The saintly Facebook family have been revered for their generosity, even by my friends, but their gift isn’t a proper gift at all
When I heard that the Zuckerbergs were planning to give away 99% of their Facebook shares, I felt a tiny bit sick. Could they not have given their money away without the sloppy letter to their daughter and the rest of us? Wasn’t that a bit show-offy? Isn’t $45bn rather too much for one family to have in the first place? And wasn’t it a bit measly of Facebook to pay only £4,327 UK corporation tax last year? But I didn’t dare say anything. I would have only been called sour-faced, embittered, envious, snotty and self-righteous, because that’s what usually happens when I criticise the very rich.
It came as rather a shock the first time. I had assumed that readers would long for a fairer world and agree with Jesus Christ – or at least with Freud – and be opposed to the wealth gap, or familiar with anal retention and be eagerly wheeling out the tumbrels. But no. They stuck up for the billionaires and it was me who got the drubbing.
Now even my so-called friends are siding with the saintly Zuckerbergs. “At least they’re not bombing people,” said Fielding, grateful for small mercies. “You’re too strict. The world is a grey area.” So imagine my relief to find out that my nausea and suspicions were justified, because the $45bnwasn’t a proper gift at all. It has just been stuffed into a for-profit limited liability company, rather than a foundation, which means that you don’t have to tell everybody exactly what you’re up to, and you’re allowed to make money from poorer people who are making money, do a bit of political lobbying, take some money back, support your very own pet causes, change the world however you fancy and feel just like God: all-powerful and adored.
Why couldn’t the Zuckerbergs just give dollops of money to people who need it, and shut up? Who knows, their daughter may grow up and feel a bit squirmy about their letter. She might turn out modest, prudent and socialist. Miracles can happen.
But not by affecting to give away Facebook shares.