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Chuck Feeney is
July 22, 2013 2:12 AM   Subscribe

The billionaire who is trying to go broke. Chuck Feeney is the James Bond of philanthropy. Over the last 30 years he’s crisscrossed the globe conducting a clandestine operation to give away a $7.5 billion fortune derived from hawking cognac, perfume and cigarettes in his empire of duty-free shops.
posted by zoo (35 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
“People who have money have an obligation,” says Feeney. “I wouldn’t say I’m entitled to tell them what to do with it but to use it wisely.”

Good for him. If only more people with massive amounts of money at their disposal felt the s(h)ame. Also, glad to see it's not a Brewster's Millions scenario.
posted by longbaugh at 2:30 AM on July 22, 2013 [6 favorites]


Well, good for him.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:56 AM on July 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, good for him.

No, good for us.


....
2002: Makes grant for South Africa AIDS relief: has invested over $117 million in South African health care.

2004: Begins funding efforts to abolish the death penalty in the U .S. –has invested $28 million to date.

2006: Starts efforts to ensure health coverage for the almost 8 million uninsured children in the U .S.
....

posted by vacapinta at 2:58 AM on July 22, 2013 [16 favorites]


"He has aggressively tried to avoid taxes at every stage in his career–from setting up his early business in Lichtenstein, incorporating his holding company in Bermuda and listing it under the name of his then wife Danielle, a French citizen–despite gaining no personal advantage in his later years. Eventually, less taxes meant that he could give away more."


Well, if he and his fellow billionaires would not try to dodge taxes at every turn maybe some of the philanthropy efforts like health coverage would not be as direly needed?


Instead of hoping for obscenely rich people to go against the odds and donate their money I would prefer having a more just and stringent taxation system.
posted by ts;dr at 3:20 AM on July 22, 2013 [79 favorites]


Instead of hoping for obscenely rich people to go against the odds and donate their money I would prefer having a more just and stringent taxation system.

That's a false dichotomy. Can't we hope for both?
posted by vacapinta at 3:49 AM on July 22, 2013 [21 favorites]


Duty-free doesn't mean without duties.
posted by twoleftfeet at 3:53 AM on July 22, 2013


My problem isn't with people who use the law to keep more of the money they have been paid through all kinds of crazy tax shelters. My beef is with the people who buy the laws that allow that sort of thing to happen and the politicians that are but aren't really on their payroll.
posted by wierdo at 3:54 AM on July 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Chuck Feeney is the James Bond of philanthropy.

But wouldn't it be even more awesome if he were the Chuck Finley of philanthropy?
posted by RonButNotStupid at 3:56 AM on July 22, 2013 [10 favorites]


Can't we hope for both?

You can wish for obscenely rich people if you like. I dunno, seems a bit ... obscene.
posted by iotic at 3:58 AM on July 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


Neat. I recently read R.G. LeTourneau's autobiography and learned he did the same thing, although he transferred his company into a foundation well before it was worth so much. He also gave away 90% of his $250,000 salary (in the 60s.)
posted by michaelh at 4:00 AM on July 22, 2013


I don't know where the obscenity level kicks in. Me, I have two or three hundred million dollars, but I don't feel that obscene. I think it may kick in with those guys with four or five hundred million dollars.

That may start a bit of a derail about who should be ashamed of their filthy lucre - I think we can all agree that at the point where your personal wealth is measured in "B-billions" rather than "M-millions" you should do your very level best to increase the quality of life of as many humans as possible by donating your obscene wealth to sundry causes.

If you hit the Billion mark and you aren't thinking "Jesus - this amount of money I have is simply disgusting - I earn more from interest than 99% of humans on this earth earn in their lifetimes*1! I really ought to be helping more starving/dying people" you are probably a vile hoarding parasite with no connection to human beings and their daily struggles.


*1 From a quick Google it appears that $7,000 is the average global annual salary - lets assume you work 40 years before retirement/death so that's $280,000. Assuming you have $1bn in the bank you would earn this with an interest rate of 0.00028%. Even the weakest investments would almost guarantee this sort of return.*2

*2 My maths is shit, hence me not earning this sort of money. Take my figures with a large grain of salt.
posted by longbaugh at 4:23 AM on July 22, 2013 [9 favorites]


See, if he doesn't pay taxes, he gets to choose what he wants to support. Nice of him to support some specific causes, but, hey, roads and public education need money, too.

When we go to do improvements at our school, we make a list of all of our needs and then figure out what donors are most likely to support. Hence, constant improvements to our tech center while the school's cafeteria falls apart,

If we are going to depend on the largesse of the obscenely wealthy to determine what things get funded and what things don't get funded, we might as well go whole hog back to a monarchy and just be done with it.

I mean, nice that he is supporting some good causes. Yay for him. Pay your taxes too, dude.
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:29 AM on July 22, 2013 [29 favorites]


Imma let you finish, Chuck Feeney--but Monty Brewster had one of the best money giveaway of all time!
posted by Admiral Haddock at 4:51 AM on July 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


He could do it John Tipton style.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 5:09 AM on July 22, 2013


How much is a billion dollars?

Here's an eye-opening video (NSFW, potty mouth) illustrating the ridiculous amount of money that a billion dollars is.
posted by I'm Doing the Dishes at 5:19 AM on July 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


That's a false dichotomy. Can't we hope for both?

Stephen King makes a pretty good case for why taxes are substantially better than philanthropy in an article covered by this FPP.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:42 AM on July 22, 2013 [6 favorites]


Yeah, perfect is the enemy of good and all that, but I'm still wondering how many lobbyists could have been hired with $7.5 billion. That kind of money could probably make the US think socialized medicine is as American as apple pie.
posted by ymgve at 6:06 AM on July 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


Conor O'Cleary's biography of Feeney - "The Billionaire Who Wasn't" - is a fantastic piece of work. Highly recommend it.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 6:39 AM on July 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


If he paid more in taxes, some of it would help fund roads and schools. Some of it would help fund the bombing of other countries and killing their civilians. It's pretty to think that taxes only fund the good stuff, but that's not how it works in real life. If I were Feeney, I'd want as much control as possible over where my money went.
posted by Longtime Listener at 7:02 AM on July 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


If I were Feeney, I'd want as much control as possible over where my money went.

If I were Feeney and had made my fortune thanks to airports -- huge infrastructural projects that are almost exclusively built using public funds and rely on the publicly funded air travel system -- I'd be less certain that I was so much smarter than society.
posted by Etrigan at 7:29 AM on July 22, 2013 [7 favorites]


Not that it undermines your point, but its clear Feeny understood the value of airports. From the article, emphasis mine:

The Japanese were such lucrative customers that Feeney hired analysts to predict which cities they’d flock to next. DFS shops sprung up in Anchorage, San Francisco and Guam. Another target was Saipan, a tiny tropical island just a short flight from Japan that he predicted could become a hot beach spot for Tokyo residents. There was a catch: The island lacked an airport. So in 1976 DFS invested $5 million to have one built.
posted by vacapinta at 7:59 AM on July 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Other than the hugely disgusting and scandalous tax evasion I'm sure Chucky truly cared about his employees and made sure that he paid them enough to support their families. /sarcasm
posted by ishrinkmajeans at 8:01 AM on July 22, 2013


Not that it undermines your point, but its clear Feeny understood the value of airports.

His $5 million investment in an airport is dwarfed by the public money that went into operation of that airport and the air travel system generally. I'm not saying he's not a savvy investor, I'm just saying that his business -- as much as any billionaire I can think of -- relied heavily on the result of a revenue system that he spent most of his life actively avoiding paying into. Not just the "Well, the law says I owe $X, and I'm not going to write a check for $X times 10 because I feel I owe more to society," level of avoidance, but playing the tax codes like an international symphony orchestra of loopholes and schemes. Not to mention that his entire business exists because of taxes.

I'm glad he's giving some money back now to mostly worthy causes. I just wish he'd given more back for the last 40 years with the realization that he's not the only person who gets to choose which causes are worthy. That's why we have society.
posted by Etrigan at 8:29 AM on July 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


I wonder how well he paid his workers.
posted by cjorgensen at 8:38 AM on July 22, 2013


I just wish he'd given more back for the last 40 years ...

The article says he started in 1984, so that's nearly 30 years. And you wish he had given more than $6.2 billion, which is about 30 times his current net worth?

Look, I'd like to see tycoons pay their fair share of taxes and cut their employees in for a share of the profits. And I get it that some people bristle at the idea that he decides where the money goes rather than ceding authority to some governmental body. But I'm having a hard time stoking up a fiery hate for a guy who has given $6.2 billion in support of education, science, healthcare, old folks and civil rights. I'll save it for the ones who spend their money on private islands and ridiculous mansions.
posted by Longtime Listener at 9:10 AM on July 22, 2013 [6 favorites]


If I were Feeney and had made my fortune thanks to airports -- huge infrastructural projects that are almost exclusively built using public funds and rely on the publicly funded air travel system -- I'd be less certain that I was so much smarter than society.

It's worse than that! His fortune is not only based in these facilities, but is based on the concept of assisting people with avoiding paying taxes!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:32 AM on July 22, 2013


Since he's given away his entire fortune from Bermuda he has probably not qualified for the kinds of tax deductions on his US income that he would have otherwise received.
posted by IanMorr at 9:35 AM on July 22, 2013


Being the James Bond of anything seems like a Bad Thing. Bond was a terrible spy, forever being captured and interrogated.
posted by Gin and Comics at 9:44 AM on July 22, 2013


But I'm having a hard time stoking up a fiery hate for a guy...

There is a distinct difference between "stoking up a fiery hate" and being disappointed that he did things one way rather than another. I'm not accusing you or anyone else of fellating him, so how about we agree that reasonable people can appreciate that he's giving back a significant portion of his wealth while still being troubled at how he accumulated it?
posted by Etrigan at 10:40 AM on July 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


But I'm having a hard time stoking up a fiery hate for a guy who has given $6.2 billion in support of education, science, healthcare, old folks and civil rights. I'll save it for the ones who spend their money on private islands and ridiculous mansions.

Not to mention people who spend their money on this guy's cognac. Good on him for parting them from that money.
posted by ocschwar at 11:54 AM on July 22, 2013


Well, if he and his fellow billionaires would not try to dodge taxes at every turn maybe some of the philanthropy efforts like health coverage would not be as direly needed?


Nice theory, but the reason that the US does not have a national health system or any other sort of universal coverage has nothing to do with the amount of tax revenue we are or are not getting from kazillionaires.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 12:21 PM on July 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Guy donates 6.2 billion dollars on education, science, health care, aging and civil rights.

Metafilter: "What an asshole."
posted by Bugbread at 3:30 PM on July 22, 2013 [7 favorites]


If he paid more in taxes, some of it would help fund roads and schools. Some of it would help fund the bombing of other countries and killing their civilians. It's pretty to think that taxes only fund the good stuff, but that's not how it works in real life. If I were Feeney, I'd want as much control as possible over where my money went.

Look, there are also people out there who would rather defund education and roads and only fund defense. We have a system in place for electing people that make decisions to reflect what we want at both the state and national level so that we can do things with tax money for the common good. Yes, the system doesn't always work perfectly, but the other option is for us all to be dependent on the largess of the stupidly wealthy for things we very much need (roads, disaster relief, emergency services, clean water, etc).

I'm thrilled that various billionaires out there see shiny things that attract their attention and donate their money to them. Heck, the despised Koch brothers give annually to dozens of causes that I support (and also dozens of causes that I loathe). If the assorted mega-rich who avoid paying taxes in fact paid their fair share of taxes to their states and to the federal government, maybe we wouldn't have to be in a situation right now where we're furloughing federal employees one day a week and cutting funds indiscriminately to hundreds of vital programs.

That's kind of what the social contract is all about.

So, I'm not saying he's an asshole for supporting charitable causes. Good for him! Charity away! But there's plenty of lower profile stuff that needs to be done that the Fed and state do that could also use a little funding in the way of tax dollars. I don't imagine he's going to be making a major donation to, for example, a DMV that had to cut public hours due to lack of funds anytime soon.
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:01 PM on July 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Other than the hugely disgusting and scandalous tax evasion I'm sure Chucky truly cared about his employees and made sure that he paid them enough to support their families. /sarcasm

My father worked for DFS in the 90s. He was well taken care of, as were other employees to my understanding.
posted by ill3 at 5:10 PM on July 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Guy donates 6.2 billion dollars on education, science, health care, aging and civil rights.

Metafilter: "What an asshole."


$6.2 billion apparently buys a lot of straw men.
posted by Etrigan at 5:51 PM on July 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


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