I was snookered

You may recall that I suggested that Yvon Chouinard, founder of the Patagonia retail store, might be that mythical beast, a good billionaire. Do me a favor, will you? Forget I ever mentioned it. As it turns out, his donation of his entire company to a charitable trust dedicated to protecting the environment was a sham — it was a maneuver to get some massive profit from tax breaks, and the trust was actually a way to put his money in a 501c4 that would be controlled by his heirs and himself, and would allow him to meddle in politics freely. He was simply abusing the system and undermining democracy in that special way that capitalism grants the filthy rich.

I should have known. You don’t get to be a billionaire by being a good person, you have to have a thick, deep core of corruption running through your heart in order to cheat the system and gather that much money. At least Chouinard knows that the reality of his existence is so thoroughly shot through with evil that he has to work so hard to put up the illusion that he’s a good man.

I won’t be fooled again. You’re a billionaire? You’re by definition bad.


  1. hemidactylus says

    Adding a little backstory to Adam’s video this organization helped unravel decades of progressive reforms:

    Watched the first G-Word episode on food. Starts with FPOTUS Barack who produces the show struggling to fill out his tax forms. Talks of TR signing food reform legislation inspired by Upton Sinclair. Follows USDA food inspectors and vets around. Made me think of the snack food aisle as a means of offloading production excess into chips and soft drinks. Why is berry flavored cereal 10X cheaper than real berries?

    Conover provided some food for thought.

    Good to see the spirit of ruining everything remains. I don’t think I ever saw him as fired up as in the video PZ linked.

  2. says

    Another trick is: you have stock in a company. You announce that you are establishing a trust – then you give half the stock to the trust and keep the rest. When the news breaks, the stock goes up and you sell shares into the boost, make a fortune or two, then offset the tax bill you’re going to owe with the tax credit you earned for giving the shares to the trust. Note you still control the trust so it can become an annuity for you and thanks to the share boost it’s worth a bunch more.

    I know a few tech execs who did exactly that, which is why I recognized it immediately when Chouinard did it.

  3. Rob Grigjanis says

    Marcus @7: The Holdfast Collective is a 501(c)(4) organization (my bolding).

    To be tax-exempt as a social welfare organization described in Internal Revenue Code (IRC) section 501(c)(4), an organization must not be organized for profit and must be operated exclusively to promote social welfare. The earnings of a section 501(c)(4) organization may not inure to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual


    Did your tech execs do exactly that, and if so, how was it a trick?

  4. Rob Grigjanis says

    To the topic being discussed, I submit:

    (1) There should be no billionaires. There should be a cap on the amount of wealth an individual can accrue.
    (2) In the system we live in, there are billionaires.

    The question arises: however a billionaire came by their wealth, what should they do with it?

    I’d love to see some of the commenters offer suggestions about what they would do if, tomorrow, they learned they were in control of billions of dollars. What is the best use of that wealth?

    My own response would be looking up the organizations which I think do the most good, according to my values, and just dishing it out. Another possible response would be to use the wealth to put pressure on the people who actually pass legislation. Again, according to my own values.

  5. birgerjohansson says

    The founder of IKEA was a strange beast that fits no obvious category.
    As a young man he flirted with fascist groups in Sweden but he seems to have outgrown that.
    He later lived a surprisingly austere life style (He had a mansion in London where he moved the head office but did not take part in the lavish life style you expect from billionaires).
    He seemed to have been 100% about the company, not the status the wealth could give.
    So was he good or bad? I have no information that he was worse than other London-based corporate owners.
    I think a big reason is, he was raised as an ordinary person, not going the path through private elite schools that ingrain young privileged men and women with the idea that they are entiteld to everything; wealth, power etc.
    You can see the harm that idea has done to both Britain and USA.

  6. hemidactylus says

    @10- Rob Grigjanis
    To be honest I would figure the amount I would need to live reasonably well without working for the next several decades, buy a home in Colorado, Nevada, or somewhere not in the Southeast. I would buy a couple reasonably priced muscle cars (or a Lamborghini Huracan). Then I would employ a money manager to best invest to make more money off the money I have left and use that to support causes and candidates aligned with my values.

    I would need to set aside money to hire an attorney for all the stupid stuff I might do in the Huracan or classic Barracuda.

  7. says

    @Rob Grigjanis:
    I’d argue that “values” are not good enough to go by. The Koch brothers have “values” – just different from mine and probably yours. It seems to me that, since the body politic is what nurtured the billionaire that it’d also be good for reallocating the billionaire’s wealth – there are already processes in place for that. Those processes have been suborned, but in principle they’d work fine.

    I agree there should be a level cap. I’d place it around $15m in total assets. A quick look at what a $7m house looks like should convince you.

    The big problem with extreme wealth is that it cries out to make the millionaire’s life better. That is OK as long as their values are socially mainstream but if a touchy billionaire wants change that is convenient to them, then what if it’s selfish? For example, I loathe hunting and if I were a billionaire I’d want society to reflect my anti-hunting values.

    I mentioned in one of my old posts that money/power are useless unless you plan to abuse them. Why should someone live in a $7m 6000sf mansion when someone else lives under a bridge? I suggest thay the guy with the mansion can cough up lots of plausible reasons why they deserve it. The big problem is keeping the wealthy out of politics. Perhaps if one promises to stay completely out of politics their level cap is raised to $20m.

    If I were a billionaire I’d make the republican senators put on a drag show. See? Wealth calls out to flex its political muscles.

    More seriously, there are certain internet services that ought to be commodities. I would fund the development of ad-free video/photo/text blog platform, search engine, ad blocking browser, email client and a few other core services. I do not know how the various secret police could br kept out, and we’d need some classifiers for blocking objectionable content. The community’s standards might not be good enough. It seems clear to me that freemarket capitalism does not result in fair outcomes so should assume that this would be an ongoing concern. But we could do better than twitface and instasnap and parler.

    I’d also fund wikipedia and some kind of medical library/cdc to develop public health tracking and information dissemination.

    There is a lot for billionaires to do, but it seems all they accomplish is spoiled brats. Oh, I’d also fund legal challenges to prevent universities from “ancestral” admissions. (Disclosure: I am one)

    If I had anything left after the drag show maybe we coukd nationally ban police from speed traps and pocketing fines. Asset forfeiture is crime under color of law.

    So all that exposes some things about my values doesn’t it?

  8. Rob Grigjanis says

    Marcus @13:

    There is a lot for billionaires to do, but it seems all they accomplish is spoiled brats

    Yeah, one of the many arguments against accrued wealth is the effect on the kids. Every child should feel entitled to opportunity. No child should feel entitled by birthright.

  9. consciousness razor says

    The question arises: however a billionaire came by their wealth, what should they do with it?

    Idly watch as most of it disappears, when they pay taxes.

    Why is it a question of what they should be doing with “their wealth” and not what society should be doing with it? I mean, you can ask that question for them if you like, but they don’t actually need to listen to any of our answers. So what’s the point of asking? To make us feel like we’re being heard, even though we’re not? Or what?

    It’s not only the money itself which was obtained through exploitation (and lying, cheating, stealing, etc.). They also got the power of wielding all of that wealth by being able to do whatever they want with it, as if it were undeniably their rightful property (to the exclusion of everyone else on the planet). That’s the thing we should be trying to stop, and we certainly can deny their claims that they have a right to it.

  10. chrislawson says

    Rob Grigjanis — there is a big difference between the law as it is written and the law as it is enforced, especially when big money is involved. The Trump Foundation did nothing but inure to the benefit of an individual. It operated unhindered by law or ethics for nearly 30 years, and would almost certainly still be grifting today if it wasn’t for some determined investigative journalism in response to Trump’s presidential run.

  11. Rob Grigjanis says

    cr @15:

    we certainly can deny their claims that they have a right to it.

    Did you see point (1)?

  12. Pierce R. Butler says

    hemidactylus @ # 12: Then I would employ a money manager to best invest to make more money off the money I have left and use that to support causes and candidates aligned with my values.

    Let’s say you make the necessary arrangements and get both of those plans finalized on what we’ll call Day One.

    It might take as long as Day Three before you discover the two operations in direct opposition to each other. (If not, start your investigation into which one is slacking off.)