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[EDIT: could those downvoting this please reply and tell me why? I wouldn't have thought this would be controversial, but I'm looking at this post sitting at -4 just minutes after posting and am genuinely confused as to what the issue is.]

Hrm. Obviously this is a good thing, but...

Wikipedia tells me that Brin's net worth is $16.7B. Very roughly, my "net worth" (in the sense of assets required to duplicate my income) is $2M. So that's the equivalent of my dropping $59 on them.

Obviously all gifts are good (as long as you, like me, value wikipedia). And this is a big one. But it hardly qualifies as earth-shaking philanthropy. It's the gift amount Brin would be expected to give, I'd say. Obviously there's a lot of apples and oranges here; both of the numbers above represent "tied down" assets and not disposable cash, etc...

But shouldn't the extremely wealthy be held to higher standards about what they're expected to do with their charity? Why must it be news when someone like Brin does the equivalent of clicking on "Donate via PayPal".

I guess one good thing came of this though: lest I feel like a hypocrite, I went to Wikipedia and clicked on "Donate $100". So that makes me a better person than Brin, I guess?

Okay. I'll try and explain why you're being downvoted.

Every time someone wealthy donates a whole lot of money to a philanthropic cause, people like you pop up in the comment section. "Oh it doesn't matter, it's only X% of his net worth, that's the same as me only donating Y". Seriously, you followed this template almost to the letter.

First, charity isn't a competition over who can sacrifice the most. At the end of the day, that $500,000 helps Wikipedia five thousand times more than your $100. More, probably, because his donation raises the profile and will convince others to donate. Second, people aren't "expected" to give anything, regardless of how much money they have.

I think the thing that annoys me the most is how obvious it is you came in here with preconceived anti-rich notions and then did mental gymnastics to convince yourself that you're "a better person" than this incredibly generous man. If you want to spread that kind of negativity around, go back to Slashdot.

I'm sure someone can articulate this better than I can, but seriously. These sorts of posts just piss me off.

Second, people aren't "expected" to give anything, regardless of how much money they have.

That's actually something philosophers of ethics (not to mention theologians and regular people) disagree on considerably; there is a pretty big range of positions on charity as a choice and/or obligation that are widely held and defended. The "never an ethical obligation" view is one, but probably isn't the majority one, though it's more popular now than it was in previous eras. But an HN thread about Sergey Brin probably isn't a good place to settle that debate...

> If you want to spread that kind of negativity around, go back to Slashdot.

I'm sorry to nitpick, but while we're discussing appropriateness and lack thereof, can you avoid saying things like that? There is no constructive purpose that that mention could possibly serve.

  First, charity isn't a competition over who can sacrifice the most. 
  At the end of the day, that $500,000 helps Wikipedia 
  five thousand times more than your $100. More, probably,  
  because his donation raises the profile and will convince  
  others to donate. Second, people aren't "expected" to give 
  anything, regardless of how much money they have.
But rich people are expected to give something to society, the same way powerful people are expected to use their power for good, and smart people are expected to contribute scientific breakthroughs and engineering feats, not build throwing sheep apps. The concept of noblesse oblige is the definition of this expectation. Perhaps you meant that they aren't required to give anything. No one is required to do anything except obey the law. Perhaps people shouldn't expect the wealthy to give, but that doesn't change the fact that they do.

Furthermore, it could easily be argued that Sergey Brin benefits far more from Wikipedia's existence (perhaps 5,000 times more) than ajross, and this donation is him showing his appreciation for that benefit.

However, I do agree with you on his self-righteousness, that is uncalled for. It is quite irksome to see someone criticize anyone for volunteering a large amount of their hard earned money.

>Charity isn't a competition

Ask a Christian that. A rich man giving a lot doesn't mean anything if it isn't a sacrifice. Just like doing good things for the humanly recognition isn't the way to give. So says Matthew).

Just sayin'.

That story was about persons' personal relationship with God as determined not by absolute value of material terms, but as a sacrifice from pure heart relative to one's abilities. Just ask that any Christian who actually understands what he reads.

Point to the part where I'm wrong.

Religion is true

The reason you're being downvoted is because you're disagreeing with an opinion that isn't held.

They aren't getting press for this donation to say "holy shit he's a wonderful man", they're doing it to encourage others to donate. As the quote in the article says, "This grant is an important endorsement of the Wikimedia Foundation and its work, and I hope it will send a signal".

To people who know who he is, it's a personal endorsement, to people who don't, then a $500k donation looks huge and acts as an endorsement in itself.

Additionally, it acts as a human interests piece to remind people that they too should donate - i.e. this story gives sites like VB the chance to write about it.

You're being downvoted because hacker news seems to have been taken over by refugees from reddit, and bizdev "hustlers" and "idea guys" who don't understand what used to be the culture here.

About the time that these people started showing up, we lost the ability to see upvote and downvote counts, which made it difficult for new users to understand the "rules". They copied the customs that they used at places like reddit and digg (upvote what confirms your biases, downvote what doesn't).

What you're saying, while disagreeable, is an interesting and well stated point. You're not spamming, you're not flaming, you're contributing to the discussion, and you absolutely shouldn't be downvoted for it, certainly not to the extent that you are.


(Sorry, couldn't resist.)

shouldn't the extremely wealthy be held to higher standards about what they're expected to do with their charity?

Well, no, nobody should be held to any "standards" about what they do with their charity. It's his money, he earned it, and if he chooses to give it to charity or build a giant gold statue of himself it's his business. If there's anything he's obliged to pay out to others, it's already been taken care of, many times over, in the millions or billions of dollars in taxes which he has already paid, so as far as I'm concerned, let him do what he likes.

Now, of course, if he chooses to give any money at all to charity then that's very kind of him. And I'm sure he already has, and will continue to do so over the course of his life. But there's many good uses for philanthropic dollars, and while Sergey Brin could give fifty million bucks to wikipedia if he felt like it, I don't think it'd be a good use of money.

You selectively snipped that quote. The next sentence begins with "Why must it be news...".

I'm not talking about holding Brin himself up for more Wikipedia funds. I'm saying that throwing a party about a gift that is (literally) the equivalent of pocket change is a bad idea. It leads people to believe that gifts like this are an example of how philanthropy should work.

And it's not, it's a big lie. It's part of a public relations push to squeeze more money out of people (like me) with far less relative giving ability. And I find that distasteful.

"could those downvoting this please reply and tell me why?"

You're looking a gift horse in the mouth.

Well for one, it probably isn't healthy for too much of Wikipedia's funding to come from one party. $500,000 is probably about right for the maximum. There are questions of neutrality here.

Frick, I semi-stole your username. Gotta find myself another I guess.

Sergey's net worth is in large part held as stock (in Google). His liquid is probably <$1B.

That probably doesn't matter that much. I don't see why he can't just donate his GOOG shares instead of cash.

Or take out a loan against them. Or put them up as collateral for a loan taken by Wikipedia. Assets are assets. If they're really worth something they're never really "tied down" completely.

donating cash has tax benefits

donating stock directly also has its own problems.

Gates and Buffet both donated stock to the Gates Foundation, which manages it with a separate arm.

Stocks that are publicly traded on exchanges are considered to be liquid too (because he can sell them at any given date).

Not that it matters, at all. It's a gift, an endorsement.

Right. And my liquid fraction of that $2M number is far less still. My "assets" are held up in my employment and dolled out every two weeks in a paycheck. So by that analysis he should be donating even more, no?

No. As an officer of a public company, he sells his shares on timetable as required by insider trading regulation.

You can cash out your entire net worth within a month to year max. Sergey, practically, can never realise his entire net worth, or anything close to it.

Actually if I'm reading his post correctly, his $2 million net worth is imaginary, and is based on an estimate of how much money it would take in order to passively generate the $60K per annum-ish which he currently works for. Kindof an odd way of putting things.

This is a digression, but you are completely misunderstanding my point. I can't "cash out" my "$2M" because I don't have it. I have a job that provides the income I'd get from about $2M in conservatively invested assets. That is much less liquid than Brin's shares (he can borrow against them, for example, where I've already tapped that avenue with my mortgage).

I agree with you. Generosity is not appropriately measured in absolute terms, it has to do with what one sacrificed to be generous. It's nice that he donated, but it's no more a sign of his good character than if a typical person gave a few dollars.

There was a debate I used to have with a coworker. He claimed that the "goodness" of an act is determined solely by the intent of the actor.

That sounds nice on the surface. But imagine two people, each of whom, say, built a hospital for children:

One guy is greedy, and built the hospital only because he knows that parents will pay just about anything to heal their children. He used the best architects and materials to create a world-class facility to help attract the best doctors, because then he'd be able to charge top dollar.

The other guy has a heart of gold, and is just desperate to have something to serve those poor unfortunate kids. So begs for funding, and cuts every corner, to create a facility.

Flash forward a year, and we see:

#1 - Parents picketing outside, calling the owner of the hotel an evil 1% because it costs so much to treat kids there (because it costs so much to run the facility, and the greedy owner wants his share too).

#2 - A pile of rubble, with weeping parents because of the dozens of people killed -- including the child patients -- when the building, with all the cut corners, collapsed.

In these two stories, who is the bad guy?

My friend claims that #1 is evil, and #2 is a hero, entirely based on the intent of each. How can that be, when #1 is successfully making kids better, and #2 has caused their deaths? Do we want to have more of #2, and fewer of #1?

Interesting philosophical questions :). I think the goodness of the act is determined (partly? mostly?) by the intent at the time of its inception.

In poker, you don't judge a decision as good or bad based on if you eventually win the hand. It's based on the information you had at the time. If you go all in with a 2-7 offsuit (worst hand) and get lucky and win, it was still a bad decision -- you shouldn't have done it, even though it turned out ok.

Flip it on its head. Two hunters are in the woods and shoot recklessly into a bush. Hunter A happens to hit a person hiding there. Hunter B happens to hit a tree. Why does the random presence of a stranger make one act less bad than the other?

Two assassins shoot their victims. Victim A dies. Victim B clings to life, struggling greatly and manages to survive.

Why does one get "murder" and the other "attempted murder?". Why does the victim's painful struggle to live make the original act less bad?

It's a bit like that. The #2 case was done out of caring, and it was bad luck that it collapsed. Clearly, if he had known the building would collapse he wouldn't have built it that way.

For #1... well, if the cost of the building collapsing was less than the money saved, he'd do it. I think intent matters because we can't really control outcomes.

Of course those with resources, skills, etc., can make a very big impact... highly leveraged based on the extra skill or wealth. And there is a sense in which this is the only relevant metric for philanthropy.

However, since most people like to infer that philanthropy is an indication of a person's good character, I think the sacrifice metric is also relevant.

In my ideal world, philanthropy would be viewed as one of many behaviors that might be fun and self-actualizing for a person (selfish) and this sort of selfishness would not be viewed as a bad thing. The problem (and the reason I felt it necessary to comment) is b/c many people are all to ready to praise a rich person for a donation that represents no true investment of self, akin to me giving a homeless guy the half sandwich I couldn't finish at a restaurant and had boxed.

Piling praise on a billionaire for donating $500K is reminiscent of the days when serfs knelt before the land owners in hopes of a crumb or a coin. This is not intended as a criticism of Sergey at all, btw.

The #1 is the one who runs the society and has politicians in his pockets so they make sure that no universal healthcare is implemented and the people are forced to choose between the only alternatives you listed - i.e. scared by #2 the people are forced to go to #1 which produces more money for #1 for more political power. Repeat from the start.

>So that's the equivalent of my dropping $59 on them.

i'd be happy to upvote you as soon as you drop this $59 on them.

Keep reading. I know it's light gray and difficult to see. :)

yes, i see now. As a frequent reader of Wikipedia i'd like to express my gratitude to you for the donation.

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