Misanthropic philanthropists

Back in June, Warren Buffet announced he would donate $31,000,000,000 to the Gates foundation.  While this action generated a lot of favorable publicity, as well as some criticism, for Gates and Buffet, no one seemed overly concerned about where all this money came from.

They made it the old-fashioned way: they stole it.  While the methods Gates and Buffet use to generate their great wealth are legal, they are nothing but thievery nonetheless.  Through their expertise in telling others what to do and playing the stock market, these two, like so many other wealthy people, manage to keep themselves rich without doing any real productive work.

While the people who run and own corporations feel entitled to make hundreds of times more money than many who work for them, they have no just claim to this wealth.  When people do real work, that is, when they produce something of value to themselves or others through their physical and/or mental work, they should be compensated for the full value of what they produce.  But in our state-supported capitalist economic system, workers are actually paid less than the full value of their product, and a large portion of the wealth produced is skimmed off to aggrandize the managers, owners, and investors.  This is what passes for free enterprise at present.

Gates and Buffet really think they deserve, and have “earned” in some way, the money they have taken from others.  So when they then decide to pass some of it on to others, they, and their supporters, view this as an act of charity.  But what they are really doing is redistributing wealth that rightly belongs to others to people whom the “philan-thropists” have decided are more deserving.

They believe, and are constantly reinforced in this belief by the news media and politicians, that they have the moral high ground.  They are convinced they know better how the wealth generated by others should be spent than do the working people from whom they have taken it.  And the people who are being robbed by the likes of Buffet and Gates go along with this nonsense, admiring the foundations for their generosity, forgetting, or never really thinking through, whence their money comes.

People accept this arrangement because it is the only world they know or can conceive of.  They see the government steal from people and give their money to others, and generally don’t complain unless they feel that they are not getting an adequate portion of the take.  Almost everyone believes that those who own or manage corporations are actually providing some important service without which production and commerce would grind to a halt, justifying the wealth they extract from the goods and services workers produce.  So it’s no surprise that people consider it admirable when Gates and Buffet pass on some of the loot they have stolen form working people to others who are seen as more in need.  Most do not realize that both our economic and our political masters simply see most of us as a means to an end.  Whether we are the source of their income or the recipient of their largesse, we are still serving them.  We either increase their wealth or enhance their image, but we can never, in their eyes, be allowed to keep our own money and decide what to do with it ourselves.  We will never be that deserving.

There is a better, more just way to live and to help people in need.  That is to reorder social and economic relations between people in a fundamental way, based on the principle that what people produce belongs to them and they should be free to keep it or trade it as they see fit.  No one, whether rich or poor, politician, ceo, or stockholder, is entitled to the fruit of another’s labor.  If working people here and around the world were not robbed by their employers, governments, and landlords, there would be many fewer needy people.

But in any kind of society there will be people unable to provide for themselves for one reason or another, and it is abundantly clear both from the historical experience with mutual aid societies and today’s charitable giving, that regular working people can be generous and caring when others are truly needy.  They have shown repeatedly that they are genuinely benevolent, unlike Gates, Buffet and their ilk, because they contribute to helping others out of what is left over from what they should have earned through real work, even after so much has been stolen from them.  That is far more admirable than the theatrics of millionaires.

It is surely a good thing that some of Gates’ and Buffet’s ill-gotten money will go to helping sick people instead of sitting in a bank or paying for another mansion.  But it would be far better to change the world in such a way that it would no longer be possible for a few to rob everyone else and then paint themselves as virtuous when they use some of this wealth to help the victims of the very social and economic system that has allowed them to accumulate their fortunes.

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