It may be ingracious to raise an eyebrow at the news that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan will donate €2.7bn to biomedical research over the next decade.
They hope to “cure, prevent, or manage all diseases by the end of the century”. This is a noble mission and a very generous gesture. Zuckerberg is the epitomy of the modern plutocrat. Rich beyond comprehension — Forbes estimate he is worth €50bn — and he’s just 32. Ireland’s national debt is around €180bn.
We have recently seen how controversial international tax arrangements can be, and though there is absolutely no suggestion Mr Zuckerberg or Facebook have illegally evaded tax, Apple showed how tax can be minimised to an immoral degree. It is unlikely that Facebook’s accountants have not used every opportunity to legally minimise their tax bill.
Philanthrophy on this great scale seems to usurp the role of government and international aid agencies — a billionaire decides what is a worthy cause rather than a parliament. There are Irish examples of this largesse too, sometimes involving those who prefer to live abroad for tax reasons.
The dazzling Zuckerberg donation represents 5% of his wealth, so maybe we should not be blinded by its scale. It would be easier to unequivocally welcome it if international tax laws were more effective and transparent — and meant this vital research did not have to depend on charity.
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