The founder of Craigslist on giving away his money, whether billionaires should exist, and why so many of our plutocrats lose their minds
A conversation with Craig Newmark
I recently ran into Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist, at an airport. I had gotten to know him after my book WINNERS TAKE ALL came out. Unlike most super-rich people, he became curious about the critique and wondered what someone in his position could do in order not to perpetuate the problems of plutocracy while still operating as a philanthropist. He read the book, absorbed its ideas, invited me for a conversation, and continued, over a period of years, to grapple with the question of how someone with outsize power and influence should make use of that privilege.
At the airport the other day, he told me that he was about to turn 70 — today, in fact. And he further explained that he had decided to use the milestone to announce that he was giving virtually all of his assets away.
Was he inspired by the headline-grabbing announcement not long ago by the owner of Patagonia? Not so, Craig says, because he had already been planning on his own announcement. But his birthday vow today will inevitably be read in concert with that story, and they both reflect a larger ongoing reckoning about what billionaires who profess to bemoan the skewed distribution of resources in their favor can do to fix it.
So enjoy our conversation below. And if you haven’t yet subscribed to access these discussions with smart and important voices in our culture, today may be the day!
“Too much money can screw you up” : a conversation with Craig Newmark
You're turning 70, and it has prompted the decision to give most of your income-generating assets away. You've given money away in the past. Can you tell me about the evolution in your thinking that got you to this announcement?
I've been realizing that I need to do a better job of doing philanthropy. Being an amateur has given me some advantages in that it helps me understand my limitations. I tend to share power in the form of whatever influence I have. I'm not the kind of guy who commands attention. I need to support the people who can. That means two forms of currency: attention and cash. I realized that and thought, "How much do I really need to go on?" Because my family, friends, and I only need so much. I don't know the point of retaining a whole bunch of assets. So I decided I'll support things I believe in, which have to do with protecting the country.
I'm curious how you got to that number of how much you need. That's a very hard thing to answer.
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