle section of 95-year-old Koningshaven Bridge to accommodate the passage of Y721, the 417-ft, three-masted sailing megayacht said to have been commissioned for the founder of Amazon. The New York Times reported that a few days after the initial announcement — and in the midst of a brewing kerfuffle — officials said they had not yet approved the plan, but had received a request from the shipbuilder, Oceanco. In a statement, the city said it would assess the environmental and economic effects of the plans, and that Oceanco would cover the cost of deconstruction, and restore the bridge “immediately afterward.”

The Koningshaven railway bridge was the first of its kind in Western Europe, according to the (Jeff Bezos-owned) Washington Post, with a central span that could be lifted 130 feet to allow ship traffic to pass underneath. (With Y721’s estimated maximum mast height at 229-ft, Bezos might have to temporarily dismantle the Golden Gate if he wanted to visit the Bay Area, since the iconic and very-much-in-use bridge’s clearance is only 220 feet at high tide).
© 2022 wikipedia

Decommissioned in 1994 after being replaced by a tunnel, the bridge — known to locals as ‘De Hef’ — is a national heritage landmark of restored, postwar Rotterdam. A Dutch writer told the Times that when the city proposed removing the shuttered bridge in the 1990s, there were “major protests.”

The notion of messing with De Hef has sparked new protests, as nearly 5,000 people have signed up on Facebook for the event, “Throwing eggs at superyacht Jeff Bezos.”

The photo for the event Eieren gooien naar superjacht Jeff Bezos, as seen on Facebook. Clearly, someone photoshopped in an image of Black Pearl, also built by Oceanco, and similar to the Maltese Falcon, which stars in this month’s Caption Contest(!).
© 2022 Eieren gooien naar superjacht Jeff Bezos | Throwing eggs at superyacht Jeff/Pablo Strörmann

What, exactly, are people so outraged about? What was the transgression? We ask again, where is the line? Is it boats over a certain footage — say 400-ft? Is it when you have a 246-ft tender for the superyacht? Is it when your boat is so big that you have to literally dismantle public infrastructure to pass through?

Has the pendulum swung too far? Did the pendulum climb aboard a rocket curiously shaped like a penis and blast off into space? When does one go from being successful and rich to being ostentatious? In the parlance of our time, at what point does someone become a douche?

This is where extremes start to color the debate. Figures like Jeff Bezos are portrayed either as cartoonish, mustache-twisting villains, as Dickens characters, as Bond villains, or conversely, as heroes, as job creators, as John Galt incarnate, as visionaries for whom we, as consumers, reap the benefits of their genius.

Titans of industry — especially Jeff Bezos — become lightning rods for larger political conversations.

So what does the De Hef bridge really symbolize?

This is where we drift into territory that surely all of you come to this sailing magazine and website to discuss: marginal tax rates, capital-gains taxes, and the success and failures of the monetary policies of capitalism and socialism.

Amazon has paid very little in corporate and federal taxes over the last few years, and cities often pay Amazon millions of dollars to open new warehouses. “Where in Wealth of Nations did Adam Smith write that this is how the ‘Invisible Hand’ should work?” said one Latitude reader when we wrote about Jeff Bezos’ “excesses” a few months ago. “[Bezos’] fortune is a policy failure, an indictment of a tax and transfer system and a business and regulatory environment designed to  supercharging the earnings of and encouraging wealth accumulation among the few,” The Atlantic wrote.

Most Latitude readers were overwhelmingly supportive of Bezos in our previous story. “A person has the right to spend what he earns on his creation without being sent on a guilt trip for doing so,” said one reader. “When I make my billions, I will be able to judge Jeff Bezos,” said another. Several people said that Bezos had created millions of jobs, and that some amount of wealth circulates, recycles, and trickles down.

When the sun finally sets on the De Hef controversy, what symbol of wealth inequality will be next?
© 2022 Rotterdam Raw

If you comment on this story, then we challenge you to go beyond the usual talking points and the extreme tropes of what billionaires are perceived to be — either the hero or the villain. We are asking for nuance. We are asking: How much is too much? What would be a bridge too far?

11 Comments

  1. Anneke Dury 9 months ago

    This completely missed the point: Bezos buys a boat but has no say in where it is built; that is the boat builders concern. I am sure that Bezos did not have the faintest idea that there is a bridge in the way and justifiably counts on the boat yard to deal with that. So if you want to throw eggs, go locate the yard….

  2. Dave S 9 months ago

    Perhaps it’s not the excess but the presumption that anything wanted by the elite will be done… Was their no planning before? What if they say no to removing the bridge obstacle? And who in the world designs a yacht that can’t sail in to SF Bay?!

    • John Arndt 9 months ago

      In fact, the largest sloop in the world, Mirabella V, has a mast 290′ tall!

  3. Rick Drain 9 months ago

    The bridge was there when construction of the yacht began. The rest of us boaters deal with overhead clearances as part of our planning. IMO, assuming the owner had a strong reason to use that particular boatyard for the hull, interior, etc., he should have planned on finishing the mast stepping and associated rigging elsewhere, after passing under the bridge. It’s *ahem* not rocket science.

  4. Jeff Collier 9 months ago

    Remember … for every low wage job Bezos has created he also destroyed thousands (maybe more) brick and mortar .. Mom and Pop retail operations that each had employees. Sure .. we get merchandise cheaper .. but at what cost to the community. I vote Douche Bag.

  5. Jack 9 months ago

    Flaunting and parading their wealth, for what? These guys (mostly guys) don’t get it, but then neither did the Romanovs, Louis XVI and others whose myopia keep them from seeing what was around the corner – not a happy ending.

  6. Craig Briggs 9 months ago

    Not to be picky (which, of course, means just the opposite) but the caption says the Golden Gate Bridge clearance at high tide is 220′ (vs. the 229′ air draft of the boat). I think I’d be more interested in the clearance at low tide.

  7. Sailorette 9 months ago

    Common sense, at least to me, is to step the masts AFTER the boat passes under the bridge.
    Easy peasy!

  8. Bill Schaumburg 9 months ago

    Egg throwing at a yacht? Hooliganism. Barbarians, no matter whose toy is the target.
    Bill Schaumburg

    • Jack 9 months ago

      “Hooliganism. Barbarians”? I don’t think egg-throwing rates that characterization, not even hard-boiled. Although morally, using unborn chickies for cannon fodder is not all that lovely.

  9. Mike 9 months ago

    All that money and they didn’t check the bridge height. They should unstep the masts and motor it through. Pretty stupid mistake.

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