Smacking the gift horse in the mouth

In the Times of London, Anatole Kaletsky has a boggling piece attacking Warren Buffett for giving away $30 billion to the Gates Foundation.

…Or is it a symptom of arrogance and intellectual bankruptcy, revealing how the world is ruled by a sickeningly complacent and incestuous plutocratic elite? . . .

Oh, my.Why, then, as an instinctive liberal who believes that private initiative generally delivers better results than public spending, did I start this article on such a discordant note?

Partly because dogmatic opponents of all state activity are already using Mr Buffett’s astonishing combination of wealth and generosity to create the impression that public health, international development and global warming can be adequately handled by private charity. This is a dangerous illusion.

Fair point, actually. But then he keeps diving deeper, looking for the sludge in the river.

Why then do I find him at fault? Because of the way he gave the money — in a single enormous lump, to what is already by far the largest and most dominant charitable institution. This reinforcement of monopolistic giantism contradicts all the principles of the competitive capitalism that created Mr Buffett’s fortune.

Oh, my again. So big is bad, even in charity? Well, if it involves Microsoft, apparently:

One could understand why a Russian oligarch might put all his money behind the world’s biggest foundation, run by a man notorious for his ruthlessly monopolistic practices at Microsoft, but it is depressing to see a man such as Mr Buffett, who is renowned for his shrewd understanding of competitive markets, succumbing so totally to the Stalinist belief in “economies of scale”.

He goes on to complain that Buffett didn’t use his money to set charitable agendas — as, indeed, the Gates have done. Gates is, though, the bad investor in Kaletsky’s view. And the good investor? George Soros.

All I am saying is that Mr Buffett, with wealth far greater than Mr Soros’s and an intellect at least his equal, could have created another dynamic, competitive new market in social, scientific or philanthropic ideas. By creating a new foundation or network of foundations with its own philosophy and charitable criteria, Mr Buffett could have made a real difference to the world. Now he will not.

Well, hell, it’s his money and his life and I say he should say how he wants to spend both.

  • I’ve recently written on why philanthropy is a “bad idea”. I know it won’t sit well with JJ’s Libertarian worldview.

    One version is here:

    Let’s Abolish Philanthropy

    Basically accumulating vast wealth and disposing of it as you wish are antithetical to a democratic, egalitarian society.

  • Jeff,

    I totally agree with your conclusion. It’s Buffett’s money and he can give it to whatever cause or foundation he chooses. Since that choice was the Gates Foundation, so be it.

  • Jeff is a “Libertarian”? Abolish philanthropy?

    This is a perfect example of why frequent readers of this blog ignore the crap out of Feinman’s comments.

  • Nut: Have you ever contributed a single idea to a discussion, or is insult all that you have to offer?

    You don’t like my ideas, let’s hear some of your own (not just parroting others of your ilk). Insults are the sign of a person with nothing to say, the rest of us gave it up when we left the school yard.

  • Robert,

    It is undemocratic to let people accumulate wealth as they see fit (within the rules) and then disperse of it as they see fit (within the rules)? I’d say it is undemocratic to take a man’s wealth by coercion, and then distribute it in whatever manner the masses see fit. A man will spend his own money much more wisely and efficiently than the civil servant who could care less how it is spent. To be fair, I’m parroting Milton Friedman a bit, but then again, show me a thinking man not influenced by the ideas of others.

  • Tom

    It sounds like this gentleman is mad because he did not create a competitive jobs program for liberals. The world of foundations have been taken over for the most part by liberal elites.

    Instead he turns it over to a relatively young Gates couple who can manage it for many years with a philosophy that mirrors his own.

    Bravo to Mr. Buffet.

  • After hearing an attack on philanthropies on the grounds they give to liberal and environmental causes by Sen Imhofe of OK, I am still giggling at the concept that do-gooders of late wrath from the right are now do-badders.

    If giving to the needy weren’t a time honored and religiously condoned activity for everyone, and the poor weren’t always with us, this thinking might have some place in our present regime of the corporate welfare state. Stealing from the poor to give to the rich is a fairly recent development, and doesn’t yet have grounds to pretend to respectability.

    The vast wealth of Microsoft isn’t being used to denude the planet and corrupt foreign governments? pity.

  • Apparently I’m not alone in questioning how philanthropy is practiced:

    SF Chronicle

    Huffington Post

    NY Times

    If I thought I would get any replies I’d post an essay on my web site on why the unlimited accumulation of wealth is not a “good thing”. If someone really wants to discuss this email me and I’ll take up the challenge.

    The short answer is that in an efficient (that is fair) marketplace one cannot accumulate wealth to such an extent because competition will always low the price to the marginal cost of production. Unfair competition (that is some sort of functional monopoly) allows one to charge more than this and thus accumulate wealth.

  • The SF Chronicle, Huff Post, and NYT????

    Now who’s parroting others of his own ilk?

  • Nut:
    I just can’t resist.

    1.You still haven’t contributed anything to a discussion.
    2. If anything they are parroting me, since I published before all three of them.
    3. If you don’t respect two of the most senior dailies in the country, where do you suggest we turn for information instead?

  • Kat

    I think Captious has contributed a great deal and I always read his posts while tending to ignore yours because you’re somewhat of a pompous ass.

  • I disagree with Mr. Feinman on a host of things – including this one, but I value his input, and I just wanted to let him know that.