FEPS Fresh Thinking

It is natural that, after giving birth to a child, all parents want their newborns to have a good, healthy, productive and fruitful life. In that respect it is not surprising that Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan have the same feelings and emotions.

In an open letter posted on Facebook yesterday and addressed to their newborn daughter, the two parents announced that they will give away 99,9% of their Facebook shares – currently estimated at about $45 billion – to a foundation called the ‘Chan Zuckerberg Initiative’.

At first glance this is a wonderful initiative. The world needs support for advancing humanity, promoting equality, achieving basic healthcare for everyone and also building up inclusive and welcoming communities.

But in our modern societies, there is a unique way of how this should be done and how all of us should be engaged in such a cause – this is the democratic and representative state. The democratic state has to provide to all its citizens a wide range of public goods, including healthcare, education, and security, while ensuring that this is done in an equitable and inclusive manner.

In so doing, each state has the capacity to raise taxes in order to fulfil its democratically decided tasks. In my view, it is clear that the American way of philanthropy should not be the model for our societies. If the rich feel that there is something wrong with the world of today, they should also recognise that they bear a big share of responsibility for the status quo. It is more than evident that big corporations like Facebook, Apple, Microsoft or Google and their respective owners have all excelled at finding ways to avoid paying their taxes in a decent and correct way.

In this sense, it is better to pay taxes to the democratic and representative state than trying to change the world with money coming from corporations, which have so far done their utmost to avoid any involvement or participation in a normal way in the workings of a democratic state. It should not be up to Zuckerberg and others to decide the kind of research or general investment that should be made in future generations. Better is it like Bill Gates is doing now in dedicating 26 billions to the public sector to finance innovation.

But, it is first and foremost the institutions of a democratic state – the parliaments and the elected representatives – who should be doing this.

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  1. Ernst,
    I do totally agree with what you say. Keywords are “foundation” and “tax” (avoidance or optimization). Proper tax payments would have had a better and even more transparent effect. But of course publicity is not as good for “normal” citizens just paying their taxes. And will we ever know how much of the foundation money will realy reach any beneficiary?… Best, Hans-Gerd Ebel

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