You may have heard of the trend of businessmen “Going Galt,” i.e., 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. (The phrase “Going Galt” is a reference to Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged.) 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.”
Maybe there is an amount of guilt going on here and some peer pressure on the side, but aren’t these individual decisions? Each person has decided to to join this pledge and can change his/her mind at any point. I know that they hate empathy and caring for others, but this might be just a bit of a stretch on their part.
What I didn’t mention in the column was that one of the central issues Ayn Rand addresses in her novel Atlas Shrugged is why so many businessmen feel unearned guilt for their success.
Maybe Rand is wrong and the roots of kindness, charity, solidarity and social justice are a natural part of humanity. Maybe people want to take care of each other and give.
For people who like pictures (like me):
HT Matt Bishop