Philanthropy: Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?

I am almost intrigued by those individuals we call philanthropists.  I say almost for the simple reason that by the very act of being a philanthropist one is raised upon a pedestal in the eyes of the politicians, the press, and sometimes the public.  An individual who does public good, who benefits society, and who bestows fortunes upon the community even if said money never reaches the poor, the needy, the lame, the sick, those who have little or nothing.  I am not a big fan of modern day philanthropy.  The patron saint of philanthropy is Andrew Carnegie, a man who gave away most of his fortune.  What an unselfish thing to do.  Or was he merely trying to buy his way into heaven?  The man was a robber baron in the extreme.  If the man was as honest as the day is long then surely his days lasted but an hour or two.  Ever hear of the Homestead Strikes or the Johnstown Flood?  Yet we celebrate him as a modern day hero because he gave us so many public libraries.  But if you examine his method of giving, the town or village that requested a library had to demonstrate a willingness to assist in the venture.  They had to implement a library tax to support that library and collect funds for the establishment of the physical building and the books.  Then, and only then, did the town receive money for the construction of the building (and not all at once, but pay as it was built) and a percentage of the annual operating expenses.  No, Carnegie wasn’t handing out libraries gratis.  He did not believe in wasting money on the poor, the needy, the homeless, or the sick.  Men, women, and children had to be worthy of his help.

You see, the difference between being a philanthropist and a giver to charity is very plain.  First one must have great wealth to be a philanthropist.  Charity is for the little people.  If a child is hungry and in need of a meal, a philanthropist will tell him to get a job and earn his way, then that rick man might give some money to the local public college for a couple of scholarships.  It’s not his business which poor and needy child can qualify for the scholarship.  Let the little people establish a soup kitchen or hand out food to the poor, god knows the poor don’t deserve such things.  Ah, you think I am being harsh.  Then tell me, why do so many wealthy individuals leave so much of their wealth to universities and colleges and art museums?  You want a building named in your honor at your alma mater? Then give the money to build it, preferably making other alumni contribute to show their worthiness, endow a chair or two, and viola, you are the salt of the earth.  Give money for outreach programs that will hire administrators at well paying salaries so that the poor and needy can be encouraged to attend ever more costly education programs and rack up those student loan debts.  Or we might give you a couple of hundred in scholarship funds, enough to pay for a book or two, but remember, you’ve got to show us you are worth our pittance.  I find it amusing that so many universities and colleges are constantly on the hunt for more donations for their institutions but the tuition costs are forever increasing.  Why is that?  If we are giving for the good of society, then I would believe we would expect the cost of higher education to decrease instead of rise.  But what did the Zuckerberg’s find out when they gave a few million to a public school system in Newark, New Jersey, to improve class performance among the mostly black population?  Most of the money was embezzled by the various administration and teacher organizations.  The black students got a few pennies on the dollar.  The couple would have done better to have given each student a few hundred dollars, thus directly benefiting those people.  Ah, but then he would not be held in high regard as a philanthropist.

I am being too cynical for you?  Consider how Andrew Carnegie made his money.  Theft, monopolistic practices, political influence bought and paid for at hansom prices, interlocking trusts that strangled competition.  The man was a crook, but when you are a rich crook, then you are a too big to fail industrialist and banker.  Perhaps he felt the need to give some of what he stole to the community.  But what surprises me is how anyone who is pushing for income equality can praise this ideal of philanthropy.  It is a total contradiction.  It is like listening to George Soros talk about why we need socialism.  Why should you listen to a billionaire talk about the need for government control industry?  Ah, it is precisely that government interference that made possible his accumulation of wealth through the gaming of the regulatory systems.  The lesson is simply, if you want to be a billionaire learn how to game the various systems to your advantage.  Ted Turner did it.  Of course he got there first and gamed it the most, thus leaving no one else with the opportunity to do the same.  But all these people support the arts.  Yeah, and us little people don’t matter.  Years ago I bought tickets to a Van Cliburn concert at the San Jose Symphony.  I paid cash, up front, for fifth row left.  Damn good seats, cost me a hundred apiece.  This was his farewell tour.  I received a set of tickets in the mail that were located in the back of the hall under the balcony, seats of far lessor value and far from favorable.  It seems that the management of the symphony was selling a reserved champagne reception to go with the front row seats.  I had been pre-emptied for the wealthy who were willing to pay  one thousand dollars a seat.  Friends, a contract is a contract.  No, they said it was a mistake.  I said I want my money returned in full.  I will never set foot in that building again,  I will never buy any CD with that symphony playing in any manner on it.  I will never support that organization again in my life.  The rich and wealthy love to tell us just how much art and music matter to the community and to all us little people.  But then they go and treat it as their preserve.  They will tell us when and where and how to enjoy it and by the way, don’t we want to support it.

If you want to talk about income equality, I’ll listen.  I know it will never be achieved.  Communism couldn’t do it.  That was sheer religious bull.  Yes, the perfect world will come about when the spirit of (fill in the blank) rules our hearts.  It’s not going to happen.  And individuals differences, individual experiences, individual environments all being different, you will never see income equality in any form.  But if you want to talk about opportunity equality, then I’m your man.  You see, it’s not income inequality per se that matters but the opportunities available.  In our present world, it is not the failure of good management that keeps organizations from helping us fulfil our potentials.  It is the concentration of opportunities, it is about their reduction brought about by the perceived need of economies of scale.  This is one of those pillars of economic truths that is actually false.  Yes, the larger the operation, to a point, the greater the scale of cost reductions. But the cost reductions are achieved by reductions in duplicated efforts.  The ultimate economy of scale is an organization that is run solely by robots and automation.  So what does that do for us little people?  Take away our opportunities for equality of sorts.  You see, the present mode of philanthropy only reinforces more concentration of resources.  A university education does not become cheaper and more accessible, it becomes less obtainable unless one sells oneself into economic bondage.  The philanthropist makes that possible in the way he or she gives their wealth.  The charity of feeding to poor and needy may only give them hope of another meal rather than a new opportunity.  Philanthropy won’t even give them that.  It’s like going to the bank to borrow money, you have to prove you don’t need it.  With charity, one both sees and feels a need to help.  It is a direct action and will seldom result in your getting your name on a building or a local street.  One serves humanity directly and in a more positive manner.  Will those who do not deserve help receive it?  Being deserving is an act of judgment, giving help is an act of giving help regardless.  If one’s principles include helping those in need regardless of their social judgment status, then one acts out of an altruistic sense of humanity.  But once you allow judgment to enter the though process then one becomes more hypocrite than cheerful giver.  When charity becomes a business, when it becomes institutionalized, its effectiveness ceases and it becomes an enshrined philanthropic organization where its own existence is for the good of those employed and not the recipients of its supposed good works.  Certainly the Clinton Foundation can be listed as an organization that encourages the enrichment of the Clintons at the expense of those more deserving.

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5 thoughts on “Philanthropy: Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?

    1. My point is that charity is very direct in its actions. Charity gives a man a fish because that man is hungry. That it may seek to teach him how to fish is secondary to the hunger. But the philanthropist only gives aid indirectly. That fact that a man is starving is not so much an immediate concern as the necessity to an institution to teach hungry men to fish. The individual man is forgotten in favor of the collective need. But these institutions are not exactly altruistic. They will be established with funds from the philanthropist and perhaps the community. They will employ other individuals, usually well fed, to teach those who are found worthy of being taught, how to fish. And then there will be a need to hire others to manage these teachers, individuals to conduct outreach programs, others to solicit funds from the community, and an executive board to oversee all these good works. It is a self perpetuating society for the purpose of spending money on the activity of seeming to do good. If there are no fish to catch it is not the fault of the organization and then hunger is the fisherman’s look out. The philanthropist does not mingle with the little people, the poor and the needy. He mingles with people like himself, the civic leaders, and the wealthy. Philanthropy creates an artificial class or cast system while pretending to be altruistic. Being a charitable individual is not a profession but being a philanthropist is. That is why our social services employees act so “professional” and treat their clients like serfs. I’ve been on the receiving end in my youth and having to ask for help was not fun and games. It was like having your wisdom teeth pulled. The non professional charities are much more understanding. And yes, professional charities are a contradiction in terms for they act in a very high handed manner and are more concerned with increasing their budgets and their salaries. Good Will, St Vincent de Paul, and a couple of others are the few that retained their sense of charitable service. The rest have become big business.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Im not disputing any of it.
        It all comes down to the heart of the philanthropist and the charitable person.
        If their hearts are pure with real intent to help/care/love and serve the poor then the word serves its purpose.
        But if their hearts are full of greed and selfish ways with other sort of intent to feed / love/ care for the poor and people then both words loose its person.
        Im a charitable person and I love giving and I solely give because I understand what its like not to have,to struggle to wait on God .
        So I think it depends on the heart of the philanthropist

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