Mark Zuckerberg is starting a charitable LLC to donate 99 percent of his Facebook stock to charity, and the usual suspects are all in a tizzy.
But in the process of analyzing this curious response, I was treated to a frightening glimpse into the mind of one particular progressive:
Krämer: I find the US initiative highly problematic. You can write donations off in your taxes to a large degree in the USA. So the rich make a choice: Would I rather donate or pay taxes? The donors are taking the place of the state. That’s unacceptable.
SPIEGEL: But doesn’t the money that is donated serve the common good?
Krämer: 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?
The interviewee, German shipping magnate Peter Krämer, is discussing the idea of tax-deductible giving in the United States. I hadn’t seen the exchange before, but it has been dredged up in an article critical of Zuckerberg’s decision to give.
Reading Krämer’s statement, one shudders. Or one ought to. To repeat: “So the rich make a choice: Would I rather donate or pay taxes? The donors are taking the place of the state. That’s unacceptable.”
Unacceptable to whom?
The man who uttered these words is himself a German billionaire, apparently, but one who seems fully committed to the idea of the deutsche Sozialstaat. One wonders if Krämer plans to give his remaining billions to the state, or if he simply plans to hoard it.
In any case, here we have wealth that the state had no hand — visible or invisible — in creating. Even Elizabeth Warren ought to be assuaged by the amount of taxes Zuckerberg has already paid so that he can drive on the roads to get to work, or be secure in his commercial activities by the military-industrial complex.
Investors, users, advertisers, and Zuckerberg grew Facebook from a Harvard side project to a multibillion dollar company. (I’ll pass over the irony that I found the original article on Facebook, which was shared at no cost to the author.) And Zuckerberg is choosing to give his money to charity or to charitable causes, rather than the state.
So it would seem he has satisfied the conditions of just acquisition and transfer, if there is anything to the idea that his wealth was both peacefully acquired and transferred. Still, if your idea of justice has to do with being forced to dole out half of your wealth on principle to people with guns and jails, then we have really found the difference in starting points between progressives and the rest of us, who see more than just a little connection between risk and reward.
Now, to recap, this successful entrepreneur (Zuckerberg) would like to use some of his net worth to give to charity. Krämer’s objection — indeed the progressive objection writ large — is that the state ought to be the only charity, a giant, perfect monolith of determining the right and the good, meted out by wise elites. All tax loopholes should be closed such that fewer resources go to the voluntary sector. Leave the entrepreneurs just enough so they don’t stop laying those golden eggs. Then tell them this: To be just, you must channel your goodness into the state apparatus, with its attendant angels (bureaucrats, regulators, and cronies). For it is a moral monopoly.
Now, if all that were the case, it would lead us to some very curious conclusions:
- People in government are perfect sweethearts who only have the goal of redistributing wealth from rich to poor so that everyone is equal — and such a goal is an unassailable ethic.
- People in government are not using “charitable” dollars to kill citizens in the streets of Chicago or Ferguson, to bomb weddings in Pakistan, to spy on our private correspondence, to jail victimless criminals, to divert public resources into the pockets of cronies, or to bail out other profligate social states like Greece.
- People in government already know the best way to help people — that is, they already have preexisting knowledge about how best to help the sick, the old, and the poor, all without making them permanent, dependent wards of the state. Indeed, the state knows how to make everyone healthy, happy, and well cared for.
Of course, not one of these statements is true. In fact, we’ve already dispelled the idea of unicorn governance in these pages.
So when we think about how the Mark Zuckerbergs of the world give their money, we can at least take comfort in the fact that some of their resources are going to an actual charity — not to standing armies, corrupt politicians, violent police, layabouts, or state-funded indoctrination camps.
I’m sure Zuckerberg intends to use some of those resources on political candidates (you know, those great, anointed leaders who make everything better). But recall that he has already tried treating the government as a charity. And, predictably, that effort went into Newark Bay with the rest of Jersey’s sewage.
Once bitten, twice shy.
By putting his money into an LLC, Zuckerberg should have the flexibility to invest in double-bottom-line ventures, or even for-profit ventures that, like most companies, create real value in the world. After all, an IRS tax designation is not a magic wand that automatically makes a company create social value.
But an errant thought, which niggles in the minds of progressives, remains: “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.”
The assumptions, of course, are:
- The state has the foundational “power” to give, but somehow nefarious entrepreneurs figure out how to get that power in the form of assets, even though such is the moral province of the state.
- The rich, after people voluntarily made them rich, should never deign to attempt helping others in opposition to the means and ends of the state.
- The state is and ought to be what determines what is good for the people — not the people themselves, nor those who would give to the people, nor those willing to experiment in order to find out how best to improve the lot of humanity.
This, folks, is a window into the progressive mind. And it leads us to a final question, which, happily, Kramer provides:
“What legitimacy do these people have to decide where massive sums of money will flow?”
The answer to this question divides us utterly.
Find a Portuguese translation of this article here.