July 24, 2021

Philanthropy: European heirs versus American self-made men

Philanthropy: European heirs versus American self-made men

Great fortunes in the United States, but also in Europe

In the United States, nothing is too excessive: according to the “Chronicle of Philanthropy” ranking, in 2018, the founder of the e-commerce giant Amazon Jeff Bezos gave no less than $ 2 billion in 2018 via his Bezos fund Day One, or 1.5% of his estimated fortune at $ 134.8 billion. But even with this colossal figure, Jeff Bezos does not reach the heights of American philanthropy: we remember the donation made by Bill Gates, in 2017, of 4.6 billion dollars, or 5% of his fortune, to the profit from its Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

In 2010, the same Bill Gates had launched, with the investor Warren Buffett, the Giving Pledge, a campaign to encourage the most fortunate to commit to giving during their lifetime, to non-profit associations, half of their wealth. . Today, bringing together 190 great fortunes, it does not include any French figure, and only 18 great European fortunes.

However, with a total of 431 billion euros in 2018, France does not lack great fortunes: according to an annual Capital ranking of the 100 richest French people, the heritage of Bernard Arnault, boss of LVMH and first European fortune, amounted to 57 billion euros in 2018. In the same year, the Mulliez family, just behind, accumulated 45.50 billion euros. Françoise Bettencourt Meyers, L’Oréal heiress, has a fortune of 36.12 billion euros, François Pinault, founder of the Kering group, 21.44 billion euros, and businessman Serge Dassault, 20.41 Billions of Euro’s.

The other European countries are not left out, with the Spaniard Amancio Ortega, founder of Zara, or the Germans Georg Schaeffler, of the Schaeffler Gruppe, the heirs of the BMW group Stefan Quandt and Susanne Klatten, Giovanni Ferrero, heir of the Ferrero group, and the Austrian Dietrich Mateschitz, co-founder of Red Bull.

« Philanthropic complex » French-style

French and European fortunes would they be grippe-sous? Only one of the 100 largest French fortunes, the pharmaceutical industrialist Alain Mérieux (18th French fortune in 2018 and president of the Mérieux Foundation for the fight against infectious diseases), answered the call “Change through donation” launched last December by Denis Duverne and Serge Weinberg, a sort of “French-style” Giving Pledge which encourages the wealthiest French to give 10% of their fortune during their lifetime. The manifesto nevertheless gathered the commitment of some sixty wealthy personalities: actress Line Renaud, comedian Muriel Robin, writer Marc Levy, fashion designer Agnès b., President of the Fondation Entreprendre Blandine Mulliez , businessman Claude Bébéar, business leaders Xavier Fontanet, Jean Todt…

This “philanthropic complex” would have in France an explanation of a cultural and sociological nature, in addition to the explanation linked to French inheritance law which limits the amount available for a bequest to persons other than the heirs. While, according to a Societe Generale Private Banking study, two thirds of French billionaires are heirs, the great French fortunes would be above all anxious to preserve their heritage and their capital, and to pass it on to their heirs who will take over the reins.

Economist Daniel Cohen delivered his analysis for the economic weekly Challenges : “The self-made men, who owe their wealth only to themselves, feel free to do with it what they see fit, spend it, risk it and, because it has become across the Atlantic a sort of social injunction, to redistribute it, ”he explains. “The heirs do not consider themselves owners but rather custodians of their fortune, with a moral duty to pass it on to subsequent generations. They are therefore anxious to keep it, to secure it, to perpetuate it. “