“The greatest successes come from having the freedom to fail,” says Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, during his commencement speech delivered at Harvard University on Thursday. It’s a luxury he himself was afforded, but too many are not. That’s why billionaires like him should pay for a financial safety net that allows everyone to find their purpose, he says.
“If I had to support my family growing up instead of having time to code, if I didn’t know I’d be fine if Facebook didn’t work out, I wouldn’t be standing here today,” says Zuckerberg, whose family was financially comfortable thanks to his father’s career as a dentist.
“If we’re honest, we all know how much luck we’ve had,” he says to the Ivy League school’s 366th graduating class.
The tech titan experimented often as a teenager and student.
“An entrepreneurial culture thrives when it’s easy to try lots of new ideas. Facebook wasn’t the first thing I built,” he says. “I also built games, chat systems, study tools and music players.
“I’m not alone,” continues Zuckerberg. “J.K. Rowling got rejected 12 times before publishing Harry Potter. Even Beyoncé had to make hundreds of songs to get ‘Halo.’
“IF I HAD TO SUPPORT MY FAMILY GROWING UP INSTEAD OF HAVING TIME TO CODE, IF I DIDN’T KNOW I’D BE FINE IF FACEBOOK DIDN’T WORK OUT, I WOULDN’T BE STANDING HERE TODAY.”
-Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook
“We have a level of wealth inequality that hurts everyone,” says Zuckerberg.
“When you don’t have the freedom to take your idea and turn it into a historic enterprise, we all lose,” he says. “Right now our society is way over-indexed on rewarding success and we don’t do nearly enough to make it easy for everyone to take lots of shots.”
At only 33, Zuckerberg is a billionaire more than 60 times over as a result of founding and growing Facebook.
“Let’s face it: There is something wrong with our system when I can leave [Harvard] and make billions of dollars in 10 years, while millions of students can’t afford to pay off their loans, let alone start a business,” he says.
Where previous generations fought for the right to vote and for civil rights, the current generation must fight for equality, according to Zuckerberg.
“Now it’s our time to define a new social contract for our generation. We should explore ideas like universal basic income to give everyone a cushion to try new things.”
Universal basic income (UBI), the idea that the every individual should be awarded a base payment to cover the cost of living regardless of employment status, has been floated through the ranks of Silicon Valley as robots and automation increasingly replace low-skilled, blue-collar jobs.
“THERE IS SOMETHING WRONG WITH OUR SYSTEM WHEN I CAN … MAKE BILLIONS OF DOLLARS IN 10 YEARS, WHILE MILLIONS OF STUDENTS CAN’T AFFORD TO PAY OFF THEIR LOANS.”
-Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook
In particular, Sam Altman, the president of venture capital firm Y Combinator, says “everyone should have enough money to meet their basic needs…. We don’t yet know how it should look or how to pay for it, but basic income seems a promising way to do this.”
Elon Musk, the founder and CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, says that universal basic income is a virtual inevitability.
One hurdle to UBI is funding. Zuckerberg, though, has a solution. He should foot the bill, along with other similarly successful people.
“Yes, giving everyone the freedom to pursue purpose isn’t free. People like me should pay for it. Many of you will do well and you should too,” he says.
Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, have started the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, using their extreme wealth to address the issue of financial inequality.
Giving everybody the opportunity to be entrepreneurial without fear is part of Zuckerberg’s overarching call to the graduates of Harvard.
“Finding your purpose isn’t enough. The challenge for our generation is creating a world where everyone has a sense of purpose,” he says.