Thursday, 11 May 2017
Billionaires and Philanthropy
For those of you who are still interested in the conversation we had at this blog a few weeks ago about billionaires and economic justice, here are a few additional ideas. In a comment I added to my blogpost"How many billionaires should there be?" I wrote:
"My point is not to criticize Warren Buffett, but to argue that decisions about how to use the superfluous wealth of the super-rich should not be left up to them. They should be social decisions."
Why do I think that? First, because the super-rich have used social capital to amass their vast private fortunes. The image of the self-made rich person is a myth. The wealth of millionaires and billionaires is created by the entire society (workers, civil servants, elected officials, health care systems, etc.). While granting that inventors and other innovators should be rewarded proportionately for their contributions to wealth creation, other contributors to the market process should have some say in how superfluous wealth is spent. As economist Richard D. Wolff says, "Wealth is not privately created [by heroic entrepreneurs acting alone] and then collectively appropriated [through taxation]; it is collectively created and privately appropriated" - as I would put it, stolen by means of favorable tax codes, tax avoidance, pro-business, anti-labor laws and regulations, subsidies, and other mechanisms used by the rich to prevent fair distribution of wealth to society as a whole.
Secondly, because, contrary to those who think billionaires and other rich folk are needed for their valuable contributions to charities and charitable projects of various kinds (a practice now becoming known as philanthrocapitalism), the super-rich cannot be counted on to make objective judgments about which human needs worldwide deserve high priority, which projects make best use of the money to better the lives of the disadvantaged. Not that they donate unwisely all the time, but they operate all too often from their own self-interest (need to make themselves look good or further their political agendas), from a capitalist frame of reference (money donated toward 'market solutions'), or simply to satisfy some personal preference (donating to an art museum). The article linked below expands on this critique of 'philanthrocapitalism.'