Beware of Mark Zuckerberg bearing gifts.
In wonderful news on the philanthropy front, Mark Zuckerberg has contributed 500 million dollars to… well, to an organization that will spawn a subsidiary foundation to contribute to… well, a funding mechanism that will facilitate his ability to contribute to… well, to things involving education and its ability to contribute to… well, to the general wellbeing of society and its ability to contribute to… well, Mark Zuckerberg’s reputation. And the government.
It is too early to predict just who if anyone will benefit from this “gift” to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. Take a look at this organization’s website and it becomes clear they are sitting on quite a gold mine. They boast of two billion dollars under management, with a smorgasbord of investment options for these funds.
In essence, you take your half-billion and donate it instantly by putting it into a mutual fund of your choice. You actually retain control of the money, deciding how it is invested. In the meantime, plenty of nice commissions and salaries are being generated for the fund managers. Credit for your generosity is cashed in immediately and so is your tax deduction.
In your mind, the money is still yours, sitting there and growing nicely. You can use it as bargaining chips and leverage for future business deals, for public relations, even granting salaried positions to your relatives down the line if you choose. In a year from now or ten years from now, you may hear that Zuckerberg gave ten million dollars to a school somewhere, becoming a hero all over again by using the same money.
All of this would be tolerable if there was a likelihood that really good things would result from this fund being established. In the case of the Walton family foundation, real money is given out to help real parents choose private schools they could otherwise not afford. For this reason it is widely scorned by public school teachers and unions. They claim it is fostering a culture of “corporatism” in education, whatever that means. I just know that for people like me who would never dream of raising a child without a religious education, Walton grants have been — you should excuse the expression — a godsend.
But a person of Zuckerberg’s sensibility would never indulge in such insolence toward the New York Times editorial-page narrative of reality. Indeed he crows that this new 500 million comes on the heels of his earlier 100 million of which he is “very proud.” This money was given to create something called Startup:Education. A visit to its website indicates that it went up in 2010. The site has three areas, totaling about ten lines of text, two pictures, and a 60-second video from Bill Gates. It regretfully informs you that is not accepting unsolicited grant requests at this time.
Apparently all that cash went straight into the Newark, New Jersey, public school system. The “goal” is to make it the model for others. Fabulous. School choice means choosing the one the government tells you to choose, reminding us of the old Wendy’s hamburger ads (here and here).
Why do I have trouble envisioning the bold new frontiers of literacy and science expanding outward from Newark to the nation and then to the world? Instead I see the usual suspects, these puffed-up charlatans (community organizers, anyone?) running these hollow non-profits that are the liberal version (Clinton Global Initiative, anyone?) of the old CIA shell companies. They hold big conferences at fancy hotels and discuss “program development,” letting themselves eat the cake.
And they are lousy tippers. Wouldn’t want to waste that good charity money on the hired help…
Taking hundreds of millions of dollars out of the private sector in profits and then returning it to the public sector for bureaucrats to cannibalize, channeling it via this intermediate non-profit sector for its vultures to pick over, is not my idea of charity. My children go to the same kinds of Jewish schools I attended, with incredibly talented and devoted staff, at best underpaid, often several months in arrears on payroll.
You give these schools a hundred million dollars and they will turn out jewels, the builders of a beautiful future for our society. Then again they will do that anyway; without the preening and misguided donors, without the chirping and manipulative middlemen.
That is the saddest truth, but the happiest truth at the same time. The good folks keep their heads down and plod on, doing the right thing at great personal cost. It is they who make the real difference. The showy types go for the flash and in the end provide little real help.
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