The politics of being really, really rich
A recent article in The Atlantic about the world's super rich makes it clear that it's an interest in humanity binds the poor to the rich.
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With the amount of money being doled out and assuming that, all things being equal, money buys resources and resources get things done, the super rich have a significant say in which causes receive the most attention and more significantly, how those causes are to reach their objectives (if not what the very objectives should be). That is after all one of the core principles of philanthrocapitalism – to apply business principles to giving including serving on the board to influence policy direction, stipulating business-like performance obligations (failing which funding is redirected or stopped), and that prized cherry, the right to include your name to brand the activities undertaken. Recognising this, Chrystia Freeland writes in her article for The Atlantic, “arguably the most coveted status symbol isn’t a yacht, a racehorse, or a knighthood; it’s a philanthropic foundation – and, more than that, one actively managed in ways that show its sponsor has big ideas for reshaping the world.” She goes on to suggest that more than impacting lives or the environment, the super rich engaging in philanthrocapitalism seek to leave behind an indelible legacy. They seek to achieve the immortality that the likes of Andrew Carnegie and Alfred Nobel have achieved.Skip to next paragraph
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At first sight, these may not seem like competing interests but often, they are. Any programme director who works in the third sector will tell you that funding designated toward specific programmes is problematic, mainly due to the funders’ reporting requirements which are admittedly necessary but often inflexible, onerous and far removed from the reality of events at the coalface. Organisations however are seldom in a position to refuse this funding. Even more potentially problematic then would be a funder who not only has a significant say in what the programmes and objectives should be but also in what the programmes should be doing to achieve their objectives.
It may not be an exaggeration to say that the war for the soul of the non-profit sector has gone up a notch thanks to Gates and Buffett, and while not necessarily saying no good will from this, it certainly gives me pause when once again this small sect of the population have, for no reason other than massive wealth, a say that far exceeds their numbers.
It is becoming more apparent that not only is the fate of the rich set apart from that of the poor, the fate of the poor is in the hands of the rich. One can only hope then that the accusation leveled at the super rich – that of displaying self-interested motives and casual indifference to anyone outside their rarefied bubble – is unfounded.
- Kevin Bloom also discusses the same The Atlantic article in the Daily Maverick, citing Thabo Mbeki’s “two nations” speech.
- Who funds who?: A comprehensive resource on the private funding of South African political parties
- 6 August 2010 submission to parliament by Lance Greyling of the Independent Democrats: Private Members Bill to Regulate Private Political Party Funding
- The $600 billion challenge, CNNMoney.com (Must read)
– Osiame Molefe is a blogger in Cape Town who blogs at Boos From the Pews.