By John Lalor (Hibernia Forum)
Last year, Michele Hanson wrote in the Guardian of her disdain for how the Zuckerbergs dared give away 99% of their Facebook shares. How they wrote a “sloppy” letter to their daughter. “Wasn’t that a bit show-offy?” Hanson sneered. “Isn’t $45bn rather too much for one family to have in the first place?”
I was reminded of this spiteful scribbler when I heard a columnist from the New York Times being interviewed the other day on The Last Word about billionaires and charity. She discussed “The Giving Pledge,” a project to get rich people to give the vast majority of their money away.
OK, let’s leave aside the rather Marxist undercurrent in redistributive moral crusades like this. And, let’s leave aside ugly news stories about corrupt charities – like World Vision money falling into the hands of Hamas, and the appallingly cynical behaviour of Clinton Foundation ancillaries in Haiti. Let’s assume charity, by and large, does good.
The New York Times columnist lamented the likes of Dale Carnegie, putting his name on all sorts of philanthropic projects. Imagine – the avarice and arrogance of deciding gigantic sums of money for the use of libraries for the public (he built over 2,500 of them) and academic funds for the poor, and wanting your name above the door. She then piled on to the “Robber Barons” – those people, again, who just made too much money. (I strongly recommend Burton Folsom’s The Myth of the Robber Barons for an accurate history of these great industrialists.)
The Left has always had an uncomfortable relationship with charity. Indeed, researchers such as Charles Murray show that conservatives are more giving than liberals, and the religious are more giving than the secular. (How this is even news is beyond me.)
Perhaps worse still, the giving of the Zuckerbergs and Co. reduces the power of the state. Richard Boyd Barrett. Brid Smith. Paul Murphy. These people do not create a penny. They depend on private enterprise for their income – which they employ in overtly anti-capitalist ways. (I hope the irony isn’t lost on you.) What charity does is circumvent the state, and enable the donor to give directly to those causes she herself deems morally worthy.
The free market has always gone hand in hand with charity. Not everyone can create net wealth; not everyone is physically or intellectually capable of sustaining themselves and their needs. But, in the 21st Century, this is considered by many to be up there with sending children up chimneys. Why?
A common refrain is, “what, and make them depend on charity?” I always had a problem with that. What’s wrong with charity? What – is dependence on money gotten by force preferable? What’s wrong with the recipient having a direct line of sight to the people who donate? Again, a nauseating idea to the Left.
I wrote recently that the state squeezes low-skilled males out; it offers itself as a wealthy husband to mothers. The same can be said for charity. Charitable giving as a proportion of income in Britain, for example, is about 10% what it was in the late 19th Century. That said, tax is vastly higher than it was back then. In short, voluntary moral behaviour has been squeezed out by involuntary state mandate. Feeling good about yourself?
In charity, it is the relationship between the donor and the recipient that is vital. It offers responsibility, dignity and reciprocity. It treats recipients like adults, not children receiving pocket money, suspended in perpetuity of cruel, disinterested dependence. It empowers the donor, as – unlike through taxation – they choose to whom they give. Further, unlike through taxation, it tends to give the donor a healthy dose of reality as to where the money goes, and to whom. And charity if flexible: today’s recipients can be tomorrow’s donors. I would argue that those in receipt of charity have a greater likelihood of giving to others in time, than those dependent on welfare have of creating wealth and contributing substantially to Revenue receipts.
So, we’re left with two options: either those in need receive it through force (taxation), or through volition (charity). There is no significant middle-ground, as the state continues to gobble up more and more of our income.
We need to engage in the argument about both wealth creation and charity. The two are inextricably linked. Wealth is not zero-sum: you do not accumulate wealth at the expense of another. Equally moral, you cannot give to charity that which you do not have. While the state is robbing from your children and grandchildren to pay today’s welfare bills, charity comes from earned wealth – post-tax, at that.
I for one am glad the Dale Carnegies of this world placed his name above the doors of his libraries. I’m envious of those whose names adorn hospital wings, and those who can afford Platinum chairs on charity boards. Conversely, if the Left is not destroying wealth, it’s spitefully attacking the reputations of those who have accumulated it through the free market. And, in a final insult, it lambasts those wealthy people who deign to give away the vast majority of their wealth, because they have the temerity to want people to know about it. Oh – the Zuckerbergs are indeed evil creatures.
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