No good deed goes uncriticized
When Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan, announced plans to dedicate most of their fortune to philanthropic causes that they believe will improve the world for their daughter’s generation, many people applauded their initiative.
Unsurprisingly, more than a few people also reported it.
Money, or more specifically control over money, represents power: the power to make things happen. However, a lack of money does not necessarily mean a lack of power, because in our society, votes are not legally assigned or transferred in relation to wealth. It is supposed to be one person, one vote. Compare this to corporate governance, where the more shares you have, the more votes you get. Few of us see anything undemocratic in that arrangement in business, even though we do not propose to allocate votes for public office in the same way.
One person, one vote is what community organizing is all about: the idea is that if you can gather enough votes, people who lack personal resources can, through the power of government, wrest control of money from those who do it. They have accumulated privately, and thus take over a large part of that power to make things happen.
Critics of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, deep down, believe that they and their fellow voters, not the Facebook founder and his wife, should have the power to eventually shed the wealth they amassed. You won’t have to search far to find those widely proposed storylines, even (or maybe especially) on Facebook itself.
The result illustrates a variation of the saying that “no good deed goes unpunished.” In our society, no good deed goes uncritical. This is particularly true if the doer of good is a person of a certain prominence and wealth, and if in the process of doing good, the person in question could possibly increase that wealth.
Smaller versions of this debate unfold all the time, across the country. In the southern tip of Miami-Dade County, developer Wayne Rosen bought a struggling golf course and planned to renovate and relaunch it. Property values in the surrounding subdivision, where homes cost between $ 250,000 and $ 500,000, not much by most South Florida standards, but high for the city of Homestead, would have benefited. So would local residents, who, according to Rosen, would have received most of the job opportunities related to the golf club. That statement was almost certainly true, since golf course jobs are generally not very lucrative and Homestead is difficult to get to from virtually anywhere else.
Rosen said he planned to put $ 10 million of his family’s money into the project, and sought another $ 3.5 million in low-interest loans to be issued throughout the city, using federal funds from the Department of Housing and Urban Development earmarked for the community redevelopment. The Homestead City Council approved the loans with a 4-2 vote, although the effort still needed approval from federal authorities.
However, before that could happen, the Miami Herald reported on Rosen’s campaign contribution history for Homestead City Council members who approved the plan. Like smart developers everywhere, Rosen pays attention to local politics and government officials, because nothing is developed without their approval. The article also recounts Rosen’s story of other business deals with leaders in the small town of 64,000 people. As the Herald noted, none of these transactions have ever been found to violate any ethical law or rule.
However, the article conveyed skepticism that a government-backed loan to restore a golf course was an appropriate use of anti-poverty funds. When Rosen’s 10-year-old daughter read the most directly critical rehash of the Herald story from another outlet and asked her father why he was taking money from the poor, Rosen simply walked away from the project. He told the city, and by extension the Herald, to keep the money; it will let the golf course remain brown and fallow.
The Herald has not announced any plans of its own to rebuild the golf course or to improve job prospects and real estate values in the City of Homestead.
Many of the criticisms of Chan Zuckerberg’s plan are misinformed. All the couple are really doing is putting their money into future causes and endeavors that they think will pay off. The assets will initially be housed in a limited liability company, which is a fully taxable entity. Zuckerberg and Chan will pay income taxes associated with the LLC’s investment earnings and gains. If they die while in possession of the LLC, their value will be included in your taxable estate. In reality, his announcement, presented in the form of a letter to his newborn daughter, was nothing more than a commitment to do good things with his wealth, regardless of whether those good things involve private companies, traditional charities, or possibly even associations. . with the government.
However, critics said that Zuckerberg and Chan really shouldn’t have the final say on how their wealth is distributed. The government, that is, the officials that critics can help choose, must make that decision. It’s the basic argument behind our inheritance tax system, and it’s based on the assumption that people who create great wealth are less qualified to decide how it can be better used than, say, people like Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren or even Donald Trump, should he ever act in any official capacity. Under this logic, if Trump is worth billions, he is not qualified to decide how his own wealth should be used, but if he is elected president, he would suddenly be in a position to deploy all the resources of the federal government.
Anyone who achieves anything substantial has to put up with criticism from critics who think they could have done better. However, those critics rarely try. Fortunately for all of us, most of the time people who live important lives are willing to deal with this ambient noise. Every now and then, though, someone like Wayne Rosen decides it’s just not worth the hassle, and we all end up getting poorer for it.