Last week, Facebook titan/world’s youngest billionaire Mark Zuckerberg joined a group of other super-rich individuals (including Bill Gates and Warren Buffett) who are promising to give at least half of their money to charity. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that most people probably think this was a good and praiseworthy development: the super-rich have benefited enormously from our society, and it’s nice of them to give back. But not everyone thinks that way. Take the Ayn Rand Center, which is dedicated to promoting the memory and Objectivist philosophy of the famed novelist. The center’s Don Watkins was horrified by Zuckerberg’s decision:
WASHINGTON—”You may have heard of the trend of businessmen ‘Going Galt’ (a reference to Ayn Rand’s novel “Atlas Shrugged”),’ writes Don Watkins, an analyst with the Ayn Rand Center, “self-confidently declaring that until the government loosens the burdens of backbreaking taxes and onerous regulations, they will scale back their productive efforts rather than work as virtual serfs. Other businessmen, however, have decided to ‘Go Guilt,’ i.e., to sign Bill Gates and Warren Buffett’s ‘Giving Pledge,’ vowing to give away most of the wealth they have earned. The recent news that Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has signed the Pledge is making headlines.
“To be fair to Zuckerberg, there can be many reasons why he and his fellow ‘Givers’ have signed the Pledge. But as Yaron Brook and I argued in a recent Forbes.com column, the Pledge’s aim is to prey on the (undeserved) guilt many successful businessmen feel.
“It is no accident that the Giving Pledge is not a call for charity but a public pledge to give. As Matthew Bishop and Michael Green observe, ‘Richesse oblige is part of American culture. The peer pressure to give is great (for donors large and small) . . . The Giving Pledge has upped that peer pressure . . .’ The Pledge treats your wealth, not as a justly earned reward, but as a gift from society—one that came with plenty of strings attached. The message is: Fulfill the obligation that came with your riches, give your wealth away—or hide your face in shame.
“But your wealth was not an undeserved gift. Every dollar in your bank account came from some individual who voluntarily gave it to you—who gave it to you in exchange for a product he judged to be more valuable than his dollar. You have no moral obligation to ‘give back,’ because you didn’t take anything in the first place.”
In related news, rich people quite literally have trouble understanding other people’s emotions.