Dear Mark Zuckerberg,
I can tell from your letter to your daughter (congrats, btw!) and decision to give away 99 percent of your Facebook stock that you want to do good things with your money. I'm the Executive Director at Resource Generation (RG), where we organize young people with wealth like yourself to work towards the equitable distribution of wealth, land and power. So, we're on the same team.
However, I'm skeptical of your decision to move the $45 billion to your own privately controlled LLC, because, well, that's not actually giving anything away. It is still privately controlled by you with no decision-making power by the communities who need the better world you described to your daughter.
Check out a report released this week by Institute for Policy Studies, which finds the Forbes 400 have more wealth than the bottom 61 percent of Americans combined, and the richest 100 households in the U.S. have the same amount of money as all African Americans in the U.S. combined -- aka, epic inequality.
At Resource Generation, we apply a social justice philanthropy framework to money and giving, and aim to address the root cause of wealth disparity in the first place. I get it -- navigating this stuff as a wealthy person is hard, even with the best intentions! That's why at RG we work to do this collectively and hold to these principles, some of which include:
- Fund solutions to the root causes of problems, not the symptoms. For example: in a low-income community with widespread asthma due to air pollution from a trash incinerator in the neighborhood, it's the difference between just funding medical treatment for people with asthma and funding organizing in the community to close the incinerator.
- Trust that people and communities most impacted by injustice and inequality have the solutions to the problems they face, and share decision-making. That means things like keeping money in an LLC or charitable foundation that only you control perpetuates the problem of rich people making decisions behind closed doors about problems they don't face themselves or have the best solutions to.
- Fight for policies that would prevent such vast wealth accumulation to occur in the first place. According to this Mother Jones article, Facebook itself avoided paying over $6 billion in taxes in 2013 precisely because of a law that allows it to pay employees in stock options. What if we had a 99 percent capital gains tax, or estate tax so that instead of investments amassing more money for the already-wealthy, money went directly back into public "common goods" like free education? Here's one idea on how that could work from your buddy Bill Gates' father, Bill Gates, Sr. A first step towards ending inequality is simply paying taxes.
- Take intersectionality as a given. We view everything through the lens of systems of oppression. "Inequality" can only end when we end other "-isms": racialized, gendered and xenophobic policies, actions, and attitudes are what spawn, perpetuate and exacerbate economic inequality.
- It's not an even playing field. While it's tempting to believe those of us with wealth got here by pulling on our own bootstraps or getting lucky, the reality is we live in an increasingly connected society (thanks, Facebook!) and individual success or failure depends on much bigger systems, from educational opportunities to predatory lending.
Mark, Priscilla or any other people 35 and under with wealth: please contact me and Resource Generation if you're interested in joining a community that works in partnership with grassroots organizations to fundamentally transform our economic system, so future generations don't inherit this inequality that wealthy people have created. We want and need to do this together.
Jessie Spector, Executive Director, Resource Generation