Mark Zuckerberg used 2,234 words to describe the things he values most in the world. None of those words was “freedom.”
Every problem that Zuckerberg says he cares about has been solved by political-economic freedom: the liberation of individuals from coercion by one another and by government. If that freedom existed in the impoverished world then the impoverished world would quickly become prosperous.
What will not make the impoverished world prosperous–or free–is for billionaires to dole out huge sums of conspicuous charity to unfree people while doing absolutely nothing to fight for their freedom.
Take the field I write about, energy. If you want to help a country flourish with cheap, plentiful, reliable energy, there is exactly one way to do it: Create a political environment where energy producers are free to develop energy to the best of their ability, where energy transporters are free to move energy to the best of their ability, where energy consumers are free to choose energy to the best of their ability. This is how the U.S. and Europe became energy-rich, and how many parts of Asia are dramatically improving access to energy.
Freedom is also crucial for clean, healthy environments. Governments that value individual freedom protect the individual’s rights from pollution and endangerment (lack of these values is a major cause of China’s political problems).
And yet when billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates talk about improving energy access or environmental quality around the world, they steer clear of challenging the anti-freedom governments and anti-freedom ideas that cause these problems. Quite often, they embrace anti-freedom ideas–such as the movement to force us to use the most expensive, unreliable sources of energy such as solar and wind. All of this is based on a fundamental pretense–that what moves life forward is people like them doling out wealth–instead of people like all of us living in free societies where we can create our own wealth.
This pretense is psychologically convenient. It makes the billionaire feel good about himself and often enables him to win back some of the approval he lost by making so much money. Importantly, a billionaire doling out a lot of money requires no independent thought or courage whatsoever–whereas fighting for freedom requires a lot of it, because fighting for freedom is always connected to controversial issues.
If you are Mark Zuckerberg and have $45 billion, it is easy to live a lavish lifestyle with only 1% of it.
What would be hard–and admirable–would be for Zuckerberg to stand up in a meaningful way for freedom, in any area or every area, particularly for the billions who lack it most.
Imagine if Mark Zuckerberg, in the face of the recent massacre of Parisians by jihadists bent on enslaving the world to Islamic law, condemned jihadism as a threat to freedom and civilization.
Imagine if Mark Zuckerberg, in the face of an ongoing summit in Paris to outlaw the use of the vast majority of affordable, reliable energy, condemned the environmentalist leaders who oppose energy from fossil fuel, nuclear and hydroelectric sources as a threat to freedom and prosperity.
Imagine if Mark Zuckerberg, in the face of his fellow billionaires condescendingly giving the impoverished world handouts instead of support for freedom movements, created an initiative to promote political-economic freedom around the world.
If Mark Zuckerberg did any of those things he would make a huge, positive difference in the world. But those things would be hard. And he doesn’t do them.
Neither does Bill Gates. Neither does Warren Buffett.
And thus what we have is a world in which the world’s most brilliant business minds, minds that have reached their potential only because of freedom, do absolutely nothing to promote freedom. When was the last time that you saw a prominent billionaire businessman take a courageous stand for freedom, a stand that would invite disapproval but was nevertheless the right thing to do?
I hope it has happened more times than I can remember. I know that it needs to happen much, much more. I know I didn’t see it in Mark Zuckerberg’s letter.