Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.(iWN file photo)

By Jomo Sanga Thomas*

(“Plain Talk”, Jan. 31, 2020)

(This piece was first published Oct. 26, 2016.)

“Philanthropic capitalism is the idea that capitalism is or can be charitable in and of itself. The claim is that capitalist mechanisms are superior to all others [especially the states] when it comes to not only creating economic but also human progress; that the market and market actors are or should be made the prime creators of the good society; that capitalism is not the problem but the solution to all the major problems in the world; that the best thing to do is to extend the market to hitherto private or state processes; and, finally, that there is no conflict between rich and poor, but that the rich is rather the poor’s best and possibly only friend.”  — Danish Historian Mikkel Thorup, “It’s all part of Capitalism: How Philanthropy Perpetuates Inequality’.

Carnegie and Rockefeller formed foundations. Today Google, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Bill and Hillary Clinton, just to name a few, are into the foundation business. They all claim they want to give away money, to do good and make the lives of the poor better. Like Carnegie and Rockefeller before them, they made money by using their social positions, exploiting workers, doing enormous environmental damage, as is reflected in the poisoned air, rivers, waterways, and most prominently climate change.

In a world where an increasingly small percentage of the population controls a larger percentage of the world’s resources, income and wealth, where the income of workers have stagnated or reversed when checked against inflation, where increased borrowing and debt is the only explanation why some people survive, the moneyed philanthropists tell us that only their brand of benevolent capitalism can solve the problems facing the world.

They offer philanthropy as the cure for the world’s problems as they encourage people to support the fire sale of the assets of the people. In some countries schools, prisons, water as well as the security systems are now in private hands. Everything must be done with a profit motive in mind. The state must jettison its welfare policies and let the titans of business do their magic.

Therefore, when the Clinton Foundation partners with us in our effort to exploit our geothermal resources, we are told to drop our guard because foundations’ sole intent is to do good. When Bill Gates smiles his way to more billions and impact negatively on agriculture in Africa and Asia, we must turn a blind eye because the Gates Foundation says its mission is to eradicate illness and disease in the poorest regions on earth. When in 2014 the Indian Supreme Court raised questions about Gates Foundation practice of using rural Indians as guinea pigs for drugs made by big pharma, we are told to disregard all such claims as anti-rich bashing and conspiracy.  

Another fallacy that has gained ground in the last 40 years is that government efforts to ameliorate poverty are bureaucratic, inefficient and ineffective. The flip side of this is that business, with its unwavering fixation on the bottom line, is the opposite, and that by applying market principles to social ills, society can be cured of what ails it. Indeed, this idea is repeated with such regularity that it is almost universally accepted throughout the Western Hemisphere.

As society adopts a more materialist culture, there is a mistaken belief that individual consumption can change the world. We are told to buy “green” and save the planet, buy “red” and help those with HIV/AIDS, wear pink and show solidarity with those suffering from breast cancer. While these campaigns are useful, if they are not kept in perspective we can become duped and miss the main reason for suffering on this planet.

People are not suffering and dying of preventable diseases because the well to do members of society has failed to consume enough products. People are not hungry because of a shortage of food. They starve and die because of the manner in which food is distributed. Central to our understanding is how we answer the following: Is the environment, and the climate, best served by ‘smarter’ consumption? Or would the planet be in better shape if we shopped less and conserved more?

We all get mesmerised by the “spectacle politics”. We are the world type of advocacy of celebrities such as Bono, Angelina Jolie and music producer Bob Geld. But we have to be cautious and sceptical, otherwise, we miss the reality of the world’s problems. These celebs may criticise inequality but are dependent upon it themselves. They may ally themselves with the poor in campaigns but their lives are spent rubbing shoulders with the rich and mighty.

We must keep our eyes on the prize. The world’s richest 85 individuals earn more than the bottom 50% of the world’s people. Philanthropy is not poised to do anything about this obscenity. It is here that community organisers and organisations, as well as government have a vital role to play. With its power to tax the rich, rein in corporate abuse and support the creation of necessary social and cultural institutions, government can work for the majority and enhance their lives.

As it stands now, governments across the world pander to corporations and the rich for money to build and maintain schools, endow museums and build housing for the poor. To bring or keep jobs in their areas state officials are forced to offer the parents of these philanthropic foundations millions in tax relief and abatements.

Kim Klein, author of Fundraising for Social Change says it should not be this way,  “We have become a patronage society in which we depend on the largesse and generosity of the super-wealthy for way too much. If we agree with Kim Klien the clear conclusion is for us to look anew about the role of government, of taxes, of philanthropy, of what should be funded privately, what should be funded publicly, and how the people will benefit.

In conclusion, the objections to wealthy private corporations dedicated to doing good, as they see it, have remained the same since the early twentieth century when the first mega-foundations were created: they intervene in public life, but are not accountable to the public. They are privately governed, but publicly subsidized by being tax-exempt; and in a world where money translates into political power, they reinforce the problem of moneyed class: the exercise of power derived from wealth.

*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. 

The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].

5 replies on “Philanthropic capitalism: the world has changed”

  1. Who here does not understand that Lawyers are among the biggest Capitalist there are and what is Jomo, if not a Lawyer. In this tirade against more successful capitalist elsewhere, is this a case of sour grapes? A case of deep seated envy? Or is it a case of a Poacher turning into Gamekeeper?

    I more suspect what we have here, is a case of deep seated “politics of envy” so often displayed by those who like and enjoy the trappings of wealth, wants wealth, but are frustrated at not having the opportunity to get much wealth. In SVG, the likelihood of obtaining wealth outside of “the family” is very much minimal indeed. Carse ah dem ah run tings ah dis yah yard!

    It is noteworthy that the political opponents of Capitalism often call themselves Communist, Socialist or even social-democrats. Karl Marx the proposer of the Communist ideal had never worked a single day in his life, yet he enjoyed a good life at the expense of one F. Engels his friend, who was an industrialist. Whatever therefore qualified him to write about workers, employers and the political economy? No wonder his system is a failed construct!

    In Germany “The National Socialist German Workers’ Party” commonly referred to as the Nazi Party was anti-Semitic, anti-capitalist, anti-democratic, anti-Marxist and anti-liberal even though it advocated what were in effect pseudo-Marxist polices.

    The Nazis called themselves National Socialist and looted all Europe of its wealth for themselves. Murdered the Jews by the millions in the process out of gross envy, while confiscating whatever expensive paintings, expensive wines and even the gold teeth of the Jews whom they envied.

    Here above we are invited to take a look at the Clintons, (US Democrats who would have us believe that they have socialist inclinations).But while we are at it, we may as well look at the Obama’s too, the Gonsalves here, the Ortega’s of Nicaragua, the Gandhi’s in India, the Castro’s of Cuba or the Maduro clan in Venezuela, all of whom would tell us that they are Democratic Socialist. And what do we find?

    https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6558991/Rich-kids-COMMUNISM-Fidel-Castros-model-grandson-flashes-wealth-European-vacations.html

    The fact of the matter is this that they all enjoy the trappings of wealth but espouse a narrative inclined to hoodwink the poor, in telling them that by killing the Goose that produces the eggs, that there would be endless wealth for all. However the wealth invariably flows one way only.

    In truth, Socialism does not work. All of the nations who have tried it have shown it to be a failed political economy. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/01/argentina-issues-food-cards-low-income-families-200130110713266.html

    In Cuba what they ended up with there is a clutter of Doctors and who are being paid a monthly salary not even enough to buy a rain coat but worst, empty food shelves devoid of basic food stuff.

    Food stamps in Argentina, and pet dogs, cats and pigeons on the dinner table, to stave off hunger in Venezuela, free eggs for a week in SVG but no dignity in find work as gainful employment here and a government that have turned begging into an art form.

    In short the market economy has proved the best way to deliver goods, services and gainful jobs to a society as all classical economist from Adam Smith to Friedrich Hayek of the Austrian of Economists who expressed the concept that social phenomena result exclusively from the motivations and actions of individuals.
    As that British Politician Margret Thatcher would put it, and who is credited with saving the British economy from the ravages of a Labour government experiment with socialism, “the trouble with these socialist is that, sooner or later, they soon runout of other people’s money to spend”!

    The fact of the matter is this, socialist policies produces capital flight, with tax hikes getting increasingly higher and higher as business activities decrease, leaving a wealthy political dictatorship entrenched. Just ask the Zimbabweans, the Cubans or the Venezuelans as we Vincentians head down the same disastrous road.

  2. Hi Jomo, Randy Cato here. Since this article was first published in 2016, ( i did not read it then) a provocative and thought stimulating book called ” Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World” written by Anand Giridhadras has been published. I would urge you to get hold of a copy if you can. The title speaks for itself.

  3. Vincy in New York says:

    Why does Jomo seem to hate the idea of ppl working hard and earning big money.

    Government is not always the answer. Rather, too much government is a recipe for disaster. A vibrant private sector is a sure sign of progress. What is wrong with working harder than the other person and making lots of money?

    Svg has a weak private sector, big government and high taxes. Tell me, is that the direction you want to go? I am not naive as to the role of government, but svg needs the money in the hands of the people.

    Jomo is caught up with the ism and schisms. Capitalism, communism or socialism is not the panacea for the inequality in wealth. Realism/pragmatism is the new normal. Let the ppl make the money and tax them .. not the other way around having government taking the lead role in economic development.

    We are aware of the underlying issues with these foundations. Why are they in these countries in the first place? Leadership is the main reason. These leaders fill their pockets whilst embarking on a particular political philosophy and hoodwinking the people.

  4. It is always interesting when these Labourites gripe and bellyache about the ills of Capitalism, as you could bet your bottom dollar, that the very hypocrisy in capitalism that they are complaining about are even more so much more practised by their liberal/left colleagues who tell us that they hate capitalism.

    Moreover the profligacy of these Labourites Liberal/Left with “other people’s money” is rather quite legendary to say the least. These Labourites reckless extravagance and wastefulness in the use of other peoples and government resources are rather quite well known.

    One thing for sure that we can say about the rich capitalist is that, they are spending their own money, and making use of their own resources, but these anti-capitalist gripers just love making use of other people’s resources, and spending “other people’s money”. Never more so than when they get hold of the apparatus of Government. Here they have the opportunity to hike taxes upon taxes.

    These Champagne Socialist could often be seen enjoying themselves with most sumptuous dinners, sipping aged rum and sniffing vintage Claret at the best of dinner tables. Remember Gonsalves at that big dinner table in Cuba! Yet they would tell the rest of us that Capitalism is grossly exploitative and profoundly bad. Their abuse of powers too are quite well known, with nepotism and cronyism being a well-used piece of equipment in their tool kit.

    Indeed whenever these Labourites are put in charge of Governments and Institutions, the results are always predictable. Profligacy and waste will always be the outcome, leading to collapse.

    A case in point is Baroness Scotland:
    “Baroness Scotland’s reign as Secretary General of Her Majesty’s Commonwealth began on April Fool’s Day 2016, a date that seems grimly appropriate. For the profligacy, cronyism, and downright nastiness with which she has since managed the affairs of this noble organisation can only be described as a bad joke”. So write one commentator!

    https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7949483/GUY-ADAMS-asks-Baroness-Scotland-really-hope-stay-office.html

    Here too, our own National Bank in the hands of the Gonsalves family was almost brought to its knees and is no longer the “National Bank” not even in name. We were told that its eventual sale was a master stroke. A master stroke in what?

    Today this our own self-styled “Emperor-of-the-Vincentians” travels the world, Havana, Caracas, New York to Moscow and no doubt perhaps Tehran or Pyongyang soon. He travelled to Moscow perhaps as the errand boy for Maduro while telling us that he travels on climate change and world peace missions, while enjoying all of the trappings of the wealthy.

    Yep, “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”. A proclamation by the pigs who control the government in the novel Animal Farm, by George Orwell. And the evidence of this could be seen in today’s Cuba, North Korea, Venezuela, Zimbabwe and increasingly so in SVG too or any other pretended socialist utopia one cares to mention.

  5. Jomo, I am a regular reader of yours from Nassau, Bahamas. This is the most insightful thing I have seen written by a regional columnist in years. You are spot on. Neo-liberal capitalists love the idea of charity because it challenges the notion of accountability to the governed, replacing it with the idea that those hogging up an increasing portion of the world’s resources can be trusted to create equity through benevolent philanthropy. It is of course worse than just a lie. It is an absurd attack on the notion of the social contract, seeking to replace it with social volunteerism. Keep your charity, just pay your tax. Thanks.

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