Beware of capitalists bearing gifts

COLUMN

Economic policy changes over the past few decades have led to the super-rich being able to increase the concentration of their wealth to an outstanding degree. Oxfam recently released a report that shows this clearly, with only 62 people having the same wealth as the poorest 3.6 billion people on this planet.

Many people will be astounded by this figure, but not all. Rachel Smalley of Newstalk ZB, for example, seemed to think it is neither a sign of inequality, nor something we should correct. She claims that we shouldn’t limit the wealth of the super rich and, furthermore, many of them should be admired because of their philanthropy. Specifically she singled out Bill Gates for praise, but it’s not just Gates though; there is an increasing tendency for the media to pour adulation on those among the top wealth owners who choose to throw some of their unimaginable wealth at the world’s social problems.

While it’s true that Bill Gates has given away significant amounts of his personal fortune, more than any other businessman has ever done — and who knows, he may be doing it with the best intentions — but does he make a fundamental difference? We have to ask why does Bill Gates have so much wealth? Is there not a link between the personal wealth of this billionaire and the poor conditions that billions of people have to cope with?

In piling up his huge fortune, Bill Gates has behaved like all other capitalists, and is part of the class whose huge profits can only be made by exploiting other people. The fact Gates may have alleviated some misery for some individuals in Africa is beside the point. The fact is that no matter how much money is thrown into charities, the fundamental problems will never be solved under the present economic system. Ultimately, we need a system that sees a more equitable distribution of resources as well as more democratic control of our lives, so those resources can be used where they are needed, and not left in the hands of a few “kind hearted” people to decide.

Regardless of good intentions or motivations, the acts of the philanthro-capitalists like Gates are undemocratic and unaccountable. Why should the rich and famous decide what kinds of drugs will be supplied at prices affordable to the poor, or which groups get funded for their work?

As we slip back to nineteenth century levels of inequality, it’s worth noting what Oscar Wilde wrote in 1891 in The Soul of Man Under Socialism: “We are told that the poor are grateful for charity. Some of them are, no doubt, but the best among the poor are never grateful. They are ungrateful, discontented, disobedient, and rebellious. They are quite right to be so . . . . Why should they be grateful for the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table?”

Indeed, why should we be grateful and full of admiration? In reality the workers are the true philanthropists. It is us who create the wealth that funds the billionaire’s generosity. The truth is they are the ones who live on charity — our charity.

Next time you hear someone who has wealth greater than some countries say that they want to give something back, ask, “Why not give it all back?” The world wouldn’t need to be saved by the rich if the world’s resources were owned and distributed in a different way, and available to all. The present system creates and perpetuates the inequalities and injustices that the philanthro-capitalists claim to be fighting.

Economic policy changes over the past few decades have led to the super-rich being able to increase the concentration of their wealth to an outstanding degree. Oxfam recently released a report that shows this clearly, with only 62 people having the same wealth as the poorest 3.6 billion people on this planet.

Many people will be astounded by this figure, but not all. Rachel Smalley of Newstalk ZB, for example, seemed to think it is neither a sign of inequality, nor something we should correct. She claims that we shouldn’t limit the wealth of the super rich and, furthermore, many of them should be admired because of their philanthropy. Specifically she singled out Bill Gates for praise, but it’s not just Gates though; there is an increasing tendency for the media to pour adulation on those among the top wealth owners who choose to throw some of their unimaginable wealth at the world’s social problems.

While it’s true that Bill Gates has given away significant amounts of his personal fortune, more than any other businessman has ever done — and who knows, he may be doing it with the best intentions — but does he make a fundamental difference? We have to ask why does Bill Gates have so much wealth? Is there not a link between the personal wealth of this billionaire and the poor conditions that billions of people have to cope with?

In piling up his huge fortune, Bill Gates has behaved like all other capitalists, and is part of the class whose huge profits can only be made by exploiting other people. The fact Gates may have alleviated some misery for some individuals in Africa is beside the point. The fact is that no matter how much money is thrown into charities, the fundamental problems will never be solved under the present economic system. Ultimately, we need a system that sees a more equitable distribution of resources as well as more democratic control of our lives, so those resources can be used where they are needed, and not left in the hands of a few “kind hearted” people to decide.

Regardless of good intentions or motivations, the acts of the philanthro-capitalists like Gates are undemocratic and unaccountable. Why should the rich and famous decide what kinds of drugs will be supplied at prices affordable to the poor, or which groups get funded for their work?

As we slip back to nineteenth century levels of inequality, it’s worth noting what Oscar Wilde wrote in 1891 in The Soul of Man Under Socialism: “We are told that the poor are grateful for charity. Some of them are, no doubt, but the best among the poor are never grateful. They are ungrateful, discontented, disobedient, and rebellious. They are quite right to be so . . . . Why should they be grateful for the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table?”

Indeed, why should we be grateful and full of admiration? In reality the workers are the true philanthropists. It is us who create the wealth that funds the billionaire’s generosity. The truth is they are the ones who live on charity — our charity.

Next time you hear someone who has wealth greater than some countries say that they want to give something back, ask, “Why not give it all back?” The world wouldn’t need to be saved by the rich if the world’s resources were owned and distributed in a different way, and available to all. The present system creates and perpetuates the inequalities and injustices that the philanthro-capitalists claim to be fighting.

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Peter Jones - 3 years ago
Hear hear.

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