Why Is Jason Buzi Giving Away Money?

It started last month on Twitter, of course, as “an anonymous social experiment for good.” A man who had made money investing in Bay Area real estate was giving away some of it, a hundred or so dollars at a time. He’d hide it, then post clues on his Twitter account, @HiddenCash. People quickly took notice. He’s now given away $15,000, has more than a half-million Twitter followers, and been outed. His name is Jason Buzi, and he went public in an interview with Anderson Cooper on CNN last week. He’s also expanding operations beyond California. This weekend there will be so-called treasure hunts in Las Vegas, Houston, Chicago, New York, and Mexico City. London, Paris, and Madrid are on his list, too. What is this really all about?

Buzi has dropped different clues about his motivation. It seems he started the give-aways as a lark (maybe even a prank.) Then, during an interview with CNN before his identity was revealed, he said he’d like other wealthy people across the country to follow his lead: “I’d like for this to become a movement,” he said. “If you can give back, it’s at least as rewarding as making good investments and getting big checks and making a lot of money.” Later in the interview, he added: “There’s absolutely no political agenda; there’s no religious agenda; there’s no business agenda. The whole agenda is random acts of kindness and pay it forward and to put a smile on people’s face.”

Now, leaving relatively small amounts of cash for random people (but people who are on Twitter with time to spare) may not qualify as “giving back” in everyone’s estimation. Especially in San Francisco, a city where the level of income inequality has been compared with that of sub-Saharan Africa. Buzi responded to this criticism on Twitter: “We love our followers. Get so much positive energy from your support. Thank you. We just want to give back. Don’t believe the B.S. Love.”

He has also taken care to point out that @HiddenCash isn’t charity and isn’t supposed to provide financial salvation for those who find the money. He notes that he gives in other ways, too. But he doesn’t want anyone to take that as encouragement to ask for money directly. As he told Cooper: ”The downside of people knowing my name is I’m getting personal requests to me now as if I’m some kind of zillionaire, which I’m not,” he said. He wrote on Twitter to one supplicant: “We may work with established and legitimate non-profits in the future, so feel free to write us if that’s you. But we can’t pay for your rent, house, wedding, etc., so please stop asking. We are not able. Sorry.”

It’s easier to think of Buzi’s venture as something that’s fun, a fleeting boost to those who find the money. Consider how some people have reported spending the money: to buy baseball tickets, pizza for co-workers, groceries for the person in front of them at the store, or on a night at a bar. And Buzi now seems to prefer calling it a game and a social experience, rather than a social experiment. ”When social media, the Internet, brings together people in a real-life way—where it gets them out of their living room, or away from their phone, out there doing things with their friends, with their kids, with their families—I think there’s something very powerful about that,” he said to Cooper.

Still, Buzi can’t resist sharing some of his earned, and earnest, words of wisdom. “Remember, life is filled with ups and downs. Don’t let either get to your head or heart too much. Love.” And also: “The Big Apple was not always kind to me. Went thru some tough times living there. Please show HiddenCash lots of love this weekend. …”

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.