Where the “Super-Rich” Give Back

Guy Sorman, in City Journal, writes:

Humanity thus finds itself divided into two economic categories that Karl Marx never envisioned: not proletarians and capitalists, but rather those who work for local markets and receive local compensation, on one side; and those who, as part of a global market, have access to salaries and profits of planetary dimensions, on the other. Popular resentment of super-wealth tends to be visceral, not rational; it’s not unusual in democratic societies. But confiscatory taxes in the French style, or prohibitions on excess wealth in the Swiss populist manner, can’t restore the balance between local and global sources of wealth. Globalization makes it possible for people and profits to move around beyond any nation-state’s control.

To explain this contemporary super-wealth is not to justify it uncritically: the super-rich are often privileged to find themselves at the right place at the right time. …

It is, therefore, up to the super-rich to seek a kind of forgiveness for what is often (at least partially) as much a matter of chance as it is of unique talents. There is a path to such forgiveness: philanthropy. But only in the United States is philanthropy truly well-developed. The American nonprofit sector, neither capitalist nor socialist, represents 10 percent of the nation’s economic activity. For example, apart from his partisan political efforts, George Soros has devoted $10 billion—half of his total fortune over the last 20 years—to helping dissidents in Central Europe, financing drug-rehabilitation programs in Baltimore, and educating the persecuted Roma people of Hungary. Bill and Melinda Gates give $4 billion annually to develop African agriculture and to eradicate malaria. More recently, the New York financier John Paulson gave $100 million for the upkeep of Central Park, and Stephen Schwarzman, a Wall Street investor, donated $100 million to renovate the New York Public Library and another $100 million to finance scholarships for American students in China. Private giving underwrites almost all American cultural institutions and major universities. By contrast, in Europe, such institutions rely on public money; most are currently starved for funding.

As Benjamin Franklin, perhaps the founder of modern philanthropy, wrote in 1740, the goal of philanthropic giving is to change society so as to do away with the need for charity. Thus what is called systematic philanthropy focuses on education, scientific research, and public health. It should be noted that this philanthropic tradition is essentially a Calvinist legacy: according to the Genevan preacher, riches only pass through the hands of the wealthy, who are then supposed to redistribute them. This doctrine led Andrew Carnegie, a century ago, to declare it disgraceful to die rich.

via Where the “Super-Rich” Give Back by Guy Sorman – City Journal.

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3 Comments

  1. I enjoyed the article, but I believe the philanthropic tradition rightly belongs to St. Basil who believed anyone owning two pairs of shoes when his brother has none, is a thief! 🙂 Thank you for sharing.

    1. It does seem the author needs to clarify the difference he sees between charity and philanthropy. However that goes, there is much benefit in bringing to light the history of generosity and its huge importance to civilized life. Glad to know this about St. Basil. Whom else figures importantly in this history?

      1. Oh, I agree, and I don’t mean to say it took away from the article in any way. I bet most of the important figures are just ordinary people we’ll never hear about.

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