When you lack a coherent humanist philosophy or possess an inadequate education or a thorough instruction in religion, you are knocked around by your emotions and write editorials like this full of clichés and hackneyed phrases. The editorial is a rich vein of hidden assumptions concerning the nature of man, the role of the wealthy and guilt. It is partly naïve and devoid of serious thinking. Our boy wonder writes,
Early on in our philanthropic journey, my wife and I became aware of something I started to call Philanthropic Colonialism.
His choice of the word colonialism to describe what they are doing shows that he has a middle school child’s understanding of colonialism. Colonialism was not the simple exploitation of one country for the benefit of another but far more complex interaction between cultures. In some cases it was the last time a particular country lived under the rule of law. In other cultures is was the apex of their wealth and civilization. I point these out because we are nearly all aware of the negatives.
As more lives and communities are destroyed by the system that creates vast amounts of wealth for the few, the more heroic it sounds to “give back.” It’s what I would call “conscience laundering” — feeling better about accumulating more than any one person could possibly need to live on by sprinkling a little around as an act of charity.
Why would a person feel guilty if they obtained their money in a legal manner? If they didn’t or they manipulated the system in some way, paid a bribe, forced their employees to work longer hours without compensation while taking increasing bonuses for themselves, then no amount of philanthropy can sooth their soul anymore than the sleepwalking Lady MacBeth can. For like her perhaps they once thought, “What need we fear who knows it when none can call our power to account?”
As readers we really don’t know who he is speaking about since he is not naming names but we should take him at his word. A little further down he demonstrates a kind of ignorance and lack of imagination common among progressives.
But this just keeps the existing structure of inequality in place. The rich sleep better at night, while others get just enough to keep the pot from boiling over. Nearly every time someone feels better by doing good, on the other side of the world (or street), someone else is further locked into a system that will not allow the true flourishing of his or her nature or the opportunity to live a joyful and fulfilled life.
Let’s look at Mr. Buffet’s analysis. Note that inequality is a structure to be crushed. It is put into place like a building and perhaps just as easy to remove. But Is inequality per se wrong? Should we cut the tops off oaks because of the hedges? Should we weigh down elite sprinters with lead to slow them down? Giving someone just enough to “keep the pot from boiling over” implies we are dealing with violent and tyrannical children incapable of controlling themselves. How is that for condescension? He also thinks that giving money “further” locks a person “into a system.” But how does it lock them in? In a culture which is mostly free, possesses relatively good institutions and the rule of law will most likely prosper. Take away any one of those and it will not. Many of these culture are poor because their cultures are broken. Education, better systems, and money will never fix that. Prosperity is more than access to capital. Also, does inequality prevent anyone from being happy? Even people growing up in prosperity in the West find it impossible for their nature to truly flourish, some see no opportunity to live a “joyful and fulfilled life.” By Mr. Buffet’s way of thinking that must be someone’s fault. The failure of someone to act properly. He sees the world as big pot of limited goodies and some are taking out too much for themselves.
Microlending and financial literacy (now I’m going to upset people who are wonderful folks and a few dear friends) — what is this really about? People will certainly learn how to integrate into our system of debt and repayment with interest. People will rise above making $2 a day to enter our world of goods and services so they can buy more. But doesn’t all this just feed the beast?
I’m really not calling for an end to capitalism; I’m calling for humanism.
He really doesn’t understand the power of free markets. He doesn’t understand how micro lending removes helplessness and allows people to improve their lives in ways they want. Not necessarily in the way that dwellers of Olympus like Mr. Buffet would choose for them.
And what is this beast they are supposedly feeding? Is he arguing against materialism? Good luck stopping that aspect of human nature. As always, our motives are pure it’s the other guy who is a consumerist, exploiter, materialist, or greedy.
I am relieved he isn’t calling for an end to capitalism since it has pulled more people from poverty (for all its flaws) than any other economic system. He does call for humanism. Perfect, because it cannot be defined and has never been defined. It is an amalgamation of conflicting and poorly specified ideas. It’s a magic word because you can make it mean whatever you want it to.
Is progress really Wi-Fi on every street corner? No. It’s when no 13-year-old girl on the planet gets sold for sex. But as long as most folks are patting themselves on the back for charitable acts, we’ve got a perpetual poverty machine.
Unfortunately, we are unlikely to see the progress he hopes for in the next 10,000 years or so. And no amount of money can end it. By the metric he sets we will need to overhaul almost every non-western culture on the planet and convince them on the basis of something undefined that child-sex trade is wrong. We can’t even convince people that murder is wrong in all cultures. We did nearly eliminate tribal cannibalism and under colonialism, the slave trade, but the slave trade is alive and well in post-colonial Africa. Perhaps they can spend their money stopping that but I doubt it.