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The philanthropy contradiction – why the richest need to give more

The top ten philanthropists in the world have now given over 15 billion dollars to charitable organisations. While this may seem like a lot, and a testament to the giving nature of our species, this article will instead argue that the amount given by the richest in society is pitiful compared to the wealth they […]


The top ten philanthropists in the world have now given over 15 billion dollars to charitable organisations. While this may seem like a lot, and a testament to the giving nature of our species, this article will instead argue that the amount given by the richest in society is pitiful compared to the wealth they control. The phrase ‘money can’t solve everything’ or ‘money doesn’t make you happy’ has circulated the world for sometime, but it isn’t true, is it? The fact is that we’ve created a world that’s ‘pay to play’ not ‘try before you buy’, meaning that there are few problems, in the first world at least, that would not be solved by a sudden influx of wealth. So, where are the philanthropists?

Philanthropy is defined originally from the greek, meaning ‘a lover of man’, meaning that in order to be a philanthropist, you must be doing something to better other people’s lives. Seeing as we’ve created a world that relies on worth, this often comes in the form of charitable donations. In the opening chapters of The good rich and what they cost us by american historian Robert Dalzell, the idea that vast wealth is a contradiction of democracy is explored. Democratic faith, founded on the fact that we are all equal, comes under scrutiny when 1% own more combined wealth than the other 99%. Dalzell argues that this causes large amounts of money to be given away in an almost socially-conscious effort to appear as, what he terms, ‘good rich.’ It’s unfortunate that more people don’t feel this pull towards giving.

Andrew Carnegie, one of the greatest philanthropists in world history, famously said ‘he who dies rich, dies a disgrace.’ Well now, some hundred years since his death, it seems that more and more people are dying disgraces. For all the horrors communism has conjured, the capitalist ideology is showing itself to have intrinsic and inescapable flaws, one of the largest of which is the division of wealth. Considering it would cost around 30 billion dollars a year to end world hunger and that the top 1% control over 140 trillion dollars, it’s clear that these ‘good rich’ aren’t very good at all.
Continuing to discuss Dalzell’s theory on the democracy wealth contradiction, he makes a very astute point regarding the way charity and the ‘good rich’ have influenced societal attitudes towards wealth. Due to large charitable donations and foundations, the public perception has moved away from the amount of money someone can earn and instead on what someone does with their money. Rather than inviting challenge into the division of wealth, the ‘good rich’ have awed people into praise and distracted them with conversations of where charity is best directed. But if that same top 1% gave away 1% there’d be more than a trillion dollars available to spend, solving world hunger overnight. This isn’t to say that any charitable chest-beating should be met with caution, criticism or contempt, but it’s important to think about. There’s so much money in the world, why is held by so few?

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