Is charity still charity when it is performed for uncharitable reasons?
Looking beyond the “Aw, neat, what a great person” façade of “effective altruism,” (see here, with a grain of salt…) one clearly finds a level of narcissistic cynicism and a will to the permanent power that financial immortality affords that is only matched by the level of the funds being dispersed.
The gifts offered by today’s billionaires – the Silicon Valley crowd, et.al. – all sound great(ish), but to discount the obvious underlying reason is to fail to grasp the insidious nature of their beneficence.
In the past, the rich tended to fund things – museums, schools, libraries, parks – when they gave their money away. These things were meant to accomplish two goals – keep the name alive so future generations would “look them up” and to generally uplift society. The masses were given museums not as a monolithic lump but as discrete individuals who could choose – except for fourth-graders on field trips – to take advantage of them or not.
In other words, the edifices to their greatness left by the plutocrat past were generally made of stone and could be loved or ignored as people saw fit. You could go to Vanderbilt or not, wander into the Frick or not, and on and on.
Today, the emphasis is on the funding of causes and organizations that promote your personal worldview. Remember – if a cause you support ever does anything you don’t care for, you can simply turn off the money spigot and that’s it for them. You can’t simply take a library back and move in if they happen to carry a book you don’t like.
What the majority of Gilded Age – which we are seeing a modern version of now – giving involved, again, was stuff. Of course the wives of nabobs set up settlement houses and worked to directly improve – they believed – the lives of the poor, but the notoriety such efforts gained was simply not on the same scale.
The current fad of the financially fabulous is Effective Altruism, which essentially involves promising to give your money while you are still alive to causes and organizations that “do good,” while simultaneously tethering them to your whims through financial dependence. A very specific example of this is the massive money going to barely-surviving but purportedly legit media organizations (or you can just buy the Washington Post.) You get good press when you own it.
This is the key to the difference between now and then: now, the donor is working to ordain permanent social and governmental changes they desire, that serve their purpose through overpowering amounts of money.
Giving in this manner must, by definition, come with viewing the public in a very distinct manner. The “walk on by” option of the library is obliterated by a vapor trail of zeroes making their way into institutions that plan to be around forever, controlling the global levers of power, controlling you.
This view necessitates seeing the masses as a monolithic block that can be manipulated and controlled through your ongoing “good works” well after you have shuffled off this mortal coil (the idea tracks very closely with the Silicon Valley obsession with actual physical immortality).
Just as the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations eventually morphed into, this new form of giving involves the creation of perpetual motion machines to shovel funds not to where they are actually most needed – say, poor people, for example, but to “social economy spaces “ populated by upper-middle class do-gooders who get to live comfortably and think very highly of themselves because they work for a nonprofit.
This in turn perpetuates the “lives” of the donor by being able to forever control politics and policies and culture. This also becomes a form of eternal nepotism, as it has the side benefit of really helping their individual descendants keep at the center of power and finance (the “Smith Initiative” will always hire a Smith, will always have a Smith on its board.)
A key aspect of this “maltruism” is its ability to extend control through soft-sounding enterprises – how can something with “open” and “democracy” and “save” in its name – and be a “nonpartisan – nonprofit” entity to boot – be anything but good?
Happy squishy-sounding NGOs and “philanthropic LLCs” then extend their actual real hard power as funders and networkers and “third party validators” in ways that mere mortals cannot. We have yet to see an organization intended to create a global hive zombie mind call itself “Wicker Basket Full of Yawning Golden Retriever Puppies,” though the very fuzzy term “philanthrocapitalism” – also used to describe this approach – comes close.
As to philanthropic LLCs, they are seemingly the preferred way of doing the charity business of our current (and, they hope, forever) overlords. In a nutshell, they are not traditional charities, but organizations that can mix for-profit and nonprofit activities under the same umbrella. For example, in theory, by making money investing in X you can give more money to Y.
Even better, you can decide whether or not to leave your profits in the “charity,” enjoy certain (admittedly limited) tax benefits, and – unlike regular charities – you don’t really have to tell anyone where the money comes from or, more importantly, where it is going.
Even more better, you can do something charities really can’t – play politics. Such LLCs are legally entitled to engage in political activity like advocacy, lobbying, and, in the case of Silicon Valley’s own Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) significantly impact present-day elections (a very big more better.)
It should be noted that personal direct campaign donations are also part of the overall program of socio-political embiggenment. (Note: there are literally thousands of articles on the subject of exactly what ZuckBucks “charity” funds and the massive personal giving of Silicon Valley to various woke/left causes achieved in 2020 and 2022. I Included only the one link, but do feel free to investigate further.)
This openly political aspect of charitable giving is an absolutely new invention of Silicon Valley zillionaires, but it is also an extension of how they view their own position in the world – dominant (for a look at their “local” work, see here – and here – seemingly less openly political but it still follows much of the same themes.)
Here is a primer on the such LLCs – CZI is just the tip of a very savvy and slippery iceberg – written, beyond ironically, by a reporter who admits in the story that it is actually paid for by the Rockefeller Foundation – “Future Perfect (the name of reporting project) actually falls under one of the exceptions that, under some circumstances, permit foundations to make grants to non-charitable organizations — Vox Media is a for-profit company, but this department is funded by The Rockefeller Foundation.” While the piece is accurate, it is also an example of how deep “charitable” tentacles can reach.
A guilt-ridden-but-not-THAT-guilt-ridden plutocrat can get helpful advice on how to create LLCs from many sources, including from the California-based Milken Institute (yes, also ironically, THAT Michael Milken.) The handy fact sheet notes that “(A)n LLC structure provides not only flexibility but also greater integration of various social change efforts to expedite progress … LLCs hybridize for-profit and charitable activities, allowing philanthropists to generate financial and social returns.” All are advantages very much tailored to accomplish the goal of building a taking charity.
The donors who control where the money goes are insulated from any internal or external criticism by their ability to turn off the spigot whenever they wish. In other words, don’t irk, for example, the Gates Foundation because they are going to be around forever and your grandkid may need a job someday.
The nakedly obvious goal is to create a perma-class of the proper, an oligarchy of omnipotent organizations that will perpetuate “good” thinking forever. Of course, history has consistently laughed at anyone or anything that tries to extend its lifespan beyond its natural – or necessary – end, but the lower-upper-middle management lawyers and accountants and consultants and diversity experts and former deputy under-secretary of something or other and the academics who feed off of the system tend not to bring up that rather depressing bit of news.
The politics of this putative philanthropy are brazen. If one looks at those who have taken the “Giving Pledge,” one sees a list that one could easily mistake for the list of the owners of the private planes that jet to Davos for the annual World Economic Forum meeting.
The WEF, it seems, could be called the hub of the many rich and important spokes in the wheel that has fundamentally changed international politics in the past 20 years. From pandemic response to the Great Reset to emphasizing the growth of the “social economy,” the influence of the WEF and the people who support it cannot be underestimated (note – 10 percent of the economy of the European Union is now classified as “social economy” or the “third sector” – guess what types of entities, what “stakeholders,” make up the social economy?)
While “stakeholder” also sounds wonderful and egalitarian, that is not at all the case.
This raises the issue of the concept of the “stakeholder,” the all-too-common term for people and/or entities who already have a vested interest in an issue but wish to be seen merely as disinterested experts. While actual expert opinion is important and should be involved, a designated stakeholder will first and foremost fight for their own benefit rather than look for the “best” solution.
While totalitarian systems pretty much eschew the public committee process, communitarian and “friendly” oligarchical systems will use them often to both provide a sheen of respectability and to reward and/or create political allyship with various groups, such as non-governmental organizations, academia, social service providers, and such. As the saying goes, if you are not at the table, you’re dinner.
As an aside on task forces and blue-ribbon commissions in general, there are four types/reasons they are created.
First, and most rarely, they are created to actually look closely at a complex problem removed from the daily political give-and-take and come up with a solution.
Second, they are set up to avoid – or at least delay – making what could be perceived as a controversial decision.
Third, they are created in response to public pressure on an issue that the creators do not want to actually deal with – upon completion, the report of the board is accepted by the governing body which then cherry-picks one or two of the easiest/most milquetoast recommendations to implement and then files the report away never to be seen again while being able to publicly claim they handled the issue and made changes to address the problem.
Fourth, they are created with a specific outcome in mind and are packed with experts and “stakeholders” who are known to already agree in principle with whatever that outcome is supposed to be. That way the governing body, upon the issuance of the report, has what is known in the public relations field as “third-party validation” and can then move forward with even the most controversial plan while claiming they are “just doing what the experts say,” no matter how unpopular, wrong, or detrimental the idea may be (see COVID).
For convenience sake, the stakeholders are drawn from the same social economy world of the foundations they advise.
Who are not stakeholders? The public and, to a lesser extent, the people they choose to govern them. Without questions, electeds from around the world are part of the larger system, but they are often seen as obstacles to get around, egos to assuage, people to throw money at.
The 537 people elected by the public to federal office are merely seen as speed bumps to be gotten around or avoided entirely (hence the growth of the regulatory and/or deep state and their intimate ties to the tech community.
In case you were wondering, Elon Musk is not a fan of the WEF; hence (maybe) the dismissive tut-tutting in the legacy media and tanking Tesla stock. Throw in the treatment of Donald Trump at the same hands and can see a pattern developing…
Certain government exceptions are made, though. In the case of the sandy nations of the Middle East, the governments’ money is actually theirs and in the case of poorer leaders all they have to do is bow down to hedge-fund and NGO-driven ESG (Environmental, social, and corporate governance – see? there’s that word “social” again) financial processes like Sri Lanka did – and then they get to sit at the big kids’ table.
In fact, the web that weaves from WEF to NGO to foundations to media to government to consultants to stakeholders to experts to the financial world to politics and back to Effective Altruism is both unmistakable and intentional.
The caring industry is not only particularly susceptible to this financial influence, it is also the perfect place to put money to create a shield of public positivity – and with a cash-starved compliant press that shield becomes practically impenetrable. Both the media and the caring industry become subservient to whims of the wealthy, even if they are very problematic (for example, at the outset of its existence the Gates Foundation fight against malaria was grossly ineffective and utterly hamstrung by both its pigheadedness when it came to taking advice from actual experts and its philosophy of the environmentally correct/friendly sounding containment of rather than the eradication of mosquitoes – it’s gotten a little better since.)
Some of the moneyed meddlers do not exactly fit the above mold. George Soros, at least, is extremely upfront about using his money to buy influence, destroy the American justice system, corrupt the media, and, in general, attempt to bring down Western civilization as we know it. Soros made his money in finance, including his infamous “shorting” of the Pound in 1992 which netted him $1 billion in a day or so , even if it came at the expense of the British people – and here’s his website.
Notable Californian Sam Bankman-Fried also practiced Effective Altruism; of course he did it with stolen money but he says he meant well. Bankman-Fried, however, could be seen as a somewhat mirror-universe of a Soros or a Zuckerberg or Bezos or eBay’s founder Pierre Omidyar or Reed Hastings and his wife what’s-her-name, all of whom really began buying global power – sorry, donating to worthy causes – only after they had actually made a ton of real money.
But Bankman-Fried is unquestionably the poster child for the true intention of Effective Altruism. He specifically set out to create a shield around him by sluicing money to every part of the global grift network; hence his outsized influence on the world stage prior to his arrest and the astonishingly mild reaction of the press and people that “matter” after. Bernie Madoff got punched in the face just after his Ponzi scheme collapsed; SBF appeared at a New York Times-sponsored “Dealbook” conference just after FTX – once deemed worth $32 billion – became worth literally nothing and cost investors millions practically overnight.
SBF clearly knew early on that he was going to need legal, social, political (the amount of money handed over to Democrat/woke causes is eye-watering), and media protection at some point … and he clearly got it as he now sitting in his (also very politically/Silicon Valley-connected) parents’ multi-million dollar home in Palo Alto instead of rotting in a rat-infested, non-Vegan Bahamian jail (it’s also clearly why he was arrested the day before he was scheduled to testify in front of Congress – nobody “on the inside” wanted that to happen, no way no sirree).
Bankman-Fried also has the oddly glib honesty of a man who knows he isn’t ever going to really have to suffer, publicly admitting what everyone already deeply suspects and what the altruists of the world pay millions to keep quiet – he called his progressive public persona a “dumb game we woke westerners play where we say all the right shibboleths and so everyone likes us.”
By “everyone,” he means the people that “matter.”
It is clear why the Zuckerbergs of the world engage in this kind of hyped hypocrisy, but even they need people to do the day-to-day work. Such people are not hard to find – credentialed but uneducated, insecure but pompous, terrified but terrifying spineless woke people who would otherwise be moldering away in some grad school are a dime-a-dozen on the street and they have infested almost every foundation, corporation, government office, NGO, and charity.
UCLA Professor Emeritus Russell Jacoby, who once argued that conservatives were stupid to be worried about campus political silliness ever really getting out into the world, has changed his tune, now admitting: “The self-righteous professors have spawned self-righteous students who filter into the public square … The former prospered in their campus enclaves by plumping each other’s brilliance, but they left the rest of us alone … The latter, their students, however, constitute an unmitigated disaster, intellectually and politically, as they enter the workforce.”
In other words, while it’s not all dismayed potential grad students, the “long march through the institutions” has produced hordes of like-minded craven potential employees and bodyguards and fluffers and flacks and experts to meet the altruists’ needs for the foreseeable future.
And it is the future that is at the center of this issue. The organizations and people involved talk about impact investing, data-driven giving, and using evidence and reason to plan their permanent programs.
They don’t talk about giving for today – they talk about investing in the future.
Because they don’t think it is our future – they know it is already theirs.