Adams Ruins Patagonia. And Billionaires.
October 13, 2022 6:22 PM   Subscribe

Adam Conover, famous for ruining everything [previously], takes to youtube for his first (presumably there will be more) longform rant about everyone's new favorite billionaire Yvon Chouinard (recently on the blue) and explaining Why There's No Such Thing as a Good Billionaire

Included in this jam-packed rant is Adam's usual fast-paced talking points, thorough research, a lot of backstory, and many similar stories. Including Andrew Carnegie, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and more.
posted by revmitcz (88 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
 
I've avoided Adam presuming an eventual milkshake duck. I'm glad he at least appears to remain on the side of reason.
posted by abulafa at 6:45 PM on October 13 [5 favorites]


I shared his original Twitter thread on this topic with a group of leftie types, and many of them were like, "But that CAN'T be true! Surely Yvon is the ONE GOOD BILLIONAIRE!" So glad to see this follow up.
posted by rednikki at 7:09 PM on October 13 [10 favorites]


I mean, isn't Chouinard trying to stop being a billionaire?
posted by RakDaddy at 7:30 PM on October 13 [8 favorites]


quick note. andrew carnegie … not dale.
posted by buffalo at 7:41 PM on October 13 [5 favorites]


I mean, isn't Chouinard trying to stop being a billionaire

Not at all. It's just a tax dodge. His family will control the non-profit "charity" that he set up to own Patagonia in perpetuity.

Based on Adam's previous comments on the matter, I assume that he addresses this in the video. Off to watch...
posted by Anoplura at 7:43 PM on October 13 [7 favorites]


Not at all. It's just a tax dodge.
This just isn't true.
posted by kickingtheground at 7:44 PM on October 13 [23 favorites]


Oh look, an iconoclast. How surprising.

This is the mindset which makes Laval a greater villain than Himmler.

Yes, let's tell ourselves we're preaching Truth by complaining about someone who isn't entirely evil. While entirely ignoring the guys who are in fact utterly evil.

...because hey, maybe we can actually defeat the Minor Evil, but Greater Evil is beyond our ken so let's just give up on that one shall we sport? Take the easy win, we all feel better about ourselves, and nothing of actual consequence changes at all.

Nail a guy for jaywalking, while another dude guns down a few kids and walks away free. Yes, yes, now we get to feel better than that Minor Evil guy because holy shit, he wanted to pretend like he was one of us!! That Greater Evil guy, well, he's just killing other people on the other side of the world, what does that matter? That guy at least admits he's Evil! Let's just leave well enough alone, can't get that guy on a hypocrisy charge after all, can we?
posted by aramaic at 7:45 PM on October 13 [22 favorites]


quick note. andrew carnegie … not dale.

Ooops. Thanks for that, I'll message the mods.
posted by revmitcz at 7:45 PM on October 13 [1 favorite]


Yeah I dunno... I don't need a 20 minute video to convince me billionaires shouldn't exist and need to be taxed properly. But I could have used more than 30 seconds on why the particular non-profit structure Chouinard setup is supposedly such a scam. Maybe with some supporting evidence, etc.
posted by gwint at 7:46 PM on October 13 [11 favorites]


While entirely ignoring the guys who are in fact utterly evil.

Not sure how you get "entirely ignoring" from a video titled "Why There's No Such Thing as a Good Billionaire".
posted by Etrigan at 7:53 PM on October 13 [12 favorites]


But I could have used more than 30 seconds on why the particular non-profit structure Chouinard setup is supposedly such a scam. Maybe with some supporting evidence, etc.

The bit in question is about 3-4 mins long but if you want a timestamp-linked section this is the starting point of the explanation of the charitable contribution
posted by revmitcz at 7:54 PM on October 13 [5 favorites]


Not sure how you get "entirely ignoring" from a video

Count for me the number of seconds spent on Chouinard vs. the number of seconds spent on Prigozhin. The number of seconds spent on Jho Low. The number of seconds spent on Gertler. Glasenberg. Potanin. Deripaska. And on, and on, and on. But nobody Hip And Cool knows those names, so they don't matter. Gotta go against the zeitgeist to rack up the hits man!

...but yeah, literally count for me the number of seconds spent on those specific names. I'll do you the favor of terminating the list before it gets excessive (look at me! nobody from China even!)

The video isn't that long, you can do it.
posted by aramaic at 8:02 PM on October 13 [7 favorites]


I’m sorry, but your comment is invalid because it doesn’t mention Hitler anywhere.
posted by Etrigan at 8:05 PM on October 13 [12 favorites]


Adam's suggestion for an alternative to the structure they came up with is to... give the company to his kids. That helps a bit with paying their fair share of taxes I guess, but doesn't do much for what is supposed to be the point of the video: To get rid of billionaires.

The core problem is not this dude and his company, its tax policy and Citizens United.
posted by gwint at 8:07 PM on October 13 [11 favorites]


If the argument is that there is no good billionaire, would you not take the best example of a "good one" you can find to make that argument?
posted by ghost phoneme at 8:07 PM on October 13 [25 favorites]


Nah, gotta go against the zeitgeist to get those hot clicks, remember to Like and Subscribe!
posted by aramaic at 8:08 PM on October 13 [3 favorites]


Also he even says I believe that Chouinard has good intentions, but the structures he's taking advantage of are still bullshit . . . which tracks.
posted by Carillon at 8:09 PM on October 13 [14 favorites]


To play devils (saints?) advocate. If he paid US taxes on the sale of the company about half would go to the military (and military industrial complex). I’ll take a model that lets his family maintain control while most of the profits go to environmental causes.

Of course I want to see us tax the oil companies and defense contractors, but we need to fundamentally change how we spend our tax dollars along with raising more of them
posted by CostcoCultist at 8:30 PM on October 13 [12 favorites]


Nail a guy for jaywalking, while another dude guns down a few kids and walks away free.

The concept of jaywalking literally exists because billionaires wanted to steal public space for their products.
posted by Reyturner at 8:41 PM on October 13 [35 favorites]


I’ll take a model that lets his family maintain control while most of the profits go to environmental causes.

The idea that it's better to starve government budgets and let a billionaire make unilateral decisions about what gets funded doesn't cease to be an anti-democratic, hard-right view just because you like the particular billionaire.
posted by a faithful sock at 8:44 PM on October 13 [57 favorites]


I’m on the “no billionaires” side myself but it’s not terribly hard to imagine a plausible scenario in which, in the short term, a given billionaire’s intentions are less right-wing than the government’s.
posted by atoxyl at 9:00 PM on October 13 [5 favorites]


Their intentions don't matter. A left-wing dictator is still a dictator.

The idea that the right kind of oligarch could save us is a fantasy, and only serves to legitimize the far right's political project of disenfranching the masses.
posted by a faithful sock at 9:10 PM on October 13 [36 favorites]


Yes, let's tell ourselves we're preaching Truth by complaining about someone who isn't entirely evil. While entirely ignoring the guys who are in fact utterly evil.

gotta go against the zeitgeist to get those hot clicks

I dunno I think the hook or framing of

"here's why this billionaire—the founder of a popular clothing brand most western audiences are likely to be familiar with, who recently received lots of good press which means there's a greater chance you will have heard of them (and might therefore be more likely to watch this video)—isn't really as good as many might assume, and furthermore there is no such thing as a good billionaire, allow me to explain"

vs

"there is no such thing as a good billionaire and I will now mostly focus on billionaires who the majority of potential viewers are likely to be unfamiliar with"

is of obvious benefit when your whole thing is professionally ruining things that are widely perceived to be good, in the format of a comedic educational youtube/television show, which necessitates capitalizing on public interest in order to attract viewers.

Perfect is the enemy of good and all that.
posted by rustybullrake at 9:22 PM on October 13 [24 favorites]


Not at all. It's just a tax dodge. His family will control the non-profit "charity" that he set up to own Patagonia in perpetuity.

Based on Adam's previous comments on the matter, I assume that he addresses this in the video. Off to watch...


Honestly, his Twitter thread made it seem like he willfully doesn’t understand capital gains tax and made me less inclined to trust him in the future. Anybody can research anything, that doesn’t mean it isn’t shoddy.
posted by Going To Maine at 9:28 PM on October 13 [6 favorites]


I mean, my drive by feeling is that his thread got such a ratio he felt he had to do a video to try and earn back some credibility…
posted by Going To Maine at 9:36 PM on October 13


Aramaic, did Adam step on your puppy's toe or something?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:42 PM on October 13 [9 favorites]


Of course I want to see us tax the oil companies and defense contractors, but we need to fundamentally change how we spend our tax dollars along with raising more of them.

The problem with this is if we leave these decisions to the billionaires to be players for Team Good, most of them will just be on Team Bad and there's nothing we can do about it. Most of them are on Team Bad, right now. Yes, it's good what Chouinard is doing, but the point is that he shouldn't have the power to make this decision in the first place. That is, he should not have been allowed to become a billionaire.
posted by zardoz at 9:50 PM on October 13 [10 favorites]


I do believe Chouinard means well but needed to hire a team of lawyers and accountants to pull this off, who worked within the framework they were comfortable in. The basic message: we shouldn't have billionaires in the first place is not wrong.
posted by St. Oops at 10:18 PM on October 13 [5 favorites]


I've avoided Adam presuming an eventual milkshake duck. I'm glad he at least appears to remain on the side of reason.

He lives in my neighborhood and has kinda dipshit NIMBY opinions on Nextdoor tbh
posted by klangklangston at 10:59 PM on October 13 [18 favorites]


Yes, let's tell ourselves we're preaching Truth by complaining about someone who isn't entirely evil. While entirely ignoring the guys who are in fact utterly evil.

Or we could move on to telling ourselves we're preaching Truth by complaining about someone who isn't entirely peddling hot takes for clickbait. While entirely ignoring the guys who are in fact doing that and only that.
posted by flabdablet at 11:00 PM on October 13 [9 favorites]


The problem with this is if we leave these decisions to the billionaires to be players for Team Good, most of them will just be on Team Bad and there's nothing we can do about it. Most of them are on Team Bad, right now. Yes, it's good what Chouinard is doing, but the point is that he shouldn't have the power to make this decision in the first place. That is, he should not have been allowed to become a billionaire.

I agree with all of this. That is not the same thing as saying that there is no such thing as a good billionaire, however.

I think every billionaire is a policy failure, they simply should not exist.

I also think it's possible to for individual billionaires not to be dicks. While they should not exist, and the structures that enable their existence are inherently unjust and exploitative, that still allows space for a billionaire to be 'a good one' while the category itself should not exist.

Like, we can all agree that dictators are bad, dictatorial government is not ideal, etc, etc. That doesn't mean that it is impossible for a good dictator to exist. They shouldn't exist, because no dictator should, but individual dictators can rule more or less justly, with more or less positive and negative outcomes.

I don't think bosses should exist. Doesn't mean good bosses don't exist. They do. They're just not an argument for keeping bosses, and they don't undermine arguments against keeping bosses.

The possibility, theoretical or not, of a good billionaire does not in any way reform or validate the idea of billionaires. I feel like people are so getting caught up in "billionaires are bad!" that they aren't necessarily stopping to evaluate what is going on here. Yes, it is bad that someone has outsized influence and power over a corrupt political system suffering a deficit of meaningful democracy. That does not mean that it is impossible for that unearned, unfair power to be used in the service of good ends. It is possible to think that this guy is a good one and still be opposed to the category itself.
posted by Dysk at 12:16 AM on October 14 [9 favorites]


"there wasn't anybody in the office from the receptionist on up that paid as low a tax rate and I have no tax planning I don't have it I don't have an accountant I don't have tax shelters I just follow what the US Congress tells me to do" --warren buffett talking to tom brokaw

fwiw...
@lydiadepillis: "Nerd alert: The distributional financial accounts are now in FRED! Chart inequality in a couple clicks: https://fred.stlouisfed.org/graph/?g=UsDR"
posted by kliuless at 12:21 AM on October 14 [1 favorite]


So, um, I'm seriously not understanding how some of the people criticizing Adam's video are coming to the conclusions they if they actually watched the whole video.

One, Adam is a comedian

He covers that it was gift taxes that are being avoided (if Chouinard had given his shares and control of the company to his children), not cap gains.

He also covers how Chouinard's story is interesting in that it sounds almost exactly like the hagiography of other billionaires, specifically Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Sam Walton. The whole Bentonville section of the video has a very clear point about comparing Sam Walton's story to Chouinard's story.

His point is about treating the PR about a billionaire should not be trusted, and you should look at their actions. Like, you know, they aren't giving their money away. They still retain control, their family still maintains control, and they are using the legal means available to the super rich to get out of paying taxes.

This is a media literacy test. Seems many of you failed it pretty badly.
posted by daq at 12:22 AM on October 14 [35 favorites]


That does not mean that it is impossible for that unearned, unfair power to be used in the service of good ends. It is possible to think that this guy is a good one and still be opposed to the category itself.

Of course. But the further problem is that when the media publishes hagiography pieces (The NY Times has this kind of thing in its DNA), it sends the message that "Hey, billionaires are alright? See? They can do good, ok? So everyone would you stop whining about billionaires because they'll be good I promise." And liberals and centrists nod their heads and it muddies any kind of dialogue about reigning in the obscenely wealthy. They wipe their hands of it and feel a-ok about the status quo and nothing ever ever changes.

In other words, the focus shouldn't be on the individuals, whether they're good or bad. That's the exact wrong focus. Hell, the Koch brothers give millions and millions for the arts and win a huge amount of support from centrists in that scene; do they get a pat on the back? Leaving big decisions like this should not be up to the whim whimsy of individuals, and that's why the focus should be on tax laws that tax them out of existence. Or to mere hundreds-of-millions millionaires.
posted by zardoz at 12:30 AM on October 14 [7 favorites]


In other words, the focus shouldn't be on the individuals, whether they're good or bad.

That's pretty much my point, only I see the word obsession with "but not, this guy is bad actually" as a problem here, I guess?

I think a lot of it is to do with how you view maintaining control of the funds for use to a political end. Like yes, they maintain control of the pressure group/political charity they set up, but that isn't actually the same thing as ownership. Maintaining control of a lobbying organisation in order to lobby for environmental causes doesn't really pass them litmus test for evil, for me.
posted by Dysk at 12:34 AM on October 14


While there may be no good billionaires, would removal of said billionaires mean more for thee and me (assuming we’re not also billionaires)?

If we’re going to go reductionist, where do we stop? Millionaires? Rotters to a man, I say! Thousand-aires? Would not waste a match on them! Hundred-aires? May the hairy eyeball of doom judge their souls harshly!
posted by JustSayNoDawg at 12:42 AM on October 14


If we’re going to go reductionist,

...no need. Just roll back tax policy to pre-Reagan. If you dispersed a Billionaire's wealth through their community, immediate and wider, in a way that was concerned with the well-being of the citizenry at large, instead of the individual or corporation, far more good could be done than any one Billionaire and his phalanx of lawyers, accountants and advisors might ever promise to do. (that is, every billionaire is a policy failure.)

(it'S the craziest thing about 'Citizen's United' - that it benefits one tiny group out of all proportion, a tiny group which will never, ever admit those justices and lawyers and law-makers which rubber-stamped its approval into their midsts. It's sad and perverse and deeply weird. Unless, of course, you think Billionaires are totally cool and like that's just they way it works, like, some people are just so smart and hard working that they get all that money. Like it's like just the natural order and you're naive if you think otherwise.)
posted by From Bklyn at 1:01 AM on October 14 [15 favorites]


I just popped in to say, Adam’s raw skepticism warms my cold, cynical heart.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 1:31 AM on October 14 [4 favorites]




honestly the thing that's bothering me is that Adam Conover has a shtick that he parlayed first into a webseries, and then into a TV series where he takes things that seem Fine, Actually, and explains at length to characters, already irritated with him because he's interrupting their nice day, why what they're currently in the middle of is actually bad

and the thread is about how this is petty and why don't people talk about bigger problems

and

yes

that's the point of the shtick

I salute aramaic for being the Emily Axford for this video
posted by Merus at 2:19 AM on October 14 [14 favorites]


Maintaining control of a lobbying organisation in order to lobby for environmental causes doesn't really pass them litmus test for evil, for me.

So, you know all this anti-vaccine bullshit we're dealing with these days? Well, one of the origin points for it came out of research on autism, and how a lot of the researchers were looking into ties between autism and vaccination, which made a lot of people think there was something there (even though the research was pretty consistently saying there wasn't.) But why would researchers spend so much time on something they knew didn't exist? Simple - one of the biggest funders for autism research was all in on the autism/vaccine "theory", and they controlled the pursestrings - so autism researchers played to their conceits to get funding. And continuing on vaccines and philanthropy, researchers have talked about the Gates Foundation and how their influence impacts how vaccines are researched and distributed (the most infamous case being the licensing of the Oxford COVID-19 vaccine to Astra-Zenica as opposed to the open license the researchers initially floated.)

The problem isn't "evil", and thinking of it that way misses the point. The problem is that by retaining control, these individuals and families gain outsized influence as to how these fields operate, which can have very problematic repercussions.
posted by NoxAeternum at 3:42 AM on October 14 [9 favorites]


Speaking as an autistic person: the way you leave Wakefield out of your summary on anti-vax undermines your point to a significant degree.
posted by Dysk at 4:21 AM on October 14 [6 favorites]


And again, I already agree that billionaires should not exist. Your argument is that they could, in future, use this outsized influence in a harmful way. That isn't actually showing that this one is bad, actually, you're just showing that the extreme wealth of billionaires gives them outsized influence which can be incredibly destructive. Which I already agree with!

That isn't enough to make this a dick move in itself. It sets up potential for dick moves later, sure.

And like, I fundamentally agree that this is a distraction and a sideshow, but I think that because no sensible theory on why billionaires are bad relies on not one of them every being anything but pure evil. Billionaires are a problem, inherently, regardless of whether this guy is "a good one".
posted by Dysk at 4:26 AM on October 14 [1 favorite]


did Adam step on your puppy's toe or something?

Would it help you if he did?
posted by aramaic


It might explain the unnecessary derails that amount to whataboutism.


I’ll take a model that lets his family maintain control while most of the profits go to environmental causes.

There is no guarantee. At all. That his family will use the enormous lobbying power for its stated purpose. Nonprofit oversight is shit and there's a thousand ways to transform an organization with enough money into any number of similar shaped organizations who can spend that money and influence on - just spit balling - whatever the grandkids of privilege who never knew ol' grandad and really want their personal wealth maintained decide is important. And shouldn't we work to perpetuate this august organization that has done so much good? So we should lobby for environmental reforms but... Also for our own well being. I mean... We're basically the heart of this organization. The family I mean.

Excellent PR, and the fact people are so mad about hearing it is exactly the reason we should be examining that reaction. Defensiveness implies weak premises.

Billionaires are a policy failure. "Good" ones are generally those one political position or another might prefer to control unchecked nongovernmental and therefore rarely-reviewed power. I want to believe, too, but evidence seems to suggest a huge percentage of the nonprofit universe is one flavor of self-dealing tax dodge, exorbitant-buy-in social club, or all of the above.

The argument about relative evil of paying your taxes is deeply misguided. It's the difference between money the public has a say in allocating and one where nobody but the billionaire in question will ever really control, in perpetuity.
posted by abulafa at 5:56 AM on October 14 [10 favorites]


> Defensiveness implies weak premises.

Does it? For instance, are you then worried your defense of Adam’s video implies that it or you have weak premises for its or your argument? That would seem self-defeating.
posted by thoroughburro at 6:04 AM on October 14 [3 favorites]


There is no guarantee. At all. That his family will use the enormous lobbying power for its stated purpose.

I am aware of this, and agree. You still seem to be arguing that billionaires should not exist; I agree with that. Fully. I would prefer if all this wealth were appropriated and redistributed.

That isn't the political reality within which we exist, however. That there are better things this guy could have done with his money is not in question - I just reject the premise that the thing he has done is necessarily evil.

Like, don't misunderstand me, the "good ones" are a problem too. But someone can be a decent individual and a structural failure at the same time.
posted by Dysk at 6:10 AM on October 14 [1 favorite]


there is some real "Santa's not real??" energy in this thread
posted by elkevelvet at 7:20 AM on October 14 [8 favorites]


there is some real "Santa's not real??" energy in this thread

Don't worry, it's counterbalanced by some "it's just clickbait so who gives a fuck" energy.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:49 AM on October 14 [6 favorites]


That there are better things this guy could have done with his money is not in question - I just reject the premise that the thing he has done is necessarily evil.

What he has done is set up the same sort of structure as the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, with all of the same flaws and issues. The only difference is that you're willing to give this specific individual the benefit of the doubt because his positions align with yours.

Again, the problem isn't that he's "evil", but that he's setting up a system in which he and his family will be exerting significantly outsized influence now and into the future. Which sounds great while he's aligned with your goals. The problem is what happens when that is no longer the case.

Speaking as an autistic person: the way you leave Wakefield out of your summary on anti-vax undermines your point to a significant degree.

How, exactly? I didn't say that autism research being forced to constantly re-litigate the autism/vaccine "link" was the origin, but one of a set of events. I'd also point out that one of the things that helped Wakefield hide his bullshit for so long was that said link was being re-litigated because of the funding issues. As I recall, it was news when a major autism researcher finally broke ranks and said "we all know that autism and vaccines aren't related, and it's bullshit that we keep going over this because it's how we get our money, and I'm done."
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:58 AM on October 14 [3 favorites]


Doubling down on my opinion that a video essay is a good place to discuss general ideas about public policy and the value of not having billionaires, and a bad format to parse the complexities of non-profit corporate structuring. I found this article which has some of the details:
The ownership of Patagonia has transferred control of the outdoor clothing retailer company to the Patagonia Purpose Trust and the Holdfast Collective. The Holdfast Collective is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization that will advocate for causes and political candidates and make grants and investments that fight environmental crises, protect nature and biodiversity and support thriving communities.

Patagonia is a privately held company, so hard financial attributes are scarce and at times in conflict. Several published sources list its valuation as $3 billion, with The New York Times stating its annual profits are around $100 million from $1 billion in sales.

The Patagonia Purpose Trust controls company decisions such as board of directors membership and changes to the company’s legal charter.

As structured, the Holdfast Collective owns 98% of Patagonia and all of Patagonia’s nonvoting stock, which has economic value but no decision-making role. The Patagonia Purpose Trust owns 2% of the company and all of the voting stock, which has both economic value and decision-making authority.

Ventura, Calif.-based Patagonia will continue to be a for-profit company, as well as a certified B Corp – a business that has been certified as meeting high standards of social and environmental performance, public transparency and legal accountability as it seeks to balance profit and purpose.

Additionally, in 2012 Patagonia became the first California company to register as a benefit corporation, a relatively new corporate structure that allows the company to put the interests of society and the environment alongside financial interests of shareholders. Traditional corporate structures are required to prioritize the financial interests of shareholders above other considerations. Patagonia will retain this designation as well.

The Holdfast Collective will be funded by Patagonia’s excess profits, which according to a statement on Patagonia’s website “will be distributed as a dividend to the Collective to be used for its work.” Excess profits are money the company generates after meeting its financial obligations. Financial obligations may include money set aside to ameliorate the effects of business interruptions such as pandemics or supply chain disruptions.
It seems like 98% of the profits from the company will go into this trust that is to be used to fight climate change, not into the pockets of Chouinard's children, but that the children control the board and hence the direction of the non-profit? So again, it's not about a sneaky wealth transfer from a billionaire to his family, but more about some nebulous level of control over the non-profit? I still don't quite fully understand how it all works...
posted by gwint at 8:05 AM on October 14 [1 favorite]


he's setting up a system in which he and his family will be exerting significantly outsized influence now and into the future. Which sounds great while he's aligned with your goals. The problem is what happens when that is no longer the case.

I am aware of this. And I will take it being great while it is great - if people are having outsize influence, which is definitely a thing under our current capitalist system, I'd rather they use it in service of good rather than evil causes - while continuing to agitate for a system where nobody has outsized influence.

Yes, the framework is evil. The tiny thing within it is still good, even if everything would be better without the entire evil framework that enables it, and it does nothing to redeem the framework.
posted by Dysk at 8:12 AM on October 14 [2 favorites]


So again, it's not about a sneaky wealth transfer from a billionaire to his family, but more about some nebulous level of control over the non-profit? I still don't quite fully understand how it all works...

The point is that it's not actually giving away money if the person(s) involved are retaining meaningful control.
posted by NoxAeternum at 8:34 AM on October 14 [1 favorite]


So again, it's not about a sneaky wealth transfer from a billionaire to his family, but more about some nebulous level of control over the non-profit?

There's a real limit to how much one can realistically spend unless you get into wealth for wealth's sake like yachts.

A lot of these "humble billionaires" enjoy the power that their billions can exert, not the goods and services that can be bought. Transferring the control to the children without diluting the power through taxation is exactly the point.
posted by explosion at 8:35 AM on October 14 [3 favorites]


Additionally, in 2012 Patagonia became the first California company to register as a benefit corporation, a relatively new corporate structure that allows the company to put the interests of society and the environment alongside financial interests of shareholders. Traditional corporate structures are required to prioritize the financial interests of shareholders above other considerations.

How do we make every corporation a benefit corporation?
posted by joannemerriam at 8:56 AM on October 14 [1 favorite]


honestly the thing that's bothering me is that Adam Conover has a shtick that he parlayed first into a webseries, and then into a TV series where he takes things that seem Fine, Actually, and explains at length to characters, already irritated with him because he's interrupting their nice day, why what they're currently in the middle of is actually bad

I feel like nobody ever being pleased to see him appear is a big part of why the shtick works.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:15 AM on October 14 [4 favorites]


How do we make every corporation a benefit corporation?

Drive a stake through the corpse of Milton Freeman and salt the grave. Then do the same for Robert Bork.

That's said half in jest - those two men created our modern "shareholders uber alles" interpretation of corporate responsibility.
posted by NoxAeternum at 9:17 AM on October 14 [3 favorites]


Ctrl-F ikea… nothing?!
posted by sjswitzer at 10:04 AM on October 14


The point is that it's not actually giving away money if the person(s) involved are retaining meaningful control.

So if you decide where you give your money away you aren't actually giving it away? That would seem to void all charitable giving.

I see no evidence to suggest that the The Holdfast Collective will not be transparent in how the money is spent (like many non-profits). If his children, who are committed to environmentalism/fighting climate change, influence those decisions, I don't really see how that's dramatically less generous - they are still giving the money away. No kind deed goes unpunished indeed.
posted by coffeecat at 10:08 AM on October 14 [2 favorites]


So if you decide where you give your money away you aren't actually giving it away? That would seem to void all charitable giving.

I regularly give money to my local food share, because giving them money is how best to support their efforts. When I do so, I cease to have any meaningful input on how that money is further spent. Thus, the money is truly "given away", as I have not just given the money, but also any and all control of it.

In comparison, putting funding into a governance structure that you maintain control of cannot be said to be "giving away" that money, because you're still maintaining control of its disposition. Furthermore, these organizations don't just give blind grants to other organizations - there are always strings attached on how the money is spent. Now, that control can be exerted for good or ill - the point is that these actions cannot and should not be seen as "giving away" money.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:21 AM on October 14 [3 favorites]


I've always felt we should simply take X number of the richest people in the world, every year, and redistribute their wealth. Maybe build them some sort of federal hotel they must remain in for the rest of their lives, lest they try it again.
posted by GoblinHoney at 10:32 AM on October 14


I regularly give money to my local food share, because giving them money is how best to support their efforts.

Again, not sure how that's any different than the children picking what causes/charities will get the money. You got to choose your local food share, they are getting to choose which charities will get donations from the trust. I'm also not sure where you're getting the idea that there will be "strings attached on how the money is spent."
posted by coffeecat at 10:37 AM on October 14 [2 favorites]


I don't really see how that's dramatically less generous - they are still giving the money away.

That's the thing though. They're not.

If I believe all cats should be black, and I spend $1000/year buying black paint and painting cats black, I'm spending money on a (really weird) cause.

If I create a foundation that is controlled by me, dedicated to painting cats, and then donate some of my money to the foundation, which then spends $1000/year buying black paint and painting cats, I haven't fundamentally "given my money away." My money's still doing the same as it did beforehand.

It's entirely a legal fiction, the most it does is lock in their current values and spending habits, but since they control the foundation, they can make a choice to change that any time they want.
posted by explosion at 10:58 AM on October 14 [3 favorites]


explosion, in your legal fiction, you are spending your money on paint via a foundation. So, a weird vanity project. In what Chouinard has arranged, it will be given away to charities and politicians fighting climate change. That is, indeed, giving it away, and not just for some idiosyncratic vanity project.

His options were a) sell the company b) take it public or c) what he did. I'm not sure how you make a case that the other two options would have enabled him to give away the money to climate change more than the option he chose. Do I think this option should exist, generally? No. But as long as the system is crooked, I want leftys to abuse it as much as the Koch brothers do.
posted by coffeecat at 11:18 AM on October 14 [3 favorites]


quick note. andrew carnegie … not dale.

Andrew Carnegie was the author of "How To Buy Friends and Influence People"; Dale Carnegie wrote "Play Stupid Games, Win Stupid Prizes". So they're easily confused.
posted by flabdablet at 11:23 AM on October 14


It's weird to me that people find "people can do racist/sexist things even if they're well-meaning" easy-to-grasp but "billionaires are problematic even if they're well-meaning" a struggle. I don't mean that sarcastically or rudely—it feels part and parcel with how articulately we discuss intersectionality and bigotry and how abstractly we discuss money and capital.

To have billions of dollars is to hold power on a level of scale that nobody is possibly capable of handling responsibly. That's not even because power corrupts—it's because the sheer crude size of that much power is going to trample and crush stuff around it no matter how subtle or careful its possessor tries to be. It's like walking through a room while trying to dodge motes of dust you can barely perceive: the order of magnitude is so massive that you couldn't possibly operate delicately or with awareness even if you tried.

Channeling all that money towards charitable causes is, objectively, better than channeling it towards right-wing propaganda or The Most Dangerous Game or whatever. But that's a low bar, you know? The point that gets made about billionaires versus millionaires all the time is that, sure, you can think of someone working hard and earning a million dollars and then putting all that money to good use, and maybe even think that that person does an okay job of genuinely using it well. But a billionaire is a thousand millionaires combined, and there's no way a billionaire could ever be a thousand times more conscientious than a very conscientious millionaire. There's simply no way.

You can keep that entirely separate from the two other major arguments about billionaires, namely that it's very hard to earn a billion dollars completely scrupulously (or "deservedly") and that it's unconscionable to hold onto all that money when there's so much suffering in the world. Both of those are interesting considerations, and you may or may not find stuff to agree with there. But beyond that lies the simple fact that money and power are so interlinked that to be a billionaire is to be powerful in literally comprehensible ways—and no billionaire is capable of comprehending them either, since billionaires are also human. To hold that much power is incredibly destructive, no matter how well-meaning you may be.

Yvon seems very well-meaning! I bet that most people in his life, even his anti-billionaire pals, think he's a real upstanding guy. And by you-and-me terms, I wouldn't be surprised if he is. Maybe even more upstanding, since he comes off as an unusually upstanding person on regular-human-being terms. But he's not a regular human being. He's a human being who wields an unthinkable amount of power, and there is absolutely no way to use that power "responsibly," because the very notion of being "responsible" with a billion dollars is fundamentally ungraspable. Hence the very dull, unlikable, and correct solution that the only way to be a billionaire responsibly is to rapidly find ways to stop being a billionaire, while diffusing your holdings as much as you possibly can. A charitable trust is well-meaning, and may do a lot of good for the world, but it's not going to handle a billion dollars much better than Yvon would. Because that's the point: nobody can, and therefore nobody should be a billionaire. It is not a terrific thing to be.
posted by Tom Hanks Cannot Be Trusted at 11:26 AM on October 14 [15 favorites]


since they control the foundation

The pull-quote gwint posted does not seem to make this assertion. It says the family will control Patagonia, the company, but does not mention them controlling the Holdfast Collective. I don't remember Adam making that assertion directly in the video either, but I certainly could have missed it.
posted by Press Butt.on to Check at 11:49 AM on October 14


The closest reason that I can find to what Chouinard is doing as bad is Slavoj Zižek's whole:

it is immoral to use private property in order to alleviate the horrible evils that result from the institution of private property

... schtick. Is that what this is about ? That Chouinard didn't upend capitalism instead of making expensive yet silky pants after giving up on climing gear ?
posted by NoThisIsPatrick at 11:50 AM on October 14


Conover also makes the cogent point that every billionaire is a billionaire on purpose. It's not like it's something that happens to people by accident despite the PR Just So stories that get told about it. So there is no way to be a billionaire responsibly, because anybody who had any degree of responsibility would have stopped accumulating wealth well short of their first billion.

I've long thought that the drive to become a billionaire really should be listed in the DSM alongside all the other diagnosable personality disorders. Heavily progressive taxation strikes me as having quite a good chance of proving to be a successful treatment, and I'd love to see the Holdfast Collective help to organize worldwide clinical trials.
posted by flabdablet at 11:51 AM on October 14 [6 favorites]


More fundamentally, even if we agree with what Chouinard is doing, he's not us.

Chouinard does not speak on our behalf. We have no way of influencing what he does. We don't have any visibility into his decision making.

On one dimension (how important is it to save the planet, really?), Chouinard's values seem like they couldn't be further from someone like Elon Musk. And as long as we stay focused on the "Who is better - Elon Musk, or Yvon Chouinard?" question, we'll go to the mat for Chouinard every time.

But on another dimension (who should wield political power?), they are perfectly aligned.
posted by billjings at 1:25 PM on October 14 [8 favorites]


I regularly give money to my local food share, because giving them money is how best to support their efforts. When I do so, I cease to have any meaningful input on how that money is further spent. Thus, the money is truly "given away", as I have not just given the money, but also any and all control of it.

In comparison, putting funding into a governance structure that you maintain control of cannot be said to be "giving away" that money, because you're still maintaining control of its disposition. Furthermore, these organizations don't just give blind grants to other organizations - there are always strings attached on how the money is spent. Now, that control can be exerted for good or ill - the point is that these actions cannot and should not be seen as "giving away" money.


You're "maintaining control of its disposition" until you give the money to the local food share. You can do that because - I presume - you're not handling billions of dollars. Patagonia is, so it very much makes sense that Chouinard isn't just writing checks out of his personal bank account. It takes a lot of people and a lot of time to decide where that kind of money is going to go, and recipients may need the money structured in different ways than just a pile of cash in an envelope.

MacKenzie Scott (whom Adam does not mention) has done something similar, setting up Lost Horse to handle the $12 billion in charitable donations she plans to make. Scott is very much giving away billions of dollars, via the organization she created to do that. There's nothing strange or sketchy about any of this.

And by the way, there are not "always strings attached" to these donations. Scott donated $20 million in unrestricted dollars to Tuskegee University. And that's just one of her many similar donations.

So can we wait to criticize Chouinard once we see where the money goes?
posted by schoolgirl report at 1:30 PM on October 14 [1 favorite]


not sure how that's any different than the children picking what causes/charities will get the money. You got to choose your local food share, they are getting to choose which charities will get donations from the trust.

This may sound radical, honestly I don't know, but I believe that one of the purposes of taxation should be to revert lopsided wealth to the mean over time. So sure, spendp your every action acculmulating more wealth than 99% of the population; even leave some of it to your kids. But your kids six generations hence shouldn't be getting any appreciateable amount of that wealth.

These sort of trust games pervert that goal.
posted by Mitheral at 1:34 PM on October 14 [4 favorites]


You're "maintaining control of its disposition" until you give the money to the local food share. You can do that because - I presume - you're not handling billions of dollars. Patagonia is, so it very much makes sense that Chouinard isn't just writing checks out of his personal bank account. It takes a lot of people and a lot of time to decide where that kind of money is going to go, and recipients may need the money structured in different ways than just a pile of cash in an envelope.

So in other words, enabling the disposition of billions of dollars is a quantifiably different function than my personal donations. As such, why shouldn't we describe it differently, especially given the fact that the allocation of such large amounts of money is a form of power?

MacKenzie Scott (whom Adam does not mention) has done something similar, setting up Lost Horse to handle the $12 billion in charitable donations she plans to make. Scott is very much giving away billions of dollars, via the organization she created to do that. There's nothing strange or sketchy about any of this.

Other than all the points made above about how the power behind philanthropy is so problematic from a societal standpoint - which you're not addressing. Because at the end of the day, it's still Scott making the choices - not society. And that's the problem.
posted by NoxAeternum at 1:50 PM on October 14 [5 favorites]


Because at the end of the day, it's still Scott making the choices - not society. And that's the problem.

But society doesn't make your donation choices either. Is there a threshold at which we take the choice away from the individual/corporation/organization and give it to society at large? Believe me, I want to tax the crap out of every billionaire so we can collectively decide how best to allocate that money. But until that happens, none of these people are writing a check to the feds. So if we're going to judge them good or bad, it can't be based solely on the mechanism by which they distribute their donations. It should be based on what they actually do with the money.

I would enjoy hearing Adam's take on MacKenzie Scott. (I'm also groggy with Covid, so forgive me if I can't keep this up!)
posted by schoolgirl report at 1:59 PM on October 14 [1 favorite]


Imagine you're one of this guy's kids, thinking that someday you're going to inherit A BILLION DOLLARS. You're going to be a billionaire!

Then your dad says, Actually, I'm putting your inheritance into a charitable trust to fight climate change. If I just gave you the money, you'd lose half of it to taxes. But this way you'll get to be on the board and vote for how the donations are distributed. You can probably pay yourself a few hundred thousand a year salary and you'll get all sorts of powerful people sucking up to you to get funding. It'll be great!

That is not the same thing as inheriting a billion dollars.
posted by straight at 2:16 PM on October 14 [3 favorites]




Andrew Carnegie was the author of "How To Buy Friends and Influence People"

HOLD IT. Dale Carnegie wrote “How to Win Friends and Influence People”.

This is in my brain because 1. The Boomtown Rats song “Diamond Smiles” has a line that goes Everybody tries, it’s Dale Carnegie gone wild, and 2. My dad owned this book (and many other self-help books - often with cassette tapes!) and he talked about them a lot.
posted by Glinn at 4:42 PM on October 14


So if the existence of billionaires is inherently bad, surely this guy deserves some credit for not creating more billionaires by not giving his heirs a billion dollars.
posted by straight at 5:02 PM on October 14 [1 favorite]


from a hyperbolic imagined disinherited child's perspective: he's supposed to get credit for pulling the ladder up behind him?
posted by Earthtopus at 7:14 PM on October 14


Doubling down on my opinion that a video essay is a good place to discuss general ideas about public policy and the value of not having billionaires, and a bad format to parse the complexities of non-profit corporate structuring.

I can get behind this in principle, but I think the example you used to illustrate this might not be that great, because the article snippet you posted is essentially a slightly more detailed version of what Conover described in his video. Conover doesn't talk about Patagonia being a B Corp or benefit corporation, but I'm not really sure that's super relevant to the argument anyways, which I took to be that Chouinard has made it look like he's given the company away, but in fact still retains a great deal of power over how the company operates, potentially just as much as he and his family did before the change.
posted by chrominance at 8:25 PM on October 14


There was a saying in the Russian Empire: "Good Tsar, bad Boyars". The belief was that while all the rich and powerful local nobles were violent oppressors, the czar was fundamentally different, and perhaps simply didn't know the plight of the peasants, and if only he did, he'd do the Right Thing and fix everything. The One Good Noble.

It's very weird reading this basic pattern of belief being replicated in this thread.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 12:07 AM on October 15 [9 favorites]


I'm not sure you're reading people correctly here if that's your takeaway. A "good one" is still fundamentally a billionaire, and nobody is thinking he's a fucking saint. It's just that this one action isn't something we all object to, while others are insisting that dodging taxes in order to set up and environmental lobbying group/charity is the greatest possible evil.

The guy is fundamentally still a dickhead. But I'd rather dickheads spent their undeserved lucre on a positive ideology than on luxury goods and right-wrong propaganda. He did one, very limited in scope, with caveats, good thing here. That makes him a comparatively non-shit billionaire, by the standards of billionaires. A "good one".

He's still getting the guillotine, mind, when the revolution comes. But the way some of you are talking is so absolutist, it's like the concept of more or less evil isn't meaningful to you - someone is in category evil, that means they're evil, end of. It reminds me of the people who refused to view Hillary because she was just as much not Bernie as Trump was, and that means the was no meaningful difference.
posted by Dysk at 2:12 AM on October 15 [1 favorite]


I don't think "how violently exactly does the leopard rip off your face" is a particularly interesting or meaningful distinction to make.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 2:44 AM on October 15 [3 favorites]


See, I just don't think this is face-ripping, and reducing all things you disagree with to this one dimensional level of brutality is the exact thing I was talking about.
posted by Dysk at 3:03 AM on October 15 [1 favorite]


It's just that this one action isn't something we all object to, while others are insisting that dodging taxes in order to set up and environmental lobbying group/charity is the greatest possible evil.

You can put the strawman down, thanks.

People aren't say that this is the "greatest possible evil" - they're pointing out that this isn't as "good" as you think. Just because this foundation is aligned (ostensibly) with your interests doesn't change the fact that it's a foundation designed to allow a billionaire and his family to retain clout and power through philanthropy, and by its very existence reinforces the concept.

And the reality is a there are a lot of ways that Chouinard could have handled this which would have alleviated the issues of power and control - for example, he could have handed the reins of this new organization to people outside of his personal sphere rather than his family. But that was never on the table because that is anathema to billionaires.

It's quite possible that this is the best we can expect from billionaires. But we should be clear-eyed about what is happening, how this reinforces existing systems of power, and that this is at best "less bad", not "good".
posted by NoxAeternum at 5:17 AM on October 15 [9 favorites]


others are insisting that dodging taxes in order to set up and environmental lobbying group/charity is the greatest possible evil

Nobody here has said that, and neither did Conover.
posted by flabdablet at 7:53 AM on October 15 [4 favorites]


The guy is fundamentally still a dickhead. But I'd rather dickheads spent their undeserved lucre on a positive ideology than on luxury goods and right-wrong propaganda.

He's not, though. The whole pile of goods has been built in large part on a PR campaign that Patagonia is good for the planet. This move is another part of that campaign: it's a dynastic wealth protection move, dressed up in save the planet garb.
posted by billjings at 8:02 AM on October 15 [4 favorites]


One thing to keep in mind when it comes to billionaires.

Every one of them, every single one of them, employs public relations people. Either on their own payroll, or they employ one of the big PR firms, but if you've got billions of dollars you have public relations people working for you.

That means that whatever you hear about that person, whatever they say in public, is part of building a particular public image.

If you think good things about a billionaire, it's in part because someone who is very, very good at twisting the truth to suit their needs has very carefully cultivated the image you approve of.

Sure, they may actually be good people. But given the involvement of high-caliber public relations, you can't actually tell. All you see is the image that they want you to see.

Not trusting someone you can't actually know anything about is a reasonable response.
posted by MrVisible at 9:27 AM on October 15 [4 favorites]


Sure, they may actually be good people. But given the involvement of high-caliber public relations, you can't actually tell.

Sure you can.

PR is industrial-strength gaslighting and therefore wholly evil, so anybody willing to pay for it is dodgy AF. Those using high-caliber PR consultancies to define their public image are obviously attempting to distract public attention away from huge festering leaking cesspits of nefarious shit. There are no exceptions.
posted by flabdablet at 10:17 AM on October 15 [2 favorites]


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