To commemorate the birth of Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan’s daughter Maxima Chan Zuckerberg—“Max”—the proud parents posted a letter to her on Facebook Tuesday, a gesture that at first seemed sweet and fitting for the Facebook founder. It starts off sappy enough, but quickly devolves into a rambling political manifesto that is as preachy as it is shallow.
Who doesn’t love the idea of a new mommy and daddy penning their firstborn child a welcome note, a sentimental letter, perhaps full of family traditions or wishes for the child that she may read and enjoy when she’s older?
If this were truly written to the newborn Max, it would be full of simple, direct language that even a child could eventually read and appreciate. The letter begins that way: “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.”
But beyond the introduction, it becomes a misguided and even self-serving platform that encourages global connection and free access to healthcare and Internet, among other things. What kid wants to be a front for that?
The Letter Is Vague about Social Problems
Zuckerberg observes the world around him somewhat accurately and optimistically at first: “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.” Then he takes a superior tone and gently chides our society as a whole for not directing “our resources at the biggest opportunities and problems your generation will face.”
He hopes Max’s generation will focus on advancing human potential and promoting equality. These sound like great things. Who doesn’t want that? But they are vague to the point of obtuse. Zuckerberg lists disease, the lack of access to healthcare and Internet, clean energy, peace, poverty, the importance of inclusivity, all buzz words that sound alarmingly familiar to many. Yet his solutions, save the 99 percent of Facebook shares he intends to give away philanthropically, are few. Of course, one wouldn’t expect solutions to all the world’s problems in one letter to a newborn, but then why bother listing them? Self-awareness is only beneficial so long as it isn’t priggish.
Advocates Socialism, Not Capitalism
Zuckerberg’s own success story is about as free-market loving, capitalist-promoting as you can get. As a young Harvard undergrad, Zuckerberg, with the help of a few friends, created through sheer talent, grit, hard work, and no doubt some good fortune what has turned out to be a technological, sociological, and entrepreneurial empire in Facebook, the likes of which the world has never seen in its scope, singularity and venture capital.
He throws one bone to free-market loving capitalists—“Can we cultivate entrepreneurship so you can build any business and solve any challenge to grow peace and prosperity?”—but mostly promotes policies that would undercut the very environment that allowed him to create Facebook in the first place: “Promoting equality is about making sure everyone has access to these opportunities — regardless of the nation, families or circumstances they are born into.”
Among these opportunities, Zuckerberg includes basic healthcare and “giving everyone access to the internet.” He doesn’t go into how he thinks this should happen exactly, but giving everything away for free doesn’t work very well, in charity, business, or political structures (that’s called socialism). Zuckerberg should have figured this out by now given his waste of $100 million in Newark schools. Redistribution and wasteful spending might be the America the couple envisions for Max, but that’s not the America we want for our children.
More Pretentious than Philanthropic
The conclusion of the letter is the clincher. The couple explains they have started the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and will “give 99% of our Facebook shares — currently about $45 billion — during our lives to advance this mission. We know this is a small contribution compared to all the resources and talents of those already working on these issues. But we want to do what we can, working alongside many others.”
In one sense, philanthropy of this magnitude is admirable. The couple no doubt wants to help others. Yet despite listing the ways many in the world around them struggle, they still come across as blissfully unaware, to the point of being smug, believing that money and bromides solve the world’s problems. “We’ll share more details in the coming months once we settle into our new family rhythm and return from our maternity and paternity leaves. We understand you’ll have many questions about why and how we’re doing this.” Not to mention that keeping just 1 percent will still leave Max with upwards of $450 million. Not too shabby.
Maybe this is cynicism speaking, but Zuckerberg’s altruism seems to mask arrogance, especially in context. This isn’t to say Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan aren’t doing the world a bit of good what with her medical career, his Facebook, their grand ideas, and their big ‘ol chunk of change, but money can’t make bad ideas good ones, and good intentions can’t replace wisdom. Maybe a few sleepless nights and dose of reality a newborn provides might change their minds on a few of these ideas.