I have always admired Bill Gates and his philanthropic work via the Gates Foundation. I always thought, what a pious idea of wanting to share your wealth with the needy and the distressed. In fact I stuck to the same grip when I was asked by a newspaper to voice my opinion on Mark Zuckerberg wanting to donate 99% of his stocks to charity.
As I basked in the glory of writing about people who genuinely cared and talked about deriving inspiration from them, my developed self exposed me to an idea which most of us stay unaware about.
It is the less talked, less understood, darker side of philanthropy which I would like to discuss today. I have, for ages, brow-beaten myself for being a critic than an appreciator, but for the first time I was happy with my analysis and finding about the other side of ‘philanthropism’.
The answer is simple, according to the young philanthropist Uday Khemka. Philanthropy in today’s world is like a mini capitalist economy, where philanthropists see themselves as social investors. They see the areas where they’d want to invest as potential markets which would, in some way, lead them to either enjoy influence over them, refurbish their image or convert black money into white.
If you study John Rawl’s theory of justice, he carefully argues that a just system is a system that gives resources to the poorest in a state rather than letting them be at the disposal of the rich, in all forms and ways. Another way of upliftment of the poor is to have a progressive tax regime, which thankfully India has. But it has been struggling to use it to bridge the gap between the existing economic distinctions and classes.
I believe that the problem with philanthropy and its structure is that that offering to give one’s share in service of the poor leads to the acceptability of two phenomenas in a society:
The first, recognising that inequality exists, rampantly;
The second that the destitute are in such a position, not because of the fact that there is inequality, but because of the truth that they lack resources and hence that should be tackled by donating to them, whatever one can.
Such a practice shifts our focus from understanding the problem to implementing the solution, hence the more we accept philanthropy as a midas touch by the hands of the rich, the more we give the rich the power to control. We need to realise that the main aim of governments and of societies should be to ensure that they are the ones who bring parity between its citizens and members and not members themselves.
Lets take the example of The Gates Foundation about which I myself weaved strings of praises in the past. But on careful examination of the same, one can find out about the workings of it, that show trends directly opposite to what would help the distressed.
First of all, The Gates Foundation was initially started with an idea to overcome the market failure which as we can see succeeded in reaching its goal.
Secondly, the foundation has been seen closely working with the World Health Organisation (WHO), where it happens to be the largest funds contributor to the same, superseding the United States of America’s contributions as well, creating the foundation to become a silent pressure group that most of us do not realise. In fact many such foundations generally keep their workings extremely secretive and rarely share their failure stories with the world, if any.
Thirdly, when such philanthropist organisations invest their private funds in public services like schools etc. and other resources thereof, they create a parallel system with the system set up by the government. By offering more quality, they deteriorate the system already in place. I believe that we, as the citizens of a legitimate government have claims over the money allocated by it for ensuring its citizens social security. But we wouldn’t be able to do anything if ever such a philanthropic organisation one day abruptly decides to stop its funding.
Fourthly, accepting philanthropy from businessmen who made money via corrupt practices and misused the unequal economic situation to their advantage, sort of goes on to validate their practices.
Philanthropy by such businessmen takes the blame away from their heads and portrays them to be the messengers of God who exist to help.
But thats when I’d like to introduce Immanuel Kant’s ideology, “You are just, if you do the right thing for the right reason.”
Hence, we all need to think twice before we can label philanthropy completely as a boon for the poor.