Does Philanthropy Fuel Societal Inequity?

 

February 6, 2013; Source: Boise Weekly

Boise Weekly columnist Ted Rall probably doesn’t think much of Ayn Rand, who worshiped at the cult of the capitalist nobiliary. Rall seems to want the head of uber-wealthy New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the founder of Bloomberg News. Rall isn’t swooning over Bloomberg’s latest donation of $345 million to his alma mater, Johns Hopkins University, which he notes is a well-endowed institution to begin with. As NPQ recently noted, this decisive philanthropic gesture puts Bloomberg’s total giving to the university at more than $1 billion, making him the most generous living patron to any American educational institution.

Rall’s language is confrontational and acidic, as in this passage seizing on the severe damage and psychic stress suffered by “those poor cold slobs” in NYC from the recent Hurricane Sandy: “If there’s anything more nauseating than watching this rich pig bask in the glow of his philanthropy while the citizens he is tasked with caring for turn into popsicles, it’s the failure of anyone in the system to call him out. For $345 million, the mayor could have put his city’s storm victims up at the Four Seasons for years.”

Let’s see. Estimates suggest that Sandy left approximately 20,000 New York residents homeless (though there were approximately 47,000 homeless New Yorkers prior to Sandy, making New York the city with the most homeless people in the U.S.). The Four Seasons’ minimum rate is $595 per night, so Bloomberg’s money might be able to do what Rall suggests for a few months, but certainly not years. In any case, Rall’s viewpoint is tied to his collectivist concept of equality and his argument that “No one deserves to be rich. And no one should be poor. Everyone who contributes to society, everyone who works to the best of their skills and abilities, deserves to earn the same salary.” But how would such a utopia allocate resources and encourage ingenuity?

Rall goes on to argue that large-scale giving itself skews the economy with its random generosity and creates the false public perception that equality exists and is improving. He is not the only voice making such an assertion. As NPQ has previously noted, historian Robert Dalzell, author of The Good Rich and What They Cost Us, supports the notion that the ultra-rich are perpetrating a false sense of security in our socioeconomic system. Rall quotes Dalzell:

“For many people, the generosity of these individuals who made so much money eliminates the problem that wealth poses, inequality poses, in the society…We tend to conclude that such behavior is typical of the wealthy, and in fact it’s not…This whole notion of ‘the good rich’ I think reconciles us to levels of inequality in the society that in terms of our democratic ideology would otherwise be unacceptable.”

There is no question that much American wealth is ill gotten. However, some billionaires with a golden touch find their way to the top by creating jobs and enhancing productivity, which should increase the wealth of a large working class (though only in a well-regulated economy, mind you, and there are myriad examples of how the U.S. falls short in that regard). Rall’s view is that capitalism is evil and our system of rewards is a sign of rotten American character—one that philanthropy masks. What are your thoughts? We welcome your comments. –Louis Altman