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
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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