After reading the "All Meaning Above" collection, I will no longer subconsciously assume that colleagues are skeptical

Philanthropy is less sympathetic if it is also a smart way to avoid taxes

Ionica Smiths

Excuse me! Yvon Chouinard, founder of the outerwear brand Patagonia, “brings his work to the climactic.” With a sympathetic builder he put his family in two “save the planet” boxes. These funds will pay around 100 million euros annually for projects that protect nature and biodiversity. 100 million! Philanthropist Rene Beckers turned out to be less impressed with this amount: “Compared to 374 million euros (in 2020) from the Netherlands Postal Lottery, 100 million euros is not exceptionally much.” But the money from the Postcode lottery comes from a lot of individual donors and also goes to different types of charities.

How much is 100 million actually? On a budget day week, these types of sums fly through the air and I always like to look at these sums from different perspectives. With €100 million, you can reduce energy bills by €200 per month for all households in Heerlen for a year. On the other hand, you need at least 170 times the 100 million euros for the purchasing power recovery package that the government introduced on Tuesday. With 100 million euros you can buy a pocket Donald Duck for every Dutchman. You can have Deloitte file just over 16 reports on the mask deal. With 100 million you can call yourself a “rich screamer”.

And that amount goes annually from Patagonia through the Nature and Biodiversity Funds. Very sympathetic. I recently spoke with a friend about how unfortunate I am that Dutch billionaires don’t often do something like that. In Germany this year I was introduced to the Klaus Tschira Foundation, founded by the late Tschira physicist who became very wealthy with the software company SAP. The Foundation annually donates several million dollars to projects that stimulate science. Complete university buildings, institutes, all kinds of conferences and beautiful projects are funded by the Foundation. (I like to think about this the next time I run into a SAP system that doesn’t have to be very user friendly at my university.)

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The friend I told this to was much less impressed. Wasn’t this overwhelmingly undemocratic? Why should an organization make a decision about these kinds of things, can’t they be paid so much better than public money?

I thought of Rutger Bregman’s now-legendary speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2019. During a panel discussion on wealth inequality, he pissed off his anger at the wealthy: “Stop talking about philanthropy, start talking about it.” tax. We can invite Bono back, but we need to talk about taxes. (…) Tax, taxes, taxes. I think the rest is all nonsense.

Philanthropy is also less empathetic if at the same time a smart way to avoid taxes. So I was a little disappointed when I was Bloomberg I read that Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia is apparently avoiding a €700m tax bill with his sympathetic build.

I think my friend and Rutger Bergmann (in no particular order) are right. Charity sounds nice, but it’s not entirely democratic.

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