Why are some uber-wealthy people giving their money away?

Some of today’s wealthiest people are having a change of heart.

If you won the lottery or stumbled upon buried treasure, your first instinct might not be to give it all away.

Three beige sacks with dollar signs on the front filled with cash and wrapped in a red gift bow.

But for some who have amassed huge sums of money — either through business or inheritance — getting rid of it is exactly what they want to do.

Take Marlene Engelhorn: The Austrian heiress is a descendant of Friedrich Engelhorn, the founder of BASF, one of the world’s biggest chemical companies. Last week, she announced that she’ll be giving away $27.4m of her inheritance.

  • Engelhorn formed a citizen’s council that will decide how her inheritance will be redistributed; 10k Austrian citizens were randomly selected to apply and 50 will be chosen to sit on the council.
  • They’ll then decide which charitable organizations to distribute the fortune to.

Engelhorn also co-founded Tax Me Now — a group of wealthy people in German-speaking countries who are addressing the inequality caused by tax policies — in 2021.

Stories like this…

… are becoming more common as countries grapple with how to tax billionaires fairly.

In Austria, the inheritance tax was abolished in 2008. In the US, a 2021 White House analysis found that the 400 wealthiest families paid an average of 8.2% of their income in taxes from 2010 to 2018, lower than the tax rate for most Americans.

Now, we’re hearing some pretty wild stories of riches getting dumped:

  • Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, gave away his company so that its $100m in annual profits could be used to fight climate change.
  • Nicolas Puech, the heir to $13B of the Hermes fashion fortune, adopted his gardener in order to leave him at least half of his money.
  • MacKenzie Scott has donated $16B+ to philanthropies since 2019, after her divorce from one of the world’s wealthiest people, Jeff Bezos.

What does all of this teach us? That maybe there is some good in the world — and that we should take up gardening.

Topics: Wealth

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