For Goodness' Sake
December 04, 2015
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When Mark Zuckerberg announced on Tuesday that he and his wife, Priscilla Chan, plan to donate 99% of their Facebook shares - estimated at roughly $45 billion - to a new LLC they will set up for philanthropic purposes, the financial world practically stopped turning. Even the most jaded of us had to stop and take a breath, not only because of the sheer magnitude of the gift, but because of the magnitude of the gesture itself. Imagine building what some would consider one of the world's most influential companies, one that probably touches nearly every person on the planet and one of the most valuable in history, and then virtually giving it away in a feat of altruism that has no precedent.
But also, let's put this in real dollar perspective. Assuming no further increase in the value of their Facebook shares, or increases tied to dividends or salaries, or anything else that increases their net worth, the Chan/Zuckerberg's will still be left with a mere $450,000,000 to get by on. It may not get them into 157 West 57th Street or 432 Park Avenue, and the Boeing Business Jet may be a bit excessive without being a member of the billionaire's club, but they can most likely live their lives very nicely on the earnings from their $450,000,000 nest egg.
I was impressed when Warren Buffet and Bill and Melinda Gates started the Giving Pledge, which voluntarily commits billionaires to donating at least half of their personal fortunes to charity (see my post from 2/1/13). The Zuckerbergs have pushed the needle to new extremes on the giving meter.
Of course, things being what they are, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative immediately attracted criticism from people who see it as a tax dodge. Because the initiative will be set up as an LLC instead of as a foundation, Zuckerberg will not have to pay capital gains tax on the assets he transfers to it. The critics are taking him to task for this, as well as for the fact that he will maintain control over the transferred stock. They also complain that his empire has been built on taxpayer-funded public services - "...the public schools that educate his employees, the judicial system that protects his intellectual property, the public telecommunication networks that enable people to use his product," said an op ed in the New York Times - and that he has an obligation to pay his share.
OK, people. But for once, can we put aside the snarking and back-biting and just agree that giving $45 billion to advance the human condition is a good thing? Can we accept the spirit of generosity that is behind the initiative, instead of sucking the spirit out of it? It's the season of giving. Let's take a break from cynicism and allow that people can be good for the sake of being good, without looking for an ulterior motive.
I, for one, am more than willing to do my part. I may not be Mark Zuckerberg, or Warren Buffet, or Bill Gates, but I did have the great joy and privilege last week of closing our company for one day so that all of Marcum's partners and employees could work in teams with local charities in our communities. The first annual Marcum Day of Service was a great success, and we have the pictures to prove it. Visit our Day of Service photo gallery to see for yourselves.
But before I sign off this week, I find myself again expressing sorrow in the wake of yet another mass homicide, which occurred in San Bernardino, California. It's become a much too common occurrence both here and abroad. Our thoughts are with the families and friends of those killed and with those hurt by this tragic event.
Thank you for reading, have a great weekend, and keep being the good people that you are.
The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of Jeffrey M. Weiner and do not represent those of Marcum LLP, its partners or its employees.
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