Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement yesterday that he would be giving away 99% of his Facebook stock to “advancing human potential and promoting equality” was greeted with universal cheers, right?
There were a lot of people who found bad things to say about the announcement.
They fell into several camps.
The “gotcha – it’s not really a charity!” camp
Buzzfeed pointed out that the organisation they’re donating to, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, is a corporation (an LLC) rather than a non-profit charity. In addition, the Initiative won’t necessarily be donating all the money to charitable causes — it will also make private investments and do things like advocacy work and lobbying.
Entrepreneur Anil Dash called the structure of the giveaway “clearly flawed,” but admitted that:
It’s impossible to know how much of those flaws are about ulterior corporatist goals and how much are accommodations of arcane regulations. For example, almost all non-profit organisations are founded as conventional corporations and then converted after the fact, so starting as an LLC may not be an indicator of future purpose.
The “Zuck sucks” camp
Gawker pointed out that Zuckerberg’s donation is going toward furthering the things that he thinks would help the world, which are not necessarily the things that other people think would help the world.
For instance, the writer called Zuckerberg’s question “Can you learn and experience 100 times more than we do today?” a “patently hellish” vision that could only be hatched by a “technocrat.”
The “billionaires don’t know anything” camp
There were several takes with this angle. Dash pointed out that most charitable contributions don’t really help society:
No matter how good their intentions, the net result of most such efforts has typically been neutral at best, and can sometimes be deeply destructive. The most valuable path may well be to simply invest this enormous pool of resources in the people and institutions that are already doing this work (including, yes, public institutions funded by tax dollars) and trust that they know their domains better than someone who’s already got a pretty demanding day job.
A lot of folks linked to a 2010 Der Spiegel interview with businessman Peter Kramer, who argued that billionaires in the U.S. who give their money away are implicitly saying that they know better how to help society than government does:
It is all just a bad transfer of power from the state to billionaires. So it’s not the state that determines what is good for the people, but rather the rich want to decide. That’s a development that I find really bad. What legitimacy do these people have to decide where massive sums of money will flow?
Devon Maloney at The Guardian had a similar caution and linked it to white imperialism:
But it also means that the rich are still effectively buying the future they’d like to see, no matter how selfless their intentions may be. International philanthropy and the western world’s desire to eradicate poverty and disease can’t ever truly rid themselves of their imperialist roots; as many critics have pointed out, the white saviour industrial complex has never been more pervasive in global culture.
Here’s some perspective.
It’s Mark Zuckerberg’s money. He made it legally, by building a product that a lot of people use by choice. He can do anything he wants within the bounds of the law with that money. He could bury it in a hole. He could set it on fire. He could buy guns, or boats, or islands.
Instead, he publicly pledged to use it to fix some of the problems that he sees in the world.
You have to look really, really hard to find something to criticise here.
A lot of journalists are numb from the relentless spin we receive from the companies and people we cover. But if you’re seeing this strictly as a public relations move meant to distract us from the evils of Facebook, you need to turn off your computer for a while and go for a walk.
The guy had a kid. He’s looking at the future. He’s got a crazy amount of money which he’ll never spend. He wants to spend it on things that he thinks will make the world a better place.
Perhaps Y Combinator CEO Sam Altman and founder Paul Graham summed it up best: