Philanthropy is an integral part of American entrepreneurial culture. But the initiative of Facebook’s founder, to give away 99% of his Facebook shares, marks a turning point.
When their daughter Maxima was born, Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan decided to give away 99% of their Facebook shares, of an estimated value of 45 billion dollars.
Philanthropy is an integral part of the American entrepreneurial culture, which is based on having the opportunity to make one’s fortune but with the moral duty to share it. Because of this, in 2014, charitable donations reached 360 billion dollars – 2% of the United States’ GDP.
Nevertheless, what the founder of Facebook has done marks a turning polint. Firstly, he is only 31, whereas the creation of foundations often used to be reserved for retirees or figured as provisions made in wills. Secondly, a specific structure has been constituted, combining donations and market transactions which will be ploughed back into philanthropic projects, whilst Mark Zuckerberg remains the majority shareholder and chief executive of Facebook. Finally, it is his wish to establish a close link between business development and personal commitment, to apply militant principles to political and social change, and to use breakthrough innovations into order to change the world.
In doing this, Mark Zuckerberg joins the leading lights of the technology sector who use philanthropy less to support existing institutions than to revolutionize public policies by imposing efficiency constraints, by putting them on a long-term footing and by deploying them on a global scale. This is similar to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which is engaged in the health sector, in the fight against AIDS and malaria, in education, and in the financing and development of renewable energies with the Breakthrough Energy Coalition presented during COP21 and supported by 25 billionaires. Similar too to the transhumanist project pursued by Larry Page and Sergey Brin on the fringes of Google, and Elon Musk’s ambition to connect the planet by means of a satellite network.
This globalized philanthropy is part of a new equilibrium between nations, businesses and citizens, and is reflected in the massive investment by Silicon Valley companies in education, training, health care and the creation of new cities backed by Facebook and Google.
The 19th century was that of the guarantor state – limited to its essential sovereign functions. The 20th century was that of the welfare state – generated by the world wars and the depression of the 1930s – which monopolised the handling of collective risks by means of macroeconomic control, redistribution and management of public services. The 21st century sees a new partnership emerging between nations, businesses and individual initiatives in order to deal with the global risks of universal capitalism and an open society.
The number of human beings continues to increase as does our life expectancy and wealth. But the risks are ever more complex because of their interaction in economic, financial, technological, environmental and strategic domains. Governments find themselves powerless to cope with such risks because of falling financial resources (the public debt of developed countries amounts, on average, to 118% of GNP and welfare protection commitments are at 250% of GNP), the tyranny of existing benefit levels and extremely short-term decisions, the cannibalisation of governmental functions by the welfare state, their fragility in face of populist movements, and the limitations of national frontiers.
The state remains central to risk management in the 21st century since it has special skills and resources. But it has lost the monopoly of public interest and can only be effective again if it combines its actions with those of the market, of businesses and of its citizens, and if it coordinates its actions with other nations. This is exemplified by the war against Islamic State which can only be won by a global strategy that integrates ideological, military, diplomatic and economic factors, by aligning regional and global powers, and by the resistance of societies and of individuals.
The winners in the 21st century will not be predatory governments that strangle businesses and society so as to corner all the instruments of power. The winners will be those who are able to steer state investment in its essential governmental functions, to create new partnerships between the public and private sectors in order to manage collective functions, and to give more free space to civil society – whether it be to individuals, families, associations, foundations or businesses. Innovation, prosperity, security and freedom depend on people. Governments will become stronger by letting people act, or will destroy themselves by tying people’s hands and despoiling them.