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.