Rush Limbaugh: Lauds Greed over Charity

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November 28, 2011; Rush Limbaugh Show  |  That Rush Limbaugh, boy—he’s one fun guy. Deciding to channel Gordon Gekko for a moment, he gave a ringing endorsement for the social benefits generated by greed over charity. In joining a caller from Indiana in endorsing the lack of compassion in providing food stamps to the hungry and unemployment compensation to the jobless, Rush took off on charity, and we quote verbatim:

Whatever subset of people you want to talk about, what has fed more people, greed or charity? . . . It’s a multiple-choice question with two possibilities: Greed or charity . . . That’s right: Greed! Greed has fed more mouths than charity ever could. If you don’t like the word “greed,” use “self-interest.”. . . See, Dawn’s in there saying, “You shouldn’t say ‘greed.’ It’s just gonna make people think you have no heart, and people are gonna think that you’re all for suffering. Don’t say ‘greed.'” Okay, self-interest, then . . . “There, that’s better.” Okay. Self-interest versus charity. Self-interest will feed more mouths every time it’s tried. It’s not even close.”

No, we don’t think that Limbaugh’s full-throated defense of free-market capitalism means that he has no heart. We think it means that he hasn’t even a germ of understanding of charity and philanthropy—or government. Charity isn’t attempting to replace the capitalist system, but it certainly seeks to blunt the negative impacts of hard-hearted business. Government assistance such as food stamps isn’t “charity”—it’s a government responsibility to help those who cannot adequately help themselves in this economy or indeed any economy. And the pervasiveness of malnutrition and hunger in the world should show Limbaugh that greed has fallen plenty short of responding to the world’s hunger challenge.

Gordon Gekko couldn’t have pulled off the Limbaugh statement better.—Rick Cohen

  • Richard Shaw


  • Michael

    While awaiting a car repair I heard Rush go on about this. As much as I disdain the guy, his argument here is more nuanced than you make him out to be.

    That ‘greed’ and ‘self-interest’ argument is straight out of Adam Smith and classical liberal economics (It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.)

    The actions of the butcher and the baker subsequently generates surplus wealth, which then goes to fund charity and supplies the needed tax revenue to fund government.

    Lets not kid ourselves, if we’re ever to get out of this hole, we have to find a way to encourage private wealth creation….we just can’t have a permanent dole without the cash to fund it.

  • rick cohen

    Dear Richard: I agree and disagree with your comment in parts. Yes, the self-interested people like you and me (you bet, I have plenty of self-interest) fueling the sector provide the financial and human capital necessary to make it work. But charity doesn’t do the trick for everyone, much less equitably (take a look at the newswire I have coming out tomorrow on the Christie Administration’s grants to NJ nonprofit foodbanks). Self interest fuels a lot, but it requires government to make sure that people in need get served. Our snowy motives, as you put it, not only don’t necessarily exist to the extent that we would like to believe, but even snow plus self-interest don’t necessarily respond to the needs that are out there. Thanks for your extended comments!

  • rick cohen

    Dear Michael: We agree and disagree. Of course it is going to be private wealth creation that jacks up the economy, though I think it will be government (through stimulative spending and financial policies that will eventually kickstart the private economy again). Surplus wealth is needed, but the ability to respond to people in need cannot rely on greed and self-interest, as plenty of people in need would be skipped–and they are. Rush’s argument that self-interest feeds more people than charity is a straw man argument. Of course it’s true. But he was taking the argument to an extreme and not dealing with the fact that the generation of “more” attributable to greed and self-interest doesn’t necessarily translate to “more equitable.” Thanks for your good comments.

  • Pamela Grow

    And why does ANYONE listen to this useless blowhard?

  • Michael

    [quote name=”Pamela Grow”]And why does ANYONE listen to this useless blowhard?[/quote]

    Because sometimes it’s good to have your beliefs challenged.

  • Michael

    And another thing, I’m always amazed how susceptible people are to thinking that the primary motivation of government social programs is benevolence. Thus I question the premise of Rick’s quote above that, “it requires government to make sure that people in need get served.

    Our public education system is a prime example, where where the raw naked greed of unions, administrators, consultants, construction companies is all cloaked under a banner of doing it ‘for the kids’. Rather than open up the system to private and nonprofit alternatives, in this case “it requires government to make sure that people in need NOT get served.

  • rick cohen

    Dear Michael and Pamela: Two comments. First, it is very very useful to have your beliefs challenged. Many liberals (yes, I guess I sort of lean that way, no?) and many conservatives spend way too much time talking and listening to like-minded people, and I don’t think that helps either dialogue or thinking. That’s why I spend a lot of time giving presentations at the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank, because I love being challenged on my beliefs and analyses. What I enjoy most there is the phrasing of the questions, sometimes just the questions themselves. However, Rush does lean to the over-the-top approach to political dialogue, wouldn’t you say Michael? It’s the same reason I cannot listen to Hannity, who leans to over the top insults (his constant characterization of Obama as “the anointed one”, etc.). I like different thinking, I don’t like what Pamela might describe, if she allows me to modify her word, as blowharding.

    Re government benevolence, here’s my point. Michael, there are crooks, scum, and worse no matter where you look, no matter what part of society we’re talking about. But my experience in government (and I worked in one of the most difficult and corrupt political environments in the country, where I spent time wiring my staff and taking cases of corruption to the prosecutors) is that for the most part, governmental agencies and governmental workers–including teachers–do yeoman’s work, take lots of abuse (including abuse of their motives), and really want to achieve the best outcomes for their communities and for people in need. Does government need reform? Does public education need reform? You bet. Is it “raw naked greed” that makes government less than benevolent (or would private sector business be less motivated by greed), no, that’s hyperbole that doesn’t hold. In the community where I served, I would have stacked my staff up against any in the country–nonprofit, for-profit, government–and concluded that my people were top-notch, not only in their skill sets, but in their dedication, professionalism, and yes, benevolence too.

    Thank you both for your comments. Keep up the dialogue.

  • Arlene

    I think that if we are speaking strictly economically (like as Michael says, above, ala Adam Smith and as Rick states, after) – strictly economically there is a margin that is generated from wealth and arguably that is where charity (contributions) comes from. Nonprofits know this, especially in this economy, right? But to Rick’s point I think that charity is only given when an individual (be that a foundation, corporate or private; or a donor, etc.) chooses to give and to what cause and organization or agency it/they choose to give to. Where I think that Mr. Limbaugh begins to sound like his isn’t that knowledgeable about the nonprofit sector’s experience of philanthropy is in his making his point an ‘either or’ or ‘black and white’ question – charity or self interest (or greed). To be frank,I have raised funds for over ten years, so my job, as a professional fundraiser, is to make an honest and compelling case to potential donors explaining why they should give to X nonprofit (i.e. its potential to succeed at its organizational goals, the talent and credentials among its staff, recent successes/accomplishments verifiable via outcomes, its ethical and professional operation of the organization, its transparent reporting, etc. – to sum up – best practices). When the donor gives they may BE giving for self serving or even greedy reasons. Frankly, I, as the fundraiser, don’t know and…I hate to say it…don’t care. What I am concerned with as the organization’s fundraiser is: achieving a certain (or several certain) fundraising goals; providing potential donors with accurate and honest information about the organization and its programs/services; and then with acquiring and retaining donors for that organization. If a donor gives out of self interest, honestly, I don’t know if the recipient organization would know (to a degree – if, for instance, a donor gives $1 million dollars and then tells the recipient organization what it can and can’t do – arguably that donor has crossed a line and hopefully the nonprofit’s leadership is at least savvy enough to see that and deal with it as it sees fit). I think that we, working in this sector, believe that people give because they believe in solving a certain cause or issue, or because they believe in the work of one nonprofit’s efforts over another, for whatever reason, but really – we don’t know why each unique individual donor gives. So, my question, given this discussion is, does it matter whether a donor gives out of personal self interest or greed? I am realizing, via this discussion, that I don’t think that it does. Limbaugh asserts that greed has fed more people in need than charity has (by which I assume he means altruistic goodwill) – I don’t know. Has anyone every studied the true motivation of each individual donor that gave to some specific nonprofit campaign? I don’ know, and wonder if the results of such a study would impact U.S. fundraising. I doubt it. I’m open, though, to your responses.