It’s tough being insanely minted.
You’ve got it all and more, with plenty left to keep your dogs and their heirs in the manner to which you have become accustomed.
So what do you do with the rest? You give it away. “No man can become rich without himself enriching others,” said the Scottish-American industrialist Andrew Carnegie, who handed out about £10bn in today’s money, or about 90 per cent of his fortune. “The man who dies rich dies disgraced.”
Now Mark Zuckerberg has taken on Carnegie’s marble mantle. He and his wife, Priscilla Chan, announced the birth of their daughter, Max, with a pledge to give away, gradually, 99 per cent of their shares in Facebook. To put that in perspective, note that the remaining shares on which they must now subsist are worth about $450m (£300m). They’ve redefined the 1 per cent. So little Max will be OK but where does that put her parents in the gallery of the generous? Here we ignore those worthy rankings to present a selection of big givers of note.
Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan
How much?! $45bn (£30bn)
And the rest. The Facebook power couple have already given away over a billion quid, including $25m to help take on Ebola. The new gift will be dispensed during their lifetimes via the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. Its web page (a Facebook page, of course) includes a snazzy new logo and heart-warming plans to “advance human potential and promote equality”.
A long letter to their daughter makes sober bedtime reading and includes a focus on health research, education and digital access. An attached video includes a series of Hallmark-ready expressions of mom-and-pop goodwill. The initiative is a company rather than a charity but a spokesperson reiterated its noble aims yesterday. We should measure our cynicism (they didn’t have to do this) but we’re also wondering if Facebook might extend its founder’s generosity to its (perfectly legal!) corporate-tax arrangements.
Bill and Melinda Gates
How much?! $27bn (£18bn)
The original tech mogul and his wife spew cash like it’s confetti at a paper magnate’s wedding. And why not when you’re worth $84bn? Five years ago, the founder of Microsoft and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced he would commit 95 per cent of his wealth to do-goodery. They also have an ally in Warren Buffet, the equally rich investor known as the “Oracle of Omaha”. This year the 85-year-old donated about $2.84bn of stock to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and four family charities as part of his plan to give away his wealth.
But this American style of big giving, in a country where the tax system means philanthropy plays a huge role in public life, has its critics. In 2010, the German shipping magnate Peter Krämer told Der Spiegel: “You can write donations off in your taxes to a large degree in the USA. So the rich make a choice: would I rather donate or pay taxes? The donors are taking the place of the state.”
Charles Francis Feeney
How much?! $6.3bn (£4.2bn)
No billionaire has displayed such a commitment to offloading cash. Forbes described the Irish-American duty-free magnate in 2012 as the “James Bond of philanthropy. Over the last 30 years he’s crisscrossed the globe conducting a clandestine operation to give away a $7.5bn fortune derived from hawking cognac, perfume and cigarettes”. The magazine added: “While the business world’s titans obsess over piling up as many riches as possible, Feeney is working double time to die broke.”
Feeney’s Atlantic Philanthropies foundation is due to run out of cash in 2020 after supporting causes as diverse as peace in Ireland and Vietnam’s healthcare system. He’s now down to his last million pounds, give or take, and has been described by Bill Gates as a role model “and the ultimate example of giving while living”. Now 84, he rarely gives interviews and is definitely not on Facebook.
How much?! $8bn (£5.4bn)
When not speculating controversially on currencies including the pound (in 1992 he was named “the man who broke the Bank of England) after he netted an estimated profit of $1bn on Black Wednesday), the Hungarian-born American financier has become a model of progressive liberal giving.
Now 85, he has piled huge funds into causes including the fight against Apartheid and the emergence of democracy behind the iron curtain. His Open Society Foundations promote justice, public health and a free press and he’s political, too. He backed Barack Obama to the tune of millions and, before that, piled even more cash into trying to oust George W Bush, promising to give away his whole fortune for the cause “if someone guaranteed it”. He’s now taking on Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose general prosecutor last week banned the charity on the grounds that it posed a threat to state security and the Russian constitution.