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Billionaires' charity a sham

New Giving Pledge fund will do little to alleviate suffering

Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and the world’s second-richest person, and Warren Buffett, the world’s third-richest person, have convinced the 40 richest U.S. members of the Forbes 400 list to donate at least half their personal fortunes to charity under a plan called the Giving Pledge.

Bill Gates founder Microsoft, second richest person

Bill Gates

The first Giving Pledge participants are “worth” a combined $251 billion, meaning their contributions will total at least $125 billion. So much money could greatly alleviate immediate problems of poverty and hunger and could create lasting institutions to benefit society. But for what will the billions be used?

The plan calls for wealthy philanthropists to “find their own unique ways to give that inspire them personally and benefit society.” The donations will not even be pooled to have the greatest impact but will be given to those charities that make these wealthy individuals feel inspired.

According to the Merrill-Capgemini 2010 World Wealth Report, the wealthy in North America annually donate about $200 billion. Yet, over 500 million people worldwide live in absolute poverty, and some 800 million suffer from hunger and malnutrition. Every year 15 million children starve to death. Nearly a quarter of the world’s population, living on less than $1 a day according to UNICEF, is collectively worth less than the world’s 358 billionaires. Clearly, billionaires’ charity is not helping the people who need it most.

The Merrill-Capgemini report gives some indication of why but avoids a real answer to the question. The report states, “Whatever the motivation, philanthropic choices are often inextricably linked to broader financial-planning initiatives, including tax strategies.” Philanthropic giving is a useful way for capitalist exploiters to protect their unearned wealth from taxation while creating a public image of generosity.

Charitable giving is a sop. While some of this charitable giving may provide for an individual or family for a short time, it makes no dent in the overwhelming poverty experienced by millions.  The systemic problems caused by capitalist exploitation cannot be undone through the philanthropic endeavors of the capitalist rulers themselves, in part because they give with no intention to solve those problems. 

Gates’ own charitable pursuits are a shining example of the futility of capitalist giving. Gates, who comes from a wealthy family himself, has earned billions exploiting workers around the world. He is now viewed as a reputed benefactor of education for the poor and exploited through his Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which provides computers and other technologies while promoting charter schools—a threat to public education.

The Gates’ foundation has become one of the major proprietors of the charter school movement, funding the creation of small schools in high poverty neighborhoods that are staffed with primarily or completely non-union educators and other workers. The results, by corporate education reformers’ own standards, have been minimal, while the impact on public education has been large.

Another major capitalist education “reformer” refers to the small schools and charter movement in clear corporate terms. Dan Katzir, managing director of SunAmerica Inc. founder Eli Broad's education foundation said, "We don't just write checks anymore. We expect a return on our investment in terms of improved student achievement.”

As in education, capitalist charitable giving is often used to impose the wishes of the capitalist class through gentler means. On an international scale, this means promoting imperialist super-exploitation. U.S.-based non-governmental organizations are notorious for their role in undermining progressive movements in underdeveloped nations across world.

The fact of the matter is that the capitalist system itself is the source of widespread poverty and oppression. The solution then is to undo the system—a solution that can never be achieved by the charitable contributions of those who benefit directly from the system.  Rather than handouts from the rich, workers need to take power into their own hands and build socialism—a system where the vast resources of the world are used to benefit the majority of people.

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