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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

When philanthropy is a dangerous concept

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Money is power right? Well it depends? But if we accept the governments are not debasing it by printing it too quickly, and other people recognising the value of it, then it certainly has power. So what is the impact of giving it away?
Recently some of the world's billionaires got together in the USA to discuss the topic. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett were calling upon the billionaires of the world to give the bulk of their wealth to charity. There are of course good reasons for them to do this and associated benefits:
1. You cannot take it to the grave with you.
2. You can give it to your children, but in so doing you might be denying the value of developing a sense of efficacy for your children. The same is true for any benefactor.
3. There are people whose basic needs are not being met
4. Better having successful business people giving than politicians taking.

The problem I have with this style of promotion is:
1. It tends to make a virtue out of giving - not of creating. In that respect I think we lose sight of the gift of capitalism and the underlying value of self-interest. These people I think are looking for some sense of 'social pride' which I think communicates a dangerous message.
2. These business people were good at some commercial endeavour. Might it be possible that when it comes to social policy, they are really bad. I just look at how governments deal with issues of morality, public policy, and the idea of them channelling their money into welfare is really dangerous, given the prospect of inefficient investment. It is scarier than emissions trading schemes and other community minded projects. I need only refer to my Parenting blog, where I commented on Bill Gates ideas of parenting. Do you want him bestowing mis-education upon the poor? If the choice is 'instead of government', maybe its not so bad, but I caution. You tend to expect a bureaucrat to be incompetent....you should also expect the same of business leaders. After all, its common for a business person who ventures into a new industry to lose money.
The problem with welfare is that there is no 'profit-loss' when you stuff up. There is only the greater incidence of crime when Bill Gates teaches us that wealth is not created, it grows on the trees outside the Gates Foundation for Bad Advice.
There is a problem with this program on the level of ethics.....it might actually drive us towards fascism. Always count on unthinking business people to do that. How pray tell? Well, every collectivist tyranny in history was lined with good intentions. In this scheme there is the risk that these business leaders will make a virtue out of generosity....which is fine if generosity is something you do from a position of efficacy and material surplus. But if they are saying 'selfishness is bad', we need to give more....then I say these 'captains of industry' are ethically deprave....that they do not understand their own motivations. The inherent problem is the social ethic which considers production selfish, but philanthropy as 'virtuous'.
I thought the decision of these two men to give their money a logical thing to do at the end of their lives. If they make a virtue of it, they will give me reason to repudiate that praise because they will have done far greater damage to our society. Wealth is created by self-interest, not renouncing your mind or material wealth for the sake of others. If we make a virtue out of giving, we will end up extorting wealth from people for the sake of some misguided wealth. Who am I kidding - we already are!
More problematic however when business does it because they would otherwise be creating more wealth, sustaining the growth in productive capacity which is the engine of the US and other Western countries. My concern is that Bill and Warren will flood the UD V6 engine with crappy fuel.
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Author
Andrew Sheldon
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