We’ve lived so long under the spell of hierarchy—from god-kings to feudal lords to party bosses—that only recently have we awakened to see not only that “regular” citizens have the capacity for self-governance, but that without their engagement our huge global crises cannot be addressed. The changes needed for human society simply to survive, let alone thrive, are so profound that the only way we will move toward them is if we ourselves, regular citizens, feel meaningful ownership of solutions through direct engagement. Our problems are too big, interrelated, and pervasive to yield to directives from on high.
—Frances Moore Lappé, excerpt from Time for Progressives to Grow Up

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Is Warren Buffett and Bill Gates’s New Philanthropic Initiative Condescending?

by Jamie Johnson from Vanity Fair.

Johnson is an heir to the Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical corporation, and filmmaker of "The One Percent". I have posted his articles quite often in this blog because he gives us a rare inside view of life among the class of people who largely rule the world. Also, his film was quite a surprising exposé on the lives of the rich and the hypocritical way they live and justify their wealth and power. I've often wondered if this was just an indication of a youthful rebellious phase he was going through. With this article I think that I am beginning to think so.

After lavishing praise on the American billionaires in this article, he criticizes them for organizing a conference in India (also in China) where it carried...
...a slightly condescending message. It implies somehow that Indian billionaires require the guidance of American billionaires to act responsibly, and in the best interest of their own society. I tend to believe that super-rich Indians—whose fortunes, it’s worth remembering, are already remarkably high and only expected to swell in forthcoming years—have a suitable vision of their own for philanthropy. According to Forbes, the nation currently is home to 55 billionaires—many of whom are internationally renowned entrepreneurs. There isn’t any reason to assume their business savvy and creativity won’t extend to developing effective strategies for donating wealth. Plus, a number of Indian billionaires already rival their American counterparts in the arena of social responsibility. The Tata family, for example, has notably sacrificed personal wealth for generations by placing shares of their industrial conglomerate in charitable trusts to benefit India’s people. 
I think that one can also make a valid argument that American billionaires are condescending if they think they know what is best for people in the US who are poor. They are so insulated from the poor and have such a vested interested in keeping their class in power, that I don't think we should trust their judgement. After all, isn't philanthropy largely motivated by guilt, and a desire to improve the public image of the rich?

It's interesting to me that a scathing critique of Bill Gates and his educational reforms is no longer available on Truthout's website. See my posting.