It’s hard not to get the feeling that being the little rich kid ‘who has everything’, could be a curse.
Facebook billionaire Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Dr Priscilla Chan have just given birth to their first baby, a girl called Max (Maxima), and have announced they are going to give away 99% of their Facebook shares in their lifetime, currently estimated to come in at a cool $45billion. Like Bill and Melinda Gates of Microsoft, they are setting up their own charity, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, where funds will be directed by the foundation to advance “human potential” and promote equality.
Zuckerberg wrote a letter (on Facebook, not paper) to his new baby to explain his decision to give away his fortune:
Your mother and I don’t yet have the words to describe the hope you give us for the future. Your new life is full of promise, and we hope you will be happy and healthy so you can explore it fully. You’ve already given us a reason to reflect on the world we hope you live in.
Like all parents, we want you to grow up in a world better than ours today.Advertisement
While headlines often focus on what’s wrong, in many ways the world is getting better. Health is improving. Poverty is shrinking. Knowledge is growing. People are connecting. Technological progress in every field means your life should be dramatically better than ours today.
We will do our part to make this happen, not only because we love you, but also because we have a moral responsibility to all children in the next generation.
We believe all lives have equal value, and that includes the many more people who will live in future generations than live today. Our society has an obligation to invest now to improve the lives of all those coming into this world, not just those already here.
Of course Max is still going to be more than comfortable in her lifetime. Of course Max will have an extremely privileged life, but Zuckerberg’s decision to give away what he could give to his daughter means he must have thought about both the morality of extremes of wealth and the impact that wealth can have on his offspring.
Zuckerberg has already seen that those who have the most, in a material sense, and those that give the most to their children do not necessarily win at the parenting game.
Watch the CNN report on Zuckerberg’s initiative below. Post continues after video.
After more than a decade of research, Psychology Today has warned that while experiencing poverty before five can be significantly detrimental to children, there can be issues at the other end of the scale too. The offspring of the affluent are more “distressed” than other youth and “show disturbingly high rates of substance use, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, cheating, and stealing”.
“The high rate of maladjustment among affluent adolescents is strikingly counterintuitive,” researcher Suniya Luther from Columbia University said. “There is a tacit assumption—even among those most affected—that education and money procure well-being, and that if children falter, they will swiftly get the appropriate services. Education and money may once have served as buffers against distress, but that is no longer the case. Something fundamental has changed: The evidence suggests that the privileged young are much more vulnerable today than in previous generations.”
Rich kids gone bad has even turned into a two billion a year plus industry in the states with special wilderness camps, boarding schools, interventions, programs, psychiatrists and psychologists charging exorbitant fees to rich parents to fix their rich kids.
All Zuckerberg has to do is scroll down at Rich Kids of Snapchat on Facebook (they have around 240,000 likes). If he does it for too long, the Zuckerberg Chans might end up living in a cabin off the coast of Canada in Newfoundland.
The boasting excess, the judgement of those lesser than themselves (ie people who don’t wear Rolexs and don’t charter private planes), the total and utter heartbreaking ickiness of building a wall of Louis Vuitton boxes and then posting it as being the pinnacle of what you take pride in as a human being that day.
Why would he want smart, kind, funny, Max to end up on the bow of a yacht getting champagne sprayed across her bum by seven Scott Disick look-alikes?
The money in that foundation can change the world.
Then there are the real life horror stories of poor little rich kids. From The Gettys, The Hiltons, The Johnsons (of Johnson and Johnson), the Inmans (tobacco heirs) and a host of others.
American oil tycoon John Paul Getty Sr has a family tree filled with offspring that have died prematurely and couldn’t seem to function in the real world. There has been substance abuse, mental illness, unexplained deaths, second families, estrangements, decade long lawsuits and a kidnapping in Rome in 1973 of John Paul Getty Jr where the ransom was at first refused by the patriarch until kidnappers cut off his son’s ear and even then Getty Sr would only pay $2.2 million of the $3 million as that was all he could claim on his tax.
In 2010 Casey Johnson of the Johnson and Johnson fortune was found dead at 30 in her squalid, rat-infested Hollywood home. She had a history of drug abuse and mental illness and was thought to be dead for seven days before anyone found her.
Two years ago Rolling Stone uncovered the sad story of tobacco billionaire heir twins Patterson and Georgia Inman. While the children were sometimes treated to extravagant luxuries like a pet lion, they were abused from the age of two by their father, Walter Inman, a drug addict. Together with his fifth wife, also a drug addict, he would lock them in a basement, hit them, pour boiling water on them and drive dangerously while high. He died from a meth overdose when they were 12. At 15 they lived with their mother, a former stripper, suffer suicidal thoughts and were undergoing therapy.
It’s not true that money can’t buy happiness. It can in a lot of ways. Paying bills on time is nice. Holidays are great. Treats are wonderful.
But the question is what happens to families when wealth is so excessive, so beyond the wildest dreams it has moved into the most prosaic of nightmares.
The kind of money Mark Zuckerberg is talking about giving away can change the world. And that’s a better outcome than wildest dreams money changing his daughter.
Are you delighted by Zuckerberg’s decision to give away his fortune?