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Philanthropy is not always good
I was without the internet for about a week. Turns out the power supply for the modem was shot, not something I would expect for a two year old device but cheap ($10) to fix. Because of this I caught up with some of my reading and listening to news features on the radio.

A few things I came across about philanthropy struck me.

There have apparently been several recent books about philanthropy and how it often has unintended consequences sometimes consequences that are damaging to the recipients or allow the recipients to act in damaging ways. A good example of the latter being the use of NGO funded refuge camps in the Congo by criminals from the Rwandan genocide. These criminals used the camps to continue to attack people in Rwanda and even helped start some of the continuing violence in the Congo. A more subtle way that refugee camps can be damaging to the recipients is the Palestinian camps (more like villages now) in southern Lebanon. These camps allow the governments of both Israel and Lebanon to essentially ignore them and no one makes a significant argument for either repatriating them to Israel or more completely integrating them in Lebanon.

NGO’s tend to consider themselves non political and therefore free from political influence. But they then engage in actions that have a political consequence, sometimes subtle. The outpouring of aid to Haiti was understandable and necessary. The dire situation of the Haitian people is primarily political and economic. By stepping in NGO’s essentially reinforced the Haitian political system. It would have been simply cruel not to but the net effect was only temporarily beneficial to the Haitian people. This is a problem I can offer no suggestions about solving and is true in many cases.

Another thing I noticed had to do with schools. George Soros and Bill Gates are both proposing significant donations to public schools with a very strong emphasis on charter schools. I am not going to suggest a discussion about charter schools that is not my point. The main problem with public education in this country is the level of financing. We are something like 24th in per pupil expenditure in the developed world. Considering costs in the US this is a ridiculously low amount. The use of philanthropy to force significant change is the arrogance of the wealthy. It is philanthropy of force and it does not necessarily have the consequences it intends.

I started thinking a lot about philanthropy about 20 years ago. People successfully sued to have a large bequest ($5 billion I think, their website lies about the current worth of the bequest) used exclusively in Marin Co. CA. I lived then in Marin Co. and it is probably one of the wealthiest in the nation. It is not however without need. At the time my wife was involved in a theater that was mostly used by school children and other amateurs. They needed a significant amount of money to bring the building up to code. They had no chance to get any money. The foundation running that bequest decided to build an institute to study aging. Not an ignoble concern but considering all of us old baby boomers out here not one that needed much help. I found out what some of the administrators and other employees were going to be making in salary and I realized what the deal was. These were people who had found themselves a pot of money and were going to use it to their own benefit. It was not about philanthropy but about a good paying job for the rest of their life. I will not complain about the refusal of funding for the theater, it eventually found a way to do most of the needed work, but I do believe that was the sort of contribution to the community that this fund could have participated in. Marin Co. could have, with these funds been, a model for things like habitat restoration, education of under served, housing, many many things. Instead the money was used to build a monument on a hillside that was at risk of failure and indeed several houses had to be abandoned.

Far too many philanthropic organizations have become too big for their own good. There is a culture that is more responsive to making sure that the leaders either continue to get their high salary or their way and they have lost sight of what their reason for existence is. I have not now and will never give any money to the Sierra Club for example. They have gotten so over sized and reliant on corporate funding that they have gone against their stated reason to be. I may agree with something like 75 to 95% of what they do but I must disagree with the other 5 to 25% so significantly that I cannot support them.

I am not suggesting that local small scale philanthropy should be ended. I would still occasionally give out money to the junky sitting on the street on my way to afternoon coffee. I remain a member of the California Native Plant Society and routinely send them money. I have supported kpfa 94.1 fm (Catman you might like the history of funk on friday nights) the granddaddy of public radio stations and is not PBS. I understand Bob dealing with NRA BS so that he can support gun safety instruction.

I do think that all should look at large scale NGO’s with a lot more skepticism then normally we have. They have internal agendas, which may or may not be faultless. And, they may have external actions with significant unintended negative outcomes.

My apologies for the length.
Greed has always been there but our corporate leaders used to at least pretend to have higher purpose. Now they just cash in as quickly as possible and then bail out.
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." - George Santayana
Yep, greed is exactly what I was thinking about while reading this - simply, the more money involved, the more greed will be attached to it.

Suze Orman (not that I'm a follower, but I like one of her sayings) always says, "People first, then money". Think how well off everyone in the world could be if the majority followed that precept.

If we did, there wouldn't still be so many starving people with the number of charities intended to feed, clothe, house and medicate the poor increasing all the time.

In my personal opinion philanthropy is BS. It diminishes the need for fundamental change in politics at the best. At the worst it is religiously motivated and it perpetuate genocide.

BTW nice to see you Seeker
Sadly I am with Kacir on this one (Not sad that we have to agree, but to the point that freely giving should be a good thing).

As the old saying goes - Give a man a fish and he will eat that day, teach a man to fish and then you can sell him a rod, line, hook and bait as he strives to fend for himself.

Philanthropy by definition is the voluntary promotion of human welfare, a just and noble cause - yet the approach is generally through monitary donation - or at least in the case of other things the means to hold a group subject to your product. Do you remember the Green Revolution, developing new more fruitful seeds and specialist fertilizers, yes giving a higher yield but at the cost of needing these patented fertilizers.

Religion is another obvious example of this - here take this food while we sit here and read from this holy book.

Now those are instances where philanthropy is a guise (some may argue the GR began as good, but descended), but even with the purest of intentions the effects can be negative - as was described in the OP.

So I am left torn, I give to charity in some instances, but refuse to in others - I would like spare money I have to benefit others - but I would not want those who benefit to be criminals/governments that are cheating their neighbours.

Edited by Theory_Execution on 10/19/2010 07:46
kacir, what a pleasure. Good to see you post again.
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." - George Santayana
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