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Multimillionaire on the complexities of evading tax and the politics of philanthropy
The Wealthy 1% Aren't All Evil Fanged Monsters After All.
As the "Occupy" movement demonizes the one percent for their wealth, it's worth bearing in mind among these fortunate individuals lie many brilliant ones, giving ones, and like anything we can't judge someone by their social class alone. Steve Kirsch breaks the mold of the evil wealthy fat cat, and I was fortunate enough to chat with him...
Matt Sky: Steve, what was the first time you experienced a flood of significant wealth, and what inspired you to give so much? You're known for having very quickly given away somewhere $75 million to charity, how much this of your net worth was that, what inspired that kind of generosity, and to what cause or causes did the money go to?
Steve Kirsch: It was when Frame Technology was acquired by Adobe for $500M. I don't recall how much I was worth then, but you don't need a lot of money to provide financial security for your family. So what's the point of having more? We took the excess funds and set up a donor advised fund at our local community foundation. That way, we can lock in the tax deduction immediately and decide how best to spend it later.
MS: In your own life, you've shown a unique generosity with your wealth in helping others. Do you feel it is a responsibly for those of us in fortunate financial situations to give to those less fortunate, or to causes that benefit this world? Would you advocate others to follow your lead, or is it more a personal choice from person to person? It's clearly a personal choice. I look at it simply as a prudent way to invest my money in a way that can benefit my family. Which is better: investing $1 billion in Google stock and making $3 billion? Or investing 1 billion in curing cancer and saving a million lives, possibly including my own?
MS: How has Waldenstrom's macroglobulinemia altered you as a person and as a professional? Many of us live in an illusion that mortality is not ever going to come. Does a more vivid realization of it, guide you to take more risks and be more bold?
SK: None of us know when we will die. With the cancer diagnosis, the date of my demise is statistically more likely to be sooner than it was before. With my particular cancer, it's really hard to quantify how much sooner. So there is a lot of statistical uncertainty here and that has certainly increased. So it makes me more aware of financial planning and discussing transition plans.
MS: You're known also, for your strong political views. Are you happy with the current administration? As a person who has generated wealth in the private sector what must we do, in your opinion to create more jobs, and stabilize our economy? Are we overreacting in any way to the current debt ceiling and concern of government spending?
SK: No, I'm not happy with the current administration. They have no long-term strategic plans for dealing with any of our top issues. No real visionary thinking. You can't keep increasing your debt without having a solid plan in place for how you are going to repay those debts. We are a country without a plan. That's a bad way to run a business and a terrible way to run a country. I've written extensively about this in many columns on the Huffington Post. It's very frustrating. The most successful legislative agenda in US history was done by creating solid, well thought through plans. This seems to be lost on the current administration. There are people very high up in the White House that agree with me, but unfortunately, those people are not the ones calling the shots.
MS: Are you alongside Buffet in feeling that you should be taxed more?
SK: Buffet pays less in taxes than people who work for him who make much less than he does. We've put in really complex rules to incentivize people to make decisions to avoid paying tax. In general, Buffet should pay more in taxes than other people, but on the other hand, if he's using those funds in a way the government wants him to, he should be rewarded with lower taxes. I think the problem is the tax code is too complex and the rewards people are given are not always in the best interest of the country.
MS: What does America need to do to stay competitive as we watch ourselves try to find our way in a rapidly changing world? In your experience, you've worked in many different areas of the tech sector? Do we need to federally fund investment in these areas? Would funding advanced medical research be among the things we need to pursue?
SK: We need to have a plan for how we are going to compete, just like a business has a plan for how they would compete. We need a plan, focus, and brilliant execution. There are lots of options. Unfortunately, the people we elected to public office aren't keeping their eyes on why they were elected: to serve the public interest. Instead, Republicans are more interested in wanting to see Obama as a one term president than they are in putting together a long term, well thought through plan for how America is to going to increase our global market share and add jobs in America.
MS: How much of one's success in life is luck, determination, and just inherent talent? I think in our country a significant portion holding onto an idea that the hardest working ones are always automatically the wealthiest, and thus working class Americans are somehow not working.
SK: Success comes from a combination of factors. I think determination is one of the most important, if not the most important factor. You can be successful and be poor. It all depends on what is important to you. You shouldn't let other people judge you. You get to decide what is important to you.
MS: What are your biggest goals now? Beyond financial corporate ones, but personal goals in this life? The first goal is to stay alive and be there for my family. I'm achieving that by funding research on my disease. The second goal is do good things while I am alive that will make a positive difference in people's lives. If I make a lot of money doing that, I can put those funds into research into achieve the first goal.
Matt Sky, Activism Editor: Matt Sky is a journalist, commentator, tech expert, comedic personality and performance artist. He has interviewed some of the most influential newsmakers in the world such as former President Jimmy Carter, Arianna Huffington, Russell Simmons and Larry King. He has appeared as a commentator on HuffPo Live, Sirius XM and has been a guest on a number of radio programs and podcasts. Matt’s areas of expertise include technology, public policy, foreign policy and philanthropy. Matt Sky can be... (more...)