Home > finance, rant > Philanthropy can do better than Rajat Gupta

Philanthropy can do better than Rajat Gupta

October 13, 2012

Last night I was watching a YouTube video in between playoff games (both of which disappointed). Conan O’Brien was accepting an honorary patronage at the philosophical society of the University of Dublin. His speech was hilarious, and there was an extended, intimate Q&A session afterwards.

One thing he mentioned was an amended version of the (to me, very moving) words he had closed his last NBC Tonight Show with, “If you work really hard and you’re kind then amazing things will happen.” Namely, he wanted to add this sentence: “If you work really hard and you’re a huge asshole, then you can make tons of money on Wall Street.”

These wise words came back to me this morning when I read about Bill Gates and Kofi Annan’s letters to Judge Jed Rakoff regarding Goldman Sachs insider trader Rajat Gupta. The letters were intended to reduce sentencing, considering how unbelievably philanthropical Gupta had been as he was stealing all this money.

I’m not doubting that the dude did some good things with his ill-gotten gains. After all, I don’t have a letter from Bill Gates about how I helped remove malaria from the world.

But wait a minute, maybe that’s because I didn’t steal money from taxpayers like he did to put myself into the position of spending millions of dollars doing good things! Because I’m thinking that if I had the money that Gupta had, I might well have spent good money doing good things.

And therein lies the problem with this whole picture. He did some good (I’ll assume), but then again he had the advantage of being someone in our society who could do good, i.e. he was loaded. Wouldn’t it make more sense for us to set up a system wherein people could do good who are good, who have good ideas and great plans?

Unfortunately, those people exist, but they’re generally poor, or stuck in normal jobs making ends meet for their family, and they don’t get their plans heard. In particular they aren’t huge assholes stealing money and then trying to get out of trouble by hiring hugely expensive lawyers and leaning on their philanthropy buds.

The current system of grant-writing doesn’t at all support the people with good ideas: it doesn’t teach these “social inventors” how to build a charitable idea into a business plan. So what happens is that the good ideas drift away without the important detailed knowledge of how to surround it with resources. And generally the people with really innovative ideas aren’t by nature detail-oriented people who can figure out how to start a business, they’re kind of nerdy.

I’m serious, I think the government should sponsor something like a “philanthropy institute” for entrepreneurial non-revenue generating ideas that are good for society.  People could come to open meetings and discuss their ideas for improving stuff, and there’d be full-time staff and fellows, with the goal of seizing upon good ideas and developing them like business plans.

Categories: finance, rant
  1. Bobito
    October 13, 2012 at 8:18 am

    For most ordinary folks the reality is that they work really hard and they behave decently with those around them, and they never get much for it, or even wind up unemployed and changing countries looking for work.

  2. October 13, 2012 at 9:19 am

    How about enabling people with good ideas but no academic qualifications?

  3. mathematrucker
    October 13, 2012 at 10:42 am

    From the start there have always been too many American citizens who sincerely believe with all their self-perceived heart the self-aggrandizing notion that prosperity for everyone somehow derives from those who do whatever it takes to get to the top. It’s therefore no surprise that “money = speech” became an accepted axiom. Any idea expressed by anyone without money must be utterly useless, for after all, the proof is in the poor pudding!

  4. October 13, 2012 at 11:02 am

    In the further realm of guilt-driven philanthropy – all the Carnegie libraries don’t justify the strikers shot down by goon snipers, all the Rockefeller grants don’t justify the women and children incinerated at Ludlow, and all the Gates billions for charity don’t justify the monopolistic abuse that destroyed numberless jobs and companies that once had good ideas.

    • October 15, 2012 at 12:48 pm

      I did not know about the Ludlow massacre. That really is horrid. I’m going to share the story with some colleagues of mine who teach about the labour movement in their social studies classes. Ugly stuff. Totally agree with you, btw.

    • October 15, 2012 at 8:43 pm

      my dad took me to ludlow; there is a nice log for visitors to record their thoughts (or there was 30 years ago…)

  5. Ed Seedhouse
    October 13, 2012 at 11:04 am

    It’s all rather like the old joke where a man murders his parents and at sentencing asks for mercy because he is an orphan.

  6. ezra abrams
    October 15, 2012 at 8:41 pm

    i really dislike gates, and it is not just his cruddy software, or many years of failing to pay health insurance for temps
    Here in the state of MA, gates+walton+koch have funded a “grass roots” organization to push for teacher evaluations in the public school (1)
    And this org has so much money, that the teachers union folded, without a fight, and agreed to legislation that made big changes on this matter,
    The point is, regardless of where you stand on this issue (2), what you have is unelected unaccountable hidden billioniares who are in effect dictating public school policy; it is almost facist.
    1) like the guy who gave us windows should be in charge of anything to do with school
    2) me personally, i think it is part of the corporatization of schools, that lead to thing like R Paige (sec of ed under bush; before that superintendent in houston, where the principlas got large bonuses based on test scores; not surpisingly, with that incentive, the principles gamed the system, eg encouraging bad students to stay home on test day)

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