A Facebook Gift with Ropes Attached

Ideas and Issues

60a2Little Rock    You have to give Mark Zuckerberg credit for some things. Without Facebook providing the legitimacy for unparalleled narcissism through the “selfie,” where would the hardcore narcissists be? He also has a flair for publicity and the dramatic, as we are reminded once again.

Out in the land of the Lilliputians where most of us live, we were already prepared for the announcement of the birth of their first child, a daughter named Max incidentally, to be greeted for a bit as perhaps the richest child in the world being the potential heir to $45 billion from Zuckerberg. Since we don’t formally crown our royalty like they do in Great Britain and other old school countries, but instead anoint the rich in the same way, we would have normally expected baby pictures galore following in the hallowed British tradition. Instead, Zuckerberg upstaged his daughter’s first big moment of fame as he and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan, announced through a letter to their daughter on Facebook of course that they were giving almost the whole pile away to something they called the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

Before you start putting dollar bills in envelopes and collecting cans of corn and beans to send to him in San Francisco, keep in mind that even retaining 1% still leaves the baby and parents comfortable and not just because they are holding onto their day jobs. The one-percent they are keeping still leaves them with $450 million, which continues to be sufficient assets to allow them to escape welfare even in California.

Furthermore, the giveaway is not exactly a giveaway. I’m not sure what you would call it, but it is a little bit like moving money from one pocket to another in some ways.

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is being organized as an LLC, a limited liability corporation, under the laws of Delaware. This is not a nonprofit designation. This is not a social enterprise handle. This is not a tax deduction. This is not a foundation, like Ford or Gates or Rockefeller, not that that would have been a good idea either. In fact the tax lawyers consulted by the Wall Street Journal said that given his youth, the stock value, and the fact that there is no dividend income, he would not have gotten a tax advantage out of creating a tax exempt private foundation anyway. Essentially, this is not even a gift but something more akin to an asset transfer. There’s not even any “giveaway” to the gift, because an LLC lets Zuckerberg and his wife control all of the decisions about how the money is spent with no requirement or regulations.

All of this pretty much makes the $45 billion “go wild” money just as it was before the letter to the daughter press release. They can use this as an investment vehicle in both nonprofit and for profit businesses. They can make political contributions from these funds. Heck, they can even give more money away to charter school pilots and the like. They can do whatever they darned well please with the money, because it’s still their money. There aren’t strings attached to this gift, but the sturdiest of ropes tying it right back to their personal interests and pocketbooks.

In fact, some of their “letter” is kind of warped and creepy when they say, “We must participate in policy and advocacy to shape debates. Progress must be supported by movements to be sustainable.” The syntax alone is not the sketchiest part. What he is really saying is what is scary. This is a bald assertion that so-called “progress” created by the kind of “policy and advocacy” Zuckerberg would advance from the wallet at the top on down to the rest of us, must also fund “movements” like the kind of grass “tips” groups he and other Silicon Valley techies have been promoting in their own interest, and these faux “movements” — and what a perversion of the word, work and spirit of real movements this is — have to have his kind of “support” in order “to be sustainable.”

Here’s hoping that Max becomes a Hunger Games kind of rebel warrior and joins with the rest of us, because we might all strangle on the strings attached to this kind of so-called gift.