How "philanthropy" is a way for rich people to preserve the inequality that benefits them

Originally published at:


According to Betsy Devos from her op-ed from a few months back, giving money to a right-wing public policy think tank is a form of charity.


Real philanthropy is at the local level, has always been and always will. Why? It can be verified.


Even the most ambitious philanthropy programmes of UHNWIs just can’t scale to address the problems inherent to the system unless they also aim to take down those problems (and thus the system itself). I can’t blame most of them for not wanting to do the latter in any meaningful way, given how much they benefit from the system and the neoliberal consensus as a whole even if they deplore aspects of it.

As I discovered playing this game, it would cost approx. $20-billion to end homelessness in the U.S. and about $380-million to abolish the Electoral College and $55-million to fix the Flint, MI water system. Funding any of these things, as painless and beneficial as they might be to someone with a net worth of over $100-billion, would seriously undermine the assumptions upon which American society is built.


Whenever this comes up, I’m reminded of what Oscar Wilde told us in “The Soul of Man Under Socialism”: Charity is less than nothing - like putting a plaster on a broken leg just to feel better.

Philanthropy might do some good (I won’t hold honest hard-investing people back, as a quite unique example I actually think Mark Shuttleworth has done something remarkable with Ubuntu), but in the end, society must change:

The virtues of the poor may be readily admitted, and are much to be regretted. We are often told that the poor are grateful for charity. Some of them are, no doubt, but the best among them are never grateful. They are ungrateful, discontented, disobedient, and rebellious. They are quite right to be so. Charity they feel to be a ridiculously inadequate mode of partial restitution, or a sentimental dole, usually accompanied by some impertinent attempt on the part of the sentimentalists to tyrannize over their private lives. Why should they be grateful for the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table? They should be seated at the board and are beginning to know it. As for being discontented, a man who would not be discontented with such surroundings, and such a low mode of life, would be a perfect brute. Disobedience, in the eyes of anyone who has read history, is man’s original virtue. It is through disobedience that progress has been made, through disobedience and through rebellion. Sometimes the poor are praised for being thrifty. But to recommend thrift to the poor is both grotesque and insulting. It is like advising a man who is starving to eat less. For a town and country laborer to practice thrift would be absolutely immoral. Man should not be ready to show that he can live like a badly fed animal. He should decline to live like that, and should either steal or go on the rates, which is considered by many to be a form of stealing. As for begging, it is safer to beg than to take, but it is finer to take than to beg. No: a poor man who is ungrateful, unthrifty, discontented and rebellious, is probably a real personality and has much to him. He is at any rate a healthy protest. As for the virtuous poor, one can pity them, of course,but one cannot possibly admire them. They have made private terms with the enemy, and sold their birthright for very bad pottage. They must be extraordinarily stupid.


You should check out Dark Money by Jane Mayer. The mega rich do get tax benefits from “donating” to right wing foundations considered “charities” because those mega rich people lobbied the government to allow it. It’s disgusting.


You know, I was just thinking about this earlier while standing at the urinal. I know, unneeded information but it’s true. I was thinking how wealthy folks, even those who are looked at as philanthropists give such a tiny fraction of their wealth to charity and good will, it simply does not make a dent. I could simply never be that wealthy because 99% of it would be distributed to charity, mainly animal welfare groups. Especially Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. I am so totally enamored with their facility in Kanab, Utah. But all of the wealthy would have to give a huge proportion of their wealth to really help. Now government on the other hand, can truly make big social change. A well run government is not the enemy! Unfortunately, thanks to conservatives, they have broken our government and then claim the government doesn’t work.



I’m tired of arguing with “taxation is theft” conservative Christians who claim Jesus would hate socialized programs that ensure the poor get assistance and wanted them to give to charity individually even though they’ll admit when pushed (or just go silent) that they don’t want to give to charity or else want to decide who is worthy of it.


Ugh. so many left-wing truths are counterintuitive, it really hurts our fucking bumper-sticker game.


I’m glad that Anand Giridharadas is getting the well-deserved attention. Also check out his interview here:


Some of the recipients of Bradley Foundation money. Beats me why any of that should be deductible charity.

I believe that the original Bradley was a founding John Birch member.


Because the names sound so wholesome? :roll_eyes:


Indeed. But even charitably donating to the philharmonic orchestra or the ballet or buying Harvard another library is really just a way of giving yourself a tax free gift. What the homeless folks in SF need is a roof and somewhere to shit - they are not going to be availing themselves of the fine entertainment provided by an orchestra and some highly trained dancers, or reading esoteric books on the Chicago School of economics.

Don’t get me wrong: I actually think that culture should be funded by philanthropy, alongside some government provided seed money. But you shouldn’t get to write off some taxes by gifting yourself something. And you should also be progressively taxed so we can get people living in houses, pay teachers, preserve nature, and so on.


Wow really good stuff. Depressing, but nevertheless good stuff. I admit, I did prejudge him because of the extra undone button, but glad I kept going.

Lecture finishes around 41:10

Hopefully those in a position to can make a difference.


What is giving a million dollars away, when you’ve funded trumps campaign and netted a 100 million tax break.


They absolutely can. They just… you know… won’t.


Well said.

Ummm. Money you don’t have to give away? By God, they earned that tax break.