Marlene Engelhorn, an Austrian heiress, recently made headlines with her unconventional approach to philanthropy. Engelhorn, inheriting a considerable fortune from her grandmother, has announced a plan to give away €25 million (approximately $27 million). However, her method of distribution and her public statements on taxation seem to be at odd with one-another.
Engelhorn's decision comes with a twist: she is setting up a citizen's group of 50 Austrians to determine the allocation of her inheritance. This move stems from her belief that she has gained wealth and power without earning it, coupled with her disappointment in the state's lack of taxation on her inheritance. Engelhorn’s frustration with the absence of an inheritance tax in Austria is at the core of her philanthropic venture.
This approach, however, raises questions about her stance on taxation and government redistribution of wealth. Despite her advocacy for state taxation, Engelhorn chooses to redistribute her wealth independently, forming a foundation rather than directly contributing to state funds. This decision seems to contradict her initial argument for governmental intervention in wealth distribution.
The operational model of the foundation further complicates matters. Engelhorn plans to invite 10,000 individuals, out of which 50 will be selected to run the organization. These members will be compensated for their involvement, including travel and childcare expenses, creating a potential incentive to prolong the decision-making process.
Engelhorn’s method is inefficient compared to simply giving the money to the government. After all, writing a check to Austria's treasury is surely simpler than starting a private foundation while paying the voting members weekly stipends. If her intent is truly to support the idea of wealth redistribution by the state, her actions do not align with her words. This inconsistency is clearly as a form of hypocrisy - advocating for one course of action while personally pursuing another.
Engelhorn insists that her approach is a service to democracy, giving power to a select group of citizens rather than the government. This raises the question of whether her actions are driven by a lack of trust in the government's ability to effectively use her wealth. It appears that while Engelhorn supports the idea of taxation and redistribution, she prefers to retain control over how her wealth is used, contradicting her advocacy for government intervention.
At the end of the day she knows what we all know: She will likely serve more people in a better way by privately redistributing the money. We just wish she would consider that other wealthy elites (or normal everyday folks for that matter) might feel the same way.