The moment I tweeted and shared the story about Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan announcing to give away 99 per cent of their fortune, people started turning every stone to discover faults, potential tax savings, or other ulterior motives.
Contrary to the old adage of never looking a gift horse in the mouth, critics examined every inch of this $45-billion dollar colt. My inbox quickly became a destination for comments and stories discrediting and undermining their generosity.
Three camps of Zuckerberg cynics
Here is an insightful and witty piece by Matt Rosoff that quite accurately classifies the critics into three camps:
1) The “Gotcha — it’s not really a charity!” camp;
2) The “Zuck sucks” camp; and
3) The “Billionaires don’t know anything” camp
In simple terms, here are their main objections:
It is not really charity and they will save capital gains. I am not sure this is exactly the case, but even if it was, what is the problem with that? So long as they are practicing tax avoidance and not tax evasion, they are perfectly within their rights. There are perfectly legal ways to structure and organize one’s assets and affairs. Criticize the laws, not those working within its confines. If my law practice experience is worth anything, I am willing to bet that most people talk to their lawyers and accountants to organize their own affairs to minimize taxes.
They will only support ideas and initiatives they think are good or worthy. You would rather they fund your ideas? Me too, but then maybe we should make our own money so we can decide where to spend it.
Lastly, with such initiatives the rich will direct where society is headed by exerting a disproportionate influence. Well, as much as we may not like this that has been the reality and will continue to be. The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative did not create this situation.
Indeed, there are issues of ethics, corporate concentration and control etc. of the global economy that are engaged in this discussion, but none of these were created by their initiative and there is no evidence showing that this one initiative will make it any worse.
As Rosoff points out: “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.”
Bottom line is, what they do with their money after they have paid their taxes and within the confines of existing laws and regulations is nobody else’s business.
May the one who has not sinned cast the first stone
People are perfectly within their right to doubt their motives and question their altruism. Though in all fairness, critics should look in the mirror, ask themselves these two questions and answer them honestly:
1) have you never taken a tax break/benefit or structured your affairs to minimize taxes?
2) have you ever done anything expecting nothing in return (be it in this life or the next, if you believe in an afterlife)?
Granted that Zuckerberg and other wealthy individuals do such public and private acts and structure their affairs to their advantage, my point is that most people will do the same and nobody does anything without expecting something in return, be it material benefits, fame, feeling good about oneself, reward in the afterlife, or other tangible and intangible benefits.
As trite as this is, they are humans just like us, capable of being saints, sinners, or just plain self-interested as the case may be. So, please cut them some slack, give them credit for the good they have attempted to do and look for your needle in another haystack.
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