Peter Buffett: Corporate Rich Use Philanthropy to Paper Over Wounds They Inflict

Bill Gates -- spreading the wealth?

Bill Gates — spreading the wealth?

“Conscience laundering” is what Peter Buffett (son of Warren) calls “feeling better about accumulating more than any one person could possibly need to live on by sprinkling a little around as an act of charity.” He provides perspective from inside the world of philanthropy, where, like his father, he’s a player in a startling op-ed in the New York Times on July 27 titled The Charitable-Industrial Complex. He writes:

Inside any important philanthropy meeting, you witness heads of state meeting with investment managers and corporate leaders. All are searching for answers with their right hand to problems that others in the room have created with their left.

He captures, in a nutshell, exactly how many of us progressives feel about charity. To continue:

As more lives and communities are destroyed by the system that creates vast amounts of wealth for the few, the more heroic it sounds to “give back.” … But this just keeps the existing structure of inequality in place. The rich sleep better at night, while others get just enough to keep the pot from boiling over. Nearly every time someone feels better by doing good, on the other side of the world (or street), someone else is further locked into a system that will not allow the true flourishing of his or her nature or the opportunity to live a joyful and fulfilled life.

Then Buffett asks

Microlending and financial literacy (now I’m going to upset people who are wonderful folks and a few dear friends) — what is this really about? People will certainly learn how to integrate into our system of debt and repayment with interest.

In the end

Is progress really Wi-Fi on every street corner? No. It’s when no 13-year-old girl on the planet gets sold for sex. But as long as most folks are patting themselves on the back for charitable acts, we’ve got a perpetual poverty machine.

It’s as refreshing as it is significant to hear someone on the inside reporting on how ridiculous it is for the corporate rich to rampage through the marketplace and then attempt to give those trampled upon a leg up while enlisting them into their program. Why not just stop ruining lives in the first place? A true philanthropist works with people where they are rather than sending them back to square one and attempting to remold them in their own image.