What is it about Mark Zuckerberg and his wife’s pledge to give 99 percent of their Facebook shares to their nonprofit foundation, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, that seems to violate our notion of the gift?
As James Kwak explains,
First off, “give” is the wrong word to use in this context. That implies that the money is irrevocably going from them to something else.
In this case, they are investing in their own company. Because it’s an LLC, they still have complete control of the money. . .
Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t want to play by the rules. He thinks he can do a better job. Maybe he can, although I don’t have any reason to believe that’s true. This is the next step in the privatization of philanthropy. No more Giving Pledge. Instead, we’ll have the Keeping Pledge:
I pledge to keep all of my wealth and use a lot of it to make the world better place, as long as I get to define “a lot” and “better.”
Mark Zuckerberg isn’t the first person to make the Keeping Pledge. The Koch brothers already did: they’ve given away lots of money to charity, but they’re keeping even more to spend on politics, because they believe that that’s the most effective way to make the world a better place (as they see it).
That’s it, isn’t it: conspicuous philanthropy—which is the basis of the Giving Pledge and, even more, the Keeper Pledge—allows a few wealthy individuals to capture a large portion of the surplus and then, privately, to decide how to much to give and to define what it means to make the world a better place.