It’s unclear what Mark Zuckerberg is up to. The Facebook CEO started an extensive national tour last year, where he’s done everything from visit local newspapers to assemble cars in a Ford plant in Detroit — behavior that has been interpreted by many as the preliminary stages of a run for office. Although Zuckerberg has denied he’s running for president, his public attempts at outreach state otherwise. It seems unlikely that the formerly reclusive tech billionaire would be sampling local cuisine and sharing meals with local families if not to benefit public perception for a later run at public office.
But this outreach mostly rings hollow. Zuckerberg has done things like extol the value of local journalism of everyday, “salt of the earth folks” but hasn’t done much outreach beyond these empty platitudes. If Zuckerberg is serious about becoming a man of the people, there are some real-world problems that a man with his immense wealth could easily fix: He could fund a complete overhaul of Flint’s water system.
An action like this would both do some tangible good and create a lot of goodwill with the voters that Zuckerberg is courting. A massive initiative like replacing Flint’s water system wouldn’t be that expensive for him, as the cost of replacing all of Flint’s lead-filled pipes is estimated to be $216 million to $1.5 billion. This daunting cost is why local government hasn’t been able to accomplish any meaningful progress, and would be a herculean task for any private citizen, even billionaires. But Zuckerberg isn’t any billionaire. He’s the fifth-richest man on earth, with an estimated net worth of around $60 billion. Even the most expensive estimates for fixing Flint would be pocket change to a person as wealthy as he is.
This wouldn’t be the first time Zuckerberg generously gave to charity: He famously donated $100 million to Newark public schools, and has pledged to give away 99 percent of his wealth, albeit through a convoluted LLC. His charity hasn’t had the desired effect; his donation to Newark schools has been criticized for spending an excessive amount on consultants and not turning around the district like it was intended to. A generous donation to Flint, with a plan in place to effectively allocate funds, could turn around the public’s perception of Zuckerberg’s charity efforts.
If Mark Zuckerberg wants to hold public office, or make a tangible difference in the world, there are many steps he can take that go far beyond community outreach. Zuckerberg has the type of money to create real change in the world, and the American public should expect much more from him than a photo-op at a Wisconsin bratwurst joint.
Chastain-Howley is a rhetoric and writing junior from Dallas. Follow him on Twitter @notcuillin