Who could possibly be mad at Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, the elegant Priscilla Chan, for giving away 99% of their Facebook stock (currently valued at $46 billion USD)? More and more billionaires, Bill Gates being the obvious example, are giving away their fortunes these days to help eradicate disease, improve education, and make life generally better for everyone. Robber baron capitalism is so 19th century anyway.
But not so fast. Zuckerberg isn’t actually giving his fortune away — not yet at least. He and Chan have created the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to manage the assets that he will move there. You know, eventually.
This organization, as well as Gates’ (which also assumed management of much of billionaire Warren Buffett’s fortune in 2006), is also a vote of no-confidence in the state. By setting up an organization like the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative with his Facebook stock, the social network mogul will avoid the capital gains tax he’d have to pay when cashing in– tax that could go to providing government services. He’s also getting around the estate tax he’d have to pay if he were to pass on his fortune to his descendents.
Do we, as a society, want to let our elected politicians decide how to fund our general needs? Or do we want to let tech billionaires decide what they think is best? As several commentators have noted in the past few days, Zuckerberg did a terrible job managing his $100 million donation to public schools in Newark, Connecticut. I’m not saying governments make better decisions, but at least their bad decisions to a certain extent our collective fault (in countries where leaders are elected).
Then again, given the effort our collective world leaders have made to stop global warming, I actually did applaud the announcement late last month that a cohort of billionaires (including Zuckerberg, Gates, Richard Branson, and more) would be founding an investment coalition they say will spark a “new economic revolution” around clean energy technology. This approach may be more efficient in reducing global carbon emissions than anything to come out of the Paris meetings that began this week.
But Zuckerberg as the sole decider on things that really matter, not just whether Facebook launches a dislike button? Scary stuff.