Comedian Steven Wright once mused, “You never know what you have until its gone. I wanted to know what I had, so I got rid of everything.”
It is not known whether or not Wright has begun a career moonlighting as a financial advisor. What is apparent, however, is that one of the world’s richest men (it’s still men who are the richest) has given away his fortune to charity.
Yu Pengnian, the Chinese real-estate tycoon, has transferred his entire $1.2 billion estate to his Yu Pengnian Foundation, which he started in 2003 to provide support for the poorest regions in his country, in particular to pay for cataract surgeries, which the billionaire suffered from before accumulating his fortune.
As a result of benefacting his own foundation, his children will forgo their inheritance. (A mutual decision they have been included in.)
And while it is unlikely that Yu Pengnian was inspired by Wright’s deadpan comic observation, his actions do seem reminiscent of Stephen M. Pollan and Mark Levine’s radical financial offering Die Broke.
Dying broke is the pinnacle pillar of Levine and Pollan’s four-part plan. (“Quit today. Pay cash. Don’t retire. And most important: Die broke.”)
In Chapter 5, which expounds on their Die Broke Philosophy, they offer this advice: “Use your resources to help people now when you know they need it, when it will do the most good, rather than hoping they’ll be helped when you’re dead.” As well as this caution: “Every dollar that is left in your bank account when you die is a dollar wasted.”
Die Broke is not a radical social justice philanthropy manifesto. Pollan and Levine’s financial urgings concern providing monetary assistance to one’s own children when they enter into adulthood as much as they apply to any sort of charitable, let alone social change, giving. And yet, the idea of not hoarding an estate, not passing down an aristocratic inheritance, is quite a radical idea in itself. Especially in a society where “he (the masculine, again) who dies with the most toys wins.”
If you don’t hoard your money for a tomorrow you know will never come, then you must use it today. Engage the world as a person with affluence.
“Money and fame are mediums to be used,” Zane Fischer reminds us, “like paint or steel or ideas.”
Yu Pengnian has done just that. He has used his money. He has given away his fortune. “I have nothing more to give,” he announced at the press conference where he pledged all of his remaining property and cash (totaling $470 million).
He has made it a certainty that he will die broke.