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The Rich Are Giving Their Money Away?

August 6, 2010

Most of the country has probably heard by now that Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and numerous other billionaires are planning to “give away their money,” as many media outlets have reported.

The Grand Rapids Press wrote, “Billionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffett pulled off quite a coup when they announced that 40 of the richest U.S. citizens will give the bulk of their wealth to charity.

But before we all get teary-eyed and canonize these people as saints, it would be useful to ask a few questions. Two basic questions that any reasonable journalist might ask could be 1) how did these people make their money to begin with, and 2) what does it mean to give their money to charity?

These are questions not asked by the Press reporter. Instead, she writes, “If you had a fortune, would you give it away to a favorite cause? Or would family be haranguing you for their cut of the pie? Tell us what you would do, if you had more money than you knew what to do with.”

First, this is a ridiculous question to ask people, since 99.9% of us will never be billionaires. Second, the question merely distracts us from asking more fundamental questions, thus never encouraging the public to think about wealth creation and philanthropic funding.

Wealth Creation

Quite often we are led to believe in the myth that wealthy men made their fortunes on hard work and ingenuity. For instance, J.P. Morgan made his first fortune selling defective rifles to the Union Army during the Civil War. He bought the rifles for $3.50 each and sold them for $22, thus making $18.50 on each rifle. Morgan also avoided military service during the Civil War because he could pay the $300 fee that allowed him to save his skin.

Modern day robber barons are no different. Bill Gates made his money off of computer software and technology that was first subsidized by taxpayers. Early research and development for computers was done through the US military at taxpayer expense. Once computers became more user friendly, people like Gates were given rights to “develop” what the public paid for.

Warren Buffet made his billions through the stock market, which is now being seen by more and more analysts as a very large ponzi-scheme. Buffet didn’t make anything or sell a product, he just figured out a way to fleece the public through speculative capital. Others on the list of those “giving away their” wealth are David Rockefeller who inherited wealth from generations of oil monopolies and political deals.

So, the idea that these billionaires are giving up “their” money is a matter of perspective. One could certainly argue, as I do, that this money really belonged to the public in the first place. Much of the wealth made by billionaires was either subsidized by the public or was made on the backs of laborers who do the real work that creates wealth.

Who Gets the Money?

The second basic question we should all be asking is where is this money going that these rich people are now “giving away?” First, it should be noted that they are not really giving it away. They will all make more money on their tax returns than any of us will make in a lifetime.

Second, many of these billionaires already have foundations through which they will channel this money. Foundations are a wonderful way for the wealthy to hide their money so that the IRS will not tax it. More importantly, foundations are a way for these elites to use their money to influence society, even engage it what some analysts refer to as social engineering.

Since billionaires have made their money off of a political and economic system that benefits the minority, they are not likely to donate money to entities or causes that will undermine the systems of power they benefited from. Some excellent work has been done on this topic and I would encourage people to read Joan Roelof’s book Foundations and Public Policy. Another good source that questions the benevolence of philanthropic giving is a collection of essays by the women of color collective known as INCITE!. Their book is entitled The Revolution Will Not Be Funded and is a critique of what they refer to as the Non-Profit Industrial Complex.

Both Roelof’s and the women with INCITE! argue that much of the money that is “given” by rich people is used for either conservative causes, which blatantly support their politics or liberal causes, which do not seek to change the system, only provide some form of assistance to those who have been negatively affected by the current system.

When looking at the list of billionaires who have pledged to “give away” their money, we could mention that one of them is Thomas Monaghan, former CEO of Dominos Pizza. Monaghan is notorious for donating millions to far right religious causes, such as anti-abortion and anti-gay efforts. Monaghan also was a big supporter of the arch conservative Catholic Bishop in Nicaragua in the 1980s, Obando y Bravo, because the bishop was anti-Sandinista and anti-liberation theology. (For more on Monaghan, see The Religious Right in Michigan Politics.)

When one takes a close look at the kinds of efforts that Bill gates has given his money to, it also peels away the thin veneer of benevolence. Michael Barker, in a 3-part essay on Gate’s foundation and politics, shows us that the software baron has supported population control projects and corporate agribusiness projects throughout Africa. Black radical writer Bruce Dixon also explores Gates’ role in supporting genetically modified crops throughout Africa, in what is called the new green revolution. Both writers make it clear that Gates is using his money to both benefit his legacy and more importantly to benefit systems of power that Gates is a part of.

We could go down the list and find many other examples of how this “pledge” by wealthy billionaires is in no way designed to redistribute wealth. Instead, the recent announcement by contemporary robber barons was a slick public relations ploy to justify an economic system that these people benefited from. Unfortunately, most of the major news media as played right along with them.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. October 25, 2010 8:58 am

    i needmoney help

  2. jjudith arroyo permalink
    January 11, 2012 5:20 pm

    Im only going to say any help will be helpfull and very nice thanks a lot

  3. January 11, 2012 5:24 pm

    Judith, we are not a charity or a social service agency. This article was critiquing the claim that the rich are giving their money away.

  4. jjudith arroyo permalink
    January 11, 2012 5:28 pm

    no matter how many words used if really want to help you will do,so thanks sincerly

  5. June 9, 2012 11:10 pm

    Beverly Sue Kahlenbeck
    I live with my son, he tells me I’m homeless. I lost my car in the tornado that hit Lowe’s in Sanford, N.C. Now I”m fighting cancer.

  6. September 24, 2012 9:38 am

    hi

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