Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan announced that they will dedicate 99% of their roughly $45 billion fortune toward philanthropy during their lifetimes. Interestingly, their philanthropic fund, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI), will not be your typical charitable foundation. CZI will be organized as a for-profit LLC (limited liability corporation). While this structure will cost the Zuckerbergs some tax advantages, it will free them from a labyrinth of government regulations that come with tax-free status, allowing for many more options for CZI’s philanthropy. For example, besides turning a profit, the Zuckerbergs will be freer to pursue political activism on behalf of their values. As Suzanne Woolley observes for BloombergBusiness:
It seems clear the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative will put money to work in politics. Facebook, in its official description of its founder's new LLC, noted that "making private investments and participating in policy debates" will be part of the mission. In a public letter Zuckerberg wrote to his newborn daughter, Max, he likewise emphasized an appetite for pushing a policy agenda: "We must participate in policy and advocacy to shape debates." If the charitable venture had been set up as a traditional tax-exempt foundation—what is called a 501(c)(3)— it wouldn't have freedom to lobby lawmakers or engage in other political activities. The Internal Revenue Service prohibits tax-exempt groups from "directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office."
Unfortunately, Zuckerberg’s list of the values his initiative will seek to advance apparently doesn’t include man’s most important value, a value without which he’d have nothing to give away. As Alex Epstein observes at Forbes, “Mark Zuckerberg used 2,234 words to describe the things he values most in the world. None of those words was ‘freedom.’”
This is very disturbing, coming from one of the greatest capitalist champions of all time. In his letter to his daughter, Zuckerberg lays out his philosophy. But it’s hard to make heads or tails out of it. On the one hand, Zuckerberg tends toward collectivism at times. For example, he says “The only way to achieve our full potential is to channel the talents, ideas and contributions of every person in the world”. Sounds like central planning. Could Zuckerberg have built Facebook if his talents and ideas were “channeled” by some outside authority, rather than the free choices of himself and his customers? On the other hand, Zuckerberg advocates “personalized learning,” observing negatively that “Our generation grew up in classrooms where we all learned the same things at the same pace regardless of our interests or needs.” Sounds individualistic.
But collectivism and individualism are polar opposites, and so are the political ramifications of each. Collectivism leads to enslavement. Individualism leads to freedom and individual rights. So, which is it, Zuckerberg?
Zuckerberg speaks optimistically about opportunity for all, while failing to credit the only social condition that can truly provide it; freedom; that is, the individual rights to the freedom to act on one’s reasoning judgement; to work, trade with others, take risks, innovate, and keep what you have earned, without forcible, aggressive interference by others people, including people in their capacity as government officials. Freedom means no double standard regarding private citizens vs. government officials.
The biggest threat to freedom—the only threat, really—is a government that not only fails to protect rights but actively violates rights. So I offer—without meaning to disparage Zuckerberg’s stated values—this hope: that the Zuckerbergs, despite failing to acknowledging freedom, will elevate the promotion of freedom and properly limited government to the top of their hierarchy of values. The best thing Zuckerberg can do to genuinely make the world a better place is to use his CZI lobbying dollars to advocate for free market reforms—individual rights, the rule of objective law, freedom of expression, association, and conscience, property rights, lower taxes, less economic regulations, free trade within and between all people of all countries, an end to cronyism, and a government that protects rights equally and at all times. These are the basic social conditions required for individual flourishing. These are the basic social conditions—even though not fully implemented—that allowed Zuckerberg to build his fortune; a fortune earned by creating immense value for hundreds of millions of willing consumers—myself, my wife, family and friends included. Without real liberty—individual liberty—none of the Zuckerberg’s values are attainable. Neither is human progress and flourishing of any kind.
One of the saddest and most distressing hallmarks of our age is how few capitalist billionaires, having built their fortunes on a foundation of freedom, actively promote freedom. It’s distressing to hear billionaires justify committing their fortunes to philanthropy on the grounds of “improving this world” while ignoring freedom, when no amount of giving can equal the improvements to people’s lives that the freedom to create the fortunes accomplished. These billionaires’ grovelling is not doing any favors for those billions of us whose lives are immensely better because of the selfish motivations that led to the profit-seeking companies these leading entrepreneurs built—especially if their giving promotes more political control of our lives (as is the goal of the U.N. 2015 Climate Change Conference in Paris). (I could think of only two prominent billionaires explicitly committed to promoting more freedom, Charles and David Koch, through their Freedom Partners Foundation and other activities. Thank you, Koch Brothers.)
If the Zuckerbergs really do want a better world, they should set a new standard for mega-fortune generosity: promote freedom ahead of giving so that more people can produce their way to prosperity and self-reliance—and pave the way for more Zuckerbergs—thus rendering billionaire philanthropy progressively less necessary. To do any less will be a sell-out that no amount of philanthropy and no “giving pledge” could ever atone for.
The Guilt Pledge—Yaron Brook and Don Watkins
Capitalism and the Moral High Ground—Craig Biddle for The Objective Standard
The Link Between "Control, Power, or Socialism" and "What's Morally Right"