Alex Phillips: Is Philanthropy the must have accessory for super rich social justice warriors?

Certainly when a flotilla of yachts and aerobatic display of private jets rock up at remote island paradises to preach about emissions, it smacks of hot air.

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Philanthropy. Is it really all about sharing the wealth? Making the world a better place? Or is it the must have accessory for super rich social justice warriors?

A way to play with their vast wealth, funnelling it into pet projects to shore up their own interests? A form of buying influence, an elite power play to radiate virtue while promoting luxury ideologies to mere mortals while rolling about in the trappings of a high net worth existence?

Certainly when a flotilla of yachts and aerobatic display of private jets rock up at remote island paradises to preach about emissions, it smacks of hot air.

A lot of elite philanthropy focuses on elite causes. Rather than change the world and close the wealth divide, all too often they reinforce it. The giving of the super rich often betrays the whims of the billionaire rather than the priorities of society.

In some cases, they even undermine them. Take for instance George Soros, whose Open Society Foundation has often come under fire from the right for funding ultra left causes, from BLM to stopping Brexit. In the UK, the world’s second most philanthropic nation after America, a vast chunk of philanthropy goes to elite schools and universities.

More than two thirds of millionaire donations went to their alma maters, with half - totalling almost five billion pounds - going to just two universities, you guessed it, Oxford and Cambridge. When the rich give, you can bet it isn't to inner city state schools.

Over a billion quid has been funnelled into the arts by loaded Brits, from opera houses to galleries, while only a fifth of that was donated to alleviate poverty. Hardly feeding the hungry with hoity toity highbrow cultural nourishment.

Yet not all philanthropy is cynical, is it? The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has doubled the amount spent on malaria research and did the same with polio, leading to 2.5 billion children now vaccinated against the disease, almost virtually eradicating it. The Foundation has given $45 billion since its inception and saved millions of lives.

Indeed Bill Gates helped to set up the Giving Pledge with Warren Buffett, where the world’s super rich agree to give the majority of their wealth to charitable causes, with now more than 200 signatories from 23 countries, although sceptics question its real world impact. The Gates Foundation alone often gives over £5bn a year, more than the foreign aid budgets of the vast majority of countries.

Yet foundations also offer lucrative loopholes enabling elites to dodge democratically elected governments to pursue their fads while opting out of full fiscal participation. At the Davos gathering in 2019 where the world’s most rich and influential mutually massage their egos by chewing over the issues of the day, historian Rutger Bregman told the crowd to stop talking about philanthropy and start talking about taxes, calling anything else proverbial BS.

In fact the cocktail of charity tax relief and gift aid in the UK means that when a billionaire shells out wodge for a cause, we the humble taxpayer must match fund a chunk of it, coughing up for stuff we have absolutely zero say over for some Panama paper tycoon.

Meanwhile the exploding number of megarich has seen a slew of opportunistic philanthropy minders bubble up, with a quarter of a million organisations helping clients splash $1.5 trillion of cash on supposed do-goodery.

And there is also the question of ill gotten gains. Who can forget the farcical focus on offensive statues of old slave traders-turned -benefactors while real lives were being ravaged by the social and economic impacts of a global pandemic.

Are generous hot shots picking up the slack where incompetent governments fall short? Or is it a lavish way of blowing smoke up one's own derriere while meddling in the lives of poor plebs? In mindfully mild misanthropic festive spirit, today, we really need to talk about Philanthropy.