Gazillionaires who give away large sums of money to charitable causes don't make my list of heroes, no matter how many people benefit from their largesse. I'd rather live in a world without gargantuan extremes between have-nots and have-too-muchs.
I admire people who try to change the power structure and economic systems that keep so much of the world in various degrees of desperation - not those who, after exploiting the inequities of the system (that is, unchecked capitalism), find themselves with more money than they could ever spend in ten lifetimes, and dump some of it on the deserving poor.
I've done some fundraising, both in the arts and in activism. I know full well how important money is to worthwhile projects. People who say we shouldn't "throw money at problems" probably don't care if those problems are addressed or not. Money counts. You can't do much without it. We should all give as generously as we can, to whatever moves us. That's the responsibility of everyone who has just a little more than anyone else.
But Warren Buffett and Bill Gates are modern robber barons, not candidates for sainthood.
The Rockefeller and Carnegie foundations do a world of good, but none of it helps the people John D. and Andrew exploited - the businesses they forced to close, the unions they busted, the lives they devastated as they accumulated their vast wealth.
In Collapse, I just read about a hideous, brutal dictator who was also a tremendous environmentalist. He prevented the destruction of forests and rivers. He also tortured and massacred.
Without the Phillip Morris company, arts organizations in the US would probably shrink by half. But its donations don't negate the fraudulent advertising and corrupt marketing that contributes to the death of millions.
I'd rather Wal-Mart pay and treat its employees fairly than fix up the ballfields in communities they help impoverish. A foundation for sick children is less valuable than providing health insurance to the largest sector of employees in the US.
In the mainstream media - and in too many people's imaginations, I think - once someone unloads millions of dollars, he is an angel, and we need look no further. I disagree.
Ted Rall disagrees, too.
Factoid: the average member of the Forbes 400 list of the richest Americans has seen his income rise 3.5 times--from $800 million (adjusted to 2006 dollars) to $2.8 billion--in the last 20 years. Meanwhile, real income for more than half the population increased...zero. Nada. Zip.Read Gates and Buffett: 1000 Times Worse Than Ken Lay.
To his credit, Buffett acknowledges the rising income disparity. "What has gone on in this country in recent years is a huge benefit to the very rich and not much that relief to those below," he told Fortune in 2005. But philanthropy won't slow the United States' slide into Third Worlddom. And it doesn't help the philanthropists' victims. All things considered, a $45 million lout like Ken Lay hurts America less than a $44 billion one like Bill Gates.
Consider a burglar who boosts your TV and then, thinking better of it, donates it to an orphanage. His act of generosity beats the alternative--keeping it for himself. But you'd probably prefer that he'd returned it to you, or better yet, never stolen it at all.