The student-run newspaper of the Liberal Arts and Science Academy

The Liberator

The student-run newspaper of the Liberal Arts and Science Academy

The Liberator

The student-run newspaper of the Liberal Arts and Science Academy

The Liberator

Editorial: Billionaires Fake Philanthropy

How the Wealthy Dodge Taxes Without Giving
Amelia Coleman

Billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, and Elon Musk are often held up by the media as shining examples of philanthropists. By donating their immense wealth, these people are single-handedly changing the world for the better. Or, at least, that’s what their public relations teams would like you to believe. While this philanthropy may seem generous from the outside, it is more often than not a ploy for the world’s wealthiest to dodge taxes, boost their public image, and increase their net worth, all while rarely doing that much actual good along the way.

Mark Zuckerberg’s 2015 promise to give away 99% of his Facebook shares actually just means giving his money to the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative— a limited liability company (LLC) that he and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan, own. Because of this arrangement, the so-called charity has no actual legal requirements to donate any of its monetary income. This allows the couple to maintain total control over every cent and reap many of the public image, tax, and legal benefits they’d see from a proper charity all without being beholden to doing any actual philanthropy. 

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative has given away $3.4 billion since its founding, according to Forbes. Considering that the couple has a combined net worth of over $200 billion, this amounts to roughly 1.5% of their total fortune— less than half the national average of 3.7%. Billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg count on the fact that a single hour’s worth of their earnings is more money than any average person will see in their entire lifetime to convince us that their philanthropy is any kind of sacrifice on their part. In actuality, donations of millions of dollars are pennies to people like Zuckerberg.

This pattern holds true for other so-called philanthropists. Jeff Bezos’s $2.1 billion donations towards the Bezos Earth Fund and the Day One Families Fund, which respectively address climate change and homelessness, amount to barely over 1% of his net worth. Elon Musk’s charity, the Musk Foundation, holds 3.6% of his net worth, but only a small fraction of that is used to actually improve others’ lives, according to the New York Times.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) requires a charity to donate just 5% of its income every year to count for tax breaks. By creating such charities, billionaires can dodge billions of dollars in taxes whilst maintaining total control of their money. The Musk Foundation regularly fails to pass even this absurdly low bar, though that doesn’t keep Musk from using it as an excuse to avoid his taxes. A March 2024 article from the New York Times revealed that he shaved a couple of billion dollars of his taxes in 2021 thanks to the $5.7 billion he supposedly donated.

Citing people like Zuckerberg, Bezos, or Musk as the pinnacle of human generosity simply feeds into the lie they have expertly crafted. These are not true philanthropists, but instead wealthy people with PR teams that will spin a tale of sacrifice even though their organizations don’t even do the bare minimum to be considered charities. 

Yes, some billionaires are actually doing good in this world. In its 24-year lifespan, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has made major strides in curbing poverty and child mortality. This achievement is due, in large part, to the donations of Bill Gates, Melinda French Gates, and Warren Buffett. However, billionaires like them are far from the average. Bernard Arnault is the current richest man in the world, with a net worth well over $200 billion, but searches for any charitable efforts only return the same €10 million donation to a French food bank. This is the norm for billionaires— donating comparatively minuscule amounts when the fancy strikes them rather than actually dedicating real effort to alleviating suffering.

Ultimately, billionaires are the only ones in control of their money, and they decide what they want to do with it, whether that’s for the benefit of society or not. J.K. Rowling recently donated £70,000 to a Scotland-based anti-trans group, which should serve as a reminder that whatever money billionaires can put towards helping others, they can also just as easily put into hurting the very people they made their money off of.

There are billionaires out there creating real change in the interest of bettering society, but they are few and far between. Rather than celebrating everyone who pledges a minuscule amount of their overall income to charity, it is important to take a step back and look at where that money is coming from, where it’s going, and whether these ‘charities’ are just legal loopholes allowing billionaires to further hoard their excessive wealth.

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