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Young Heiress Challenges Extreme Wealth: Empowers 50 Strangers to Distribute her $27 Million Fortune

March 18, 2024

Marlene Engelhorn, heiress to a substantial fortune originating from the legacy of Friedrich Engelhorn, the founder of BASF SE, has embarked on a groundbreaking endeavor. Raised with a modest perspective on her family’s wealth, Marlene’s perception shifted when she inherited over €25 million ($27 million) from her late grandmother in 2022.

Driven by a profound sense of responsibility and a desire to address wealth inequality, the 31-year-old co-founder of TaxMeNow has initiated an unprecedented initiative. She has entrusted the fate of her inheritance to 50 strangers from her native Austria, convening under the banner of ‘Guter Rat’ or ‘Good Council.’

Selected through a rigorous process conducted by the research group Foresight, these diverse individuals represent a microcosm of Austrian society. Reflecting on her decision to cede control, Engelhorn expressed, “I’m just one brain, I’m just one person and so to me, this is a huge relief knowing that the process of redistribution is much more legitimate and thorough and democratic than I could ever do it.”

Their mission? To deliberate and decide collectively on the allocation of Engelhorn’s wealth, transcending the traditional avenues of philanthropy and taxation. Engelhorn’s decision to relinquish control reflects a broader shift among heirs of dynastic wealth. “Philanthropy is only to be taken seriously when it considers its own abolition,” she asserted, advocating for a more democratic and inclusive approach to wealth redistribution.

The project’s announcement garnered significant attention, with over 1,400 participants registering their interest—an exceptional response rate for such initiatives. Guided by economists and philosophers, the assembly will embark on a journey of deliberation, aiming to reach consensus on the distribution of funds by summer.

The selected participants will meet a total of six times between now and June. The first two gatherings will be primarily educational: This weekend, after collecting Guter Rat merch and settling into the Salzburg hotel, participants will hear from two renowned economists who will share insights and perspectives, laying the foundation for informed discussions ahead.

The second weekend, participants led by the insightful Alexandra Wang, will engage in meaningful conversations. It will involve a broader philosophical conversation about what a just society looks like, said Wang, who hopes the project will create a road map for others.

“This is a lighthouse project that I hope will inspire a few people out there to rethink their values,” she said.

Starting on the third weekend, the participants will really dig into the fate of Engelhorn’s money and aim to decide what to do with her €25 million by the summer. If all 50 members can’t agree on where the money should go, it will be returned to her, but Engelhorn and Wang don’t expect that to happen.

Aside from being the face of the project, Engelhorn is no longer involved in the process, but she will give a brief speech to thank the participants this first weekend.

While Engelhorn remains the face of the project, she emphasizes the importance of public discourse over the outcome.

“The most important thing to me is the public discussion of wealth and equality,” she remarked, highlighting her broader intentions.

 

 

Credit: Fortune

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