Facebook CEO and recent parent Mark Zuckerberg has written a letter to his newborn daughter—cum a political manifesto—in which he makes the ‘Billionaires’ Pledge’ to give most of his wealth away to charity. More specifically, he pledged to give away 99% of his Facebook shares (currently valued at about USD 45 billion) in his lifetime, to make the world a better place for future generations, including his daughter.

Mr. Zuckerberg of course has the right to do whatever he wants with his money—he has earned it. However, the question is: What is the best way to make the world a better place? In his letter, Zuckerberg states that world can be made better by “advancing human potential and promoting equality,” and he wants to focus his charitable investments to eliminating poverty and disease and improving access to health care and to education.

These are all laudable goals (presuming he means equality of individual rights, not equality of income or results, regardless of effort). Who wouldn’t want to have better technologies to improve productivity and to increase wealth, cures for and ways of preventing diseases, and affordable, effective health care and education? But Zuckerberg’s proposed path of achieving these goals is wrong. His charitable investment may make a small dent, particularly if he invests in medical research and private schools, but he could do much more to achieve his goals.

It seems that only a portion of Zuckerberg’s investment will be in businesses related to his causes; the rest will go into charity. If he truly wants to eliminate poverty and find cures for diseases, most of his money should be invested in profit-seeking businesses. Business has the incentive to create wealth—wealth that finances new life-enhancing products, such as medicines and education programs, and creates job opportunities for those seeking to rise out of poverty. It is productiveness of business—creation of material values on which we all depend for our survival and well-being—that has a far greater impact on making the world a better place, by the standard of human life, than any charitable giving. And let’s not forget: charitable giving is only possible if wealth is created through productive activity in the first place.

But to truly make the world a better place, Mark Zuckerberg could do even more. He could address the root cause for advancing human potential: freedom. As the high-profile CEO of a large tech company, he could advocate freedom of individuals and free markets, the fundamental requirements of maximizing wealth creation and eliminating poverty. He could speak against government involvement in the economy, including health care and education, and advocate privatization in both fields. That would be the only way to improve the quality, accessibility and affordability of both health care and education to all, and to facilitate discovery of cures for diseases.

For those who claim that private health care and education can only be afforded by the wealthy, or that government regulation facilitates the discovery of cures for diseases, think again. In free markets, competition drives up quality and lowers prices and facilitates innovation. For evidence, look at the thousands of thriving private schools in the slums of the developing countries, or the rate of innovation in the least regulated industries, such as consumer electronics.

But Mr. Zuckerberg will not advocate individual rights and free markets because he has accepted altruism, today’s prevalent moral code that tells us that our lives don’t belong us. Instead, altruism instructs us to live for others, putting their needs ahead of our own. Altruism makes the wealthy feel guilty about their success and urges them pledge their wealth away, as Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, and now Mark Zuckerberg, have done.—There is nothing wrong with charity when one gives to causes one values and when it does not involve self-sacrifice and become one’s central purpose.

The world can be made better by enhancing human survival and flourishing, but it cannot be achieved by sacrificing for the sake of others. Survival and flourishing is only possible by everyone pursuing his self-interest and freely trading with one another. Such freedom is what Mark Zuckerberg—and everybody else—should advocate and oppose government control of medicine, health care and education, and of every other area of the economy. As for government, its role is to protect our freedom to produce, trade, and live a flourishing life.

That would be a better world indeed.

The following two tabs change content below.
Jaana Woiceshyn teaches business ethics and competitive strategy at the Haskayne School of Business, University of Calgary, Canada. She has lectured and conducted seminars on business ethics to undergraduate, MBA and Executive MBA students, and to various corporate audiences for over 20 years both in Canada and abroad. Before earning her Ph.D. from the Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania, she helped turn around a small business in Finland and worked for a consulting firm in Canada. Jaana’s research on technological change and innovation, value creation by business, executive decision-making, and business ethics has been published in various academic and professional journals and books. “How to Be Profitable and Moral” is her first solo-authored book. Visit her website at profitableandmoral.com.

Latest posts by Jaana Woiceshyn (see all)