Congratulations on Facebook going public. You are now an even richer billionaire than you were yesterday. You have every reason to celebrate and make nice with your former colleague and bitter legal adversary, Mark Zuckerberg. But I’d like to talk to you about something else — that other reason people now recognize your name — your recent decision to renounce your American citizenship to live in Singapore.
See, here’s the deal: We liked you. We all did. Granted, we didn’t know you; we knew Andrew Garfield playing you in The Social Network. You were kind of that film’s hero — you knew right away Justin Timberlake was trouble and then you smashed Jesse Eisenberg’s laptop! Man, we’ve all been there. Everything turned out okay in the end, of course: You settled for a billion-dollar slice of Facebook, Garfield became Spider-Man. Everybody won.
But last week, just as Wall Street was readying Facebook’s public stock offering, it was revealed that you had renounced your American citizenship last September. Critics are saying you made the move to minimize your tax burden — Singapore has no capital gains tax — and two U.S. senators are so upset they won’t be able to spend your millions on pork that they want to ban you from ever returning to this country. Bloomberg News estimated that your decision will ultimately save you about $67 million, but I can’t believe it’s just about the money — a mountain of it for us 99 percenters, but not to a multibillionaire like yourself. My abacus says that $67 million to someone worth four billion is the equivalent of $16,750 to some lowly millionaire. So let’s pretend we’re all millionaires for a second: Is your reputation — and that of a darned good movie — worth less than 20 grand?
In your defense, you were only an American for about a decade, coming to this country in the mid 1990s from Brazil, where you were born. So when you responded to the recent criticism by saying, “This had nothing to do with taxes…. I thought of myself as a global citizen,” I believed you. But many Americans aren’t so understanding. We’re more than happy to welcome other countries’ millionaires, or media moguls, or baseball players with 100-mile-per-hour fastballs as citizens, but the door does not swing both ways. In our simple minds, the only people who renounce their American citizenship are the likes of Lee Harvey Oswald.
See? You’ve gone from Peter Parker to Lee Harvey Oswald in a week. You’re right: I’m not being rational, but I’m the least of your problems. Essentially, what you did by bolting the U.S. is the same thing you did to Zuckerberg when you froze the Facebook accounts. “It’s infuriating to see someone sell out the country that welcomed him and kept him safe, educated him and helped him become a billionaire,” raved Sen. Schumer of New York. (I can only imagine what they’re saying about you back in Brazil! They’ve been rejected twice!)
So how can you fix this? It’s a tough sell to the American people, I’ll be honest. The good thing is you are worth $4 billion, so you don’t have to give a darn one way or the other. But should you want to salvage your image here, I would suggest the following:
In conclusion, I don’t want you to worry. Your success is no accident, and I actually admire you for thinking of the long term. Singapore, I hear, is a beautiful, ultra-modern city. A little expensive, though, so save up.