Reading time: 3:30 | Yes, we need philanthropy, and no, we don’t. As with most medicines, the dose makes the poison.
While the gap between billionaires and the rest of the world widens by the day philanthropy has become a soothing buzz word, a marketing strategy to make this unfortunate development less divisive. Today, there’s hardly a billionaire left who does not have the term philanthropist added to hers or his resume (yes, there’re female billionaires too — women’s lib has come a long way). So, why don’t cheer them for their role as big-time spenders for society?
Even on closer inspection, almost anything connected with society and not involved with direct money-making is eligible as a field for philanthropy. Whether a billionaire donates for kindergartens on shooting ranches (for mummy when she wants to empty her Glock’s magazine on that poor cardboard character) or supports the honorable research for an affordable medicine against malaria for developing countries doesn’t matter much the Wikipedia article. It doesn’t even matter how much of the fortune is donated to the public. Sure it should be something in the millions and a reoccurring process, but it’s unnecessary to mention the percentage of the respective fortune.
Imagine you’re a third-tier billionaire. You are one of these poor chaps with only 1-3 billion, and you’re donating ten million to a clinic that is specialised in heart diseases. You’re donating roughly a tenth of your interest that you will earn if you invest your fortune very conservatively. Without even touching the doom of inflation, you could do so three times a year. But that’s not all. Tax deduction and the increase in reputation that you will earn by being a famous public donator — your father died from a heart attack in that clinic, story is everything — will even-out any possible cost and will likely support your brand immensely. Your donations must pass the 100 million mark to have an impact on your fortune (which you and your descendants will hardly spend meaningfully in the next several hundred years to come).
But with that outstanding generosity, or may I say a minor deviation of your hardcore greed, you’ll do yourself and your fellow billionaires an excellent service. You are making one critical statement to the rest of the population: you 0.00003% of the world’s population are essential for society’s welfare. The world needs you and your ilk!
And if we mere mortals dare to think otherwise, you wield your clout over us with your most giant sword: your money. As your eight first-tier club members own more money than the poorer half of the world, which is roughly 4 billion people, that’s not even remotely a difficult task. Just give the right political parties, corporations, you name it, a little share of your money, and you’ll be safe. As a successful entrepreneur or heir, you’ve learned early on that success needs investments. And please, please don’t feel guilty by undermining democracy on an unprecedented scale (political campaigns and parties donations are on an all-time high).
And now the worst fact on philanthropy: We, the other 99.99997% of the world’s population, with every donation made are paying too. Most investments that philanthropists donate are eligible for tax reduction. Who is paying the hypothetical 30% deducted taxes of that 10 million donations for the heart decease clinic? Yes — you do, I do, we do. We’re spending 3 million of our taxpayer money so that the generous donator only has to pay 7 million of his/her fabulous 10 million donations. But we never had a say in what we invest. That power only has the noble billionaire.
One could argue, scrap all that, cap fortunes to a reasonable amount and let the government decide where all the money should go — at least the government has been elected democratically. That begs the question: why is philanthropy still a valuable thing as I stated at the top?
The problem with leaving all wealth redistribution to the government is that society will lose generous people that show mercy, generosity and empathy on larger scales. We need role models to do the best ourselves. What’s more, a government is not always at the forefront of developments, but less restricted entities can set essential trends.
In an open society, we literally must be open to anything imaginable that goes well with our laws. Many things come to my mind, from gay rights to gender equality or racial equality. Being more affluent than others is an inevitable result of a market economy and absolutely within our laws. We have to accept that too. The question is: does a democratic society need people with unimaginable fabulous wealth? I don’t think so. We don’t need princes and princesses; we don’t need kings, dukes and knights. We don’t need an aristocracy to make our society whole, but this is what we now have.
It’s time for a reassessment: we need to tax the super-rich down to regular riches and close that poisonous gab.