It is surely admirable – isn't it? – that 40 US billionaires, led by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, have signed the "giving pledge" to donate half their fortunes to charity.I suspect you’re going to tell us the answer’s ‘No’, aren’t you?
Far better that they open their wallets to deserving causes than that they spend yet more money on yachts, carbon-emitting private jets or garish mansions.Mmm, because buying those things doesn’t stimulate the ship-building/aerospace/house-building/decorating/servicing industries, does it?
It doesn’t create employment, they simply fall, fully-formed, from the Boeing Tree or can be plucked from the Mansion Bush…
The filthy rich, or some of them, have shown they have a heart.Well, that’s grudging of you, Peter. Any chance of you showing you have a brain?
But let's be clear. Money paid to charity is exempt from tax; the US treasury already loses at least $40bn (£25bn) a year from tax breaks for donations. So billionaires, not the democratically elected and (at least theoretically) accountable representatives of the people, get to decide on the good causes.Ahhh, see that term ‘loses’?
Peter regards it as the government’s money, to which they are rightfully entitled, not the money earned by an individual, for them to decide to spend or not...
As Michael Edwards, a former World Bank adviser, asked in a study for the thinktank Demos, Small Change: Why Business Won't Change the World: "Why should the rich and famous decide how schools are going to be reformed, or what drugs will be supplied at prices affordable to the poor, or which civil society groups get funded for their work?" And even if they give away half their money (or 99% in Buffett's case), billionaires will still be rich.That’s the problem, isn’t it, at least for you, Peter. It’s not the fact that people are poor that concerns you. It’s that people are rich.
When they shouldn’t be, according to you.
Their generosity, however, helps to legitimise inequality and head off political protest.It clearly hasn’t stopped you writing columns in CiF or pushing your progressive agenda everywhere you go, has it?
You may think, if we're talking about mosquito nets to stop children dying from malaria or drugs for HIV, that it doesn't matter where the money comes from.Well, quite. Why not ask those in receipt of such vital charity from the west, charity that only becomes vital in the first place because their elected (or not!) representatives would prefer to add another gold-leaf seat cover to their diamond-encrusted Range Rover, rather than spend the money on their countrymen?
Because the answer you get might not suit you, perhaps?
In the short term, it probably doesn't. But rich business people tend to bring their own values to charitable giving, and there's a danger they will undermine those of the voluntary sector.Aha! Now we get to the crux of the matter. He who pays the piper inevitably calls the tune. And that tune may not be music to Peter’s ears…
Wealthy benefactors usually want efficiency, clearly defined targets, measurable outcomes, quick results.Oh, horrors!
Who could possibly make such bourgeois concerns a priority? Why, when you are spending other people’s money, such things are merely fripperies…
They tend to select charities as they would select suppliers of goods and services to their companies.What!? You mean, they ignore things that might conceivably advance their own political agenda or make them look good at Islington dinner parties in favour of projects likely to make a real difference? Barbarians! *swoons*
Some bodies provide data that help donors decide which charities to support: in the US, for instance, GiveWell records effectiveness according to "the most lives saved for the least money". These things aren't necessarily wrong – many charities would benefit from more rigour – but they don't always translate easily to the voluntary sector. They are not readily applicable to the more diffuse, long-term aims of civil society organisations, nor to their more transparent, less top-down decision-making processes.Methinks you protest too much, Peter…
The Gates Foundation wants to "give where we can effect the greatest change". But the greatest change is likely to come from transforming the economic system and the pattern of property ownership. Will Gates fund projects that undermine his own power and economic status?Well, no. Because it’s not a zero sum game, is it?
It’s entirely possible for Gates to stay rich and the poor to get richer at the same time. Should that be what we all strive for?
If the rich really wish to create a better world, they can sign another pledge: to pay their taxes on time and in full; to stop lobbying against taxation and regulation; to avoid creating monopolies; to give their employees better wages, pensions, job protection and working conditions; to make goods and use production methods that don't kill or maim or damage the environment or make people ill.And even if they do all that (those few that aren’t doing it now, of course), would you be happy?
I suspect the answer’s no…