FREE NEWSLETTER: Econintersect sends a nightly newsletter highlighting news events of the day, and providing a summary of new articles posted on the website. Econintersect will not sell or pass your email address to others per our privacy policy. You can cancel this subscription at any time by selecting the unsubscribing link in the footer of each email.

posted on 06 December 2015

How Mark Zuckerbergs Altruism Helps Himself

Special Report from ProPublica

-- this post authored by Jess Eisinger

This story was co-published with The New York Times.

Zuckerberg set up a limited liability company, which has reaped enormous benefits as public relations coup and will help minimize his tax bill.

Mark Zuckerberg did not donate $45 billion to charity. You may have heard that, but that was wrong.

Here's what happened instead: Zuckerberg created an investment vehicle.

Sorry for the slightly less sexy headline.

Zuckerberg is a co-founder of Facebook and a youthful mega-billionaire. In announcing the birth of his daughter, he and his wife, Priscilla Chan, declared they would donate 99 percent of their worth, the vast majority of which is tied up in Facebook stock valued at $45 billion today.

In doing so, Zuckerberg and Chan did not set up a charitable foundation, which has nonprofit status. He created a limited liability company, one that has already reaped enormous benefits as public relations coup for himself. His PR return-on-investment dwarfs that of his Facebook stock. Zuckerberg was depicted in breathless, glowing terms for having, in essence, moved money from one pocket to the other.

An LLC can invest in for-profit companies (perhaps these will be characterized as societally responsible companies, but lots of companies claim the mantle of societal responsibility). An LLC can make political donations. It can lobby for changes in the law. He remains completely free to do as he wishes with his money. That's what America is all about. But as a society, we don't generally call these types of activities "charity."

What's more, a charitable foundation is subject to rules and oversight. It has to allocate a certain percentage of its assets every year. The new Zuckerberg LLC won't be subject to those rules and won't have any transparency requirements.

In covering the event, many commentators praised the size and percentage of the gift and pointed out that Zuckerberg is relatively young to be planning to give his wealth away. "Mark Zuckerberg Philanthropy Pledge Sets New Giving Standard," Bloomberg glowed. Few news outlets initially considered the tax implications of Zuckerberg's plan. A Wall Street Journal article didn't mention taxes at all.

Nor did they grapple with the societal implications of the would-be donations.

So what are the tax implications? They are quite generous to Zuckerberg. I asked Victor Fleischer, a law professor and tax specialist at the University of San Diego School of Law, as well as a contributor to DealBook. He explained that if the LLC sold stock, Zuckerberg would pay a hefty capital gains tax, particularly if Facebook stock kept climbing.

If the LLC donated to a charity, he would get a deduction just like anyone else. That's a nice little bonus. But the LLC probably won't do that because it can do better. The savvier move, Professor Fleischer explained, would be to have the LLC donate the appreciated shares to charity, which would generate a deduction at fair market value of the stock without triggering any tax.

Zuckerberg didn't create these tax laws and cannot be criticized for minimizing his tax bills. If he had created a foundation, he would have accrued similar tax benefits. But what this means is that he amassed one of the greatest fortunes in the world - and is likely never to pay any taxes on it. Any time a superwealthy plutocrat makes a charitable donation, the public ought to be reminded that this is how our tax system works. The superwealthy buy great public relations and adulation for donations that minimize their taxes.

Instead of lavishing praise on Zuckerberg for having issued a news release with a promise, this should be an occasion to mull what kind of society we want to live in. Who should fund our general societal needs and how? Charities rarely fund quotidian yet vital needs. What would $40 billion mean for job creation or infrastructure spending? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a budget of about $7 billion. Maybe more should go to that. Society, through its elected members, taxes its members. Then the elected officials decide what to do with sums of money.

In this case, it is different. One person will be making these decisions.

Of course, nobody thinks our government representatives do a good job of allocating resources. Politicians - a bunch of bums! Maybe Zuckerberg will make wonderful decisions, ones I would personally be happy with. Maybe not. He blew his $100 million donation to the Newark school system, as Dale Russakoff detailed in her recent book, "The Prize: Who's in Charge of America's Schools?" Zuckerberg has said he has learned from his mistakes. We don't know whether that's true because he hasn't made any decisions with the money he plans to put into his investment vehicle.

But I think I might do a good job allocating $45 billion. Maybe even better than Zuckerberg. I am self-aware enough to realize many people would disagree with my choices. Those who like how Zuckerberg is lavishing his funds might not like how the Koch brothers do so. Or George Soros.

Mega-donations, assuming Zuckerberg makes good on his pledge, are explicit acknowledgments that the money should be plowed back into society. They are tacit acknowledgments that no one could ever possibly spend $45 billion on himself or his family, and that the money isn't really "his," in a fundamental sense. Because that is the case, society can't rely on the beneficence and enlightenment of the superwealthy to realize this individually. We need to take a portion uniformly - some kind of tax on wealth.

The point is that we are turning into a society of oligarchs. And I am not as excited as some to welcome the new Silicon Valley overlords.

>>>>> Scroll down to view and make comments <<<<<<

Click here for Historical News Post Listing

Make a Comment

Econintersect wants your comments, data and opinion on the articles posted.  As the internet is a "war zone" of trolls, hackers and spammers - Econintersect must balance its defences against ease of commenting.  We have joined with Livefyre to manage our comment streams.

To comment, using Livefyre just click the "Sign In" button at the top-left corner of the comment box below. You can create a commenting account using your favorite social network such as Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn or Open ID - or open a Livefyre account using your email address.

You can also comment using Facebook directly using he comment block below.

Econintersect Contributors


Print this page or create a PDF file of this page
Print Friendly and PDF

The growing use of ad blocking software is creating a shortfall in covering our fixed expenses. Please consider a donation to Econintersect to allow continuing output of quality and balanced financial and economic news and analysis.

Take a look at what is going on inside of
Main Home
Analysis Blog
Comments on Feyerabend’s ‘Against Method’, Part III
Taking a Wrench to Healthcare
News Blog
Infographic Of The Day: Commodity Update, Is The Summer Slump Over
Early Headlines: Asia Stocks Mixed, Oil Mixed, Voting Fraud, Pres. Forecast Little Changed, CETA Not Dead, Generous Iraqis, Terrorists In Pakistan, Duterte Wants Divorce From US And More
October 24, 2016 Weather and Climate Report - La Nina / El Nino?
Most Read Articles Last Week Ending 22 October
Londoners Most Uneasy About Chatting To Strangers
Average Gasoline Prices for Week Ending 24 October 2016 Now Higher Than One Year Ago
Earnings And Economic Reports: Week Starting 24 October 2016
New Findings: Anxiety Is Linked To Death From Cancer In Men
Nearly 1 In 6 European Adults Is Considered Obese
Acupuncture Is Useless
September 2016 CFNAI Super Index Moving Average Declines
Consequences Of Rising Income Inequality
America's Most Competitive Renters: Why Many Are Choosing To Rent
Investing Blog
Slow Motion Torture
The Week Ahead: How Long For This Trading Range?
Opinion Blog
What Triggers Collapse?
The Beer Goggles Stock Market
Precious Metals Blog
Preparing For Post-Election Social Unrest
Live Markets
24Oct2016 Market Close: Wall Street Closes Higher, Quietly On Low Volume, Crude Back Up, US Dollar Trading At Resistance, Investors Remain Skeptical On Continuing Bullish Market
Amazon Books & More

.... and keep up with economic news using our dynamic economic newspapers with the largest international coverage on the internet
Asia / Pacific
Middle East / Africa
USA Government

Crowdfunding ....



Analysis Blog
News Blog
Investing Blog
Opinion Blog
Precious Metals Blog
Markets Blog
Video of the Day


Asia / Pacific
Middle East / Africa
USA Government

RSS Feeds / Social Media

Combined Econintersect Feed

Free Newsletter

Marketplace - Books & More

Economic Forecast

Content Contribution



  Top Economics Site Contributor TalkMarkets Contributor Finance Blogs Free PageRank Checker Active Search Results Google+

This Web Page by Steven Hansen ---- Copyright 2010 - 2016 Econintersect LLC - all rights reserved