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  1. Wealth
July 31, 2013

Peter Buffett's anti-philanthropy rant helps no-one

By Spear's

If Mr Buffett wants to kick out at his father, he should do it privately rather than condemning the efforts of the committed and generous

Peter Buffett, who has become a philanthropist through the foundation set up by his father, Warren, wrote a screed in the New York Times last Friday excoriating ‘Philanthropic Colonialism’ and ‘conscience laundering’:

‘As more lives and communities are destroyed by the system that creates vast amounts of wealth for the few, the more heroic it sounds to “give back.” It’s what I would call “conscience laundering” — feeling better about accumulating more than any one person could possibly need to live on by sprinkling a little around as an act of charity.’ (NYT)

He also complains about left hands creating problems in the pursuit of profit and right hands throwing money at them:

‘But this just keeps the existing structure of inequality in place. The rich sleep better at night, while others get just enough to keep the pot from boiling over. Nearly every time someone feels better by doing good, on the other side of the world (or street), someone else is further locked into a system that will not allow the true flourishing of his or her nature or the opportunity to live a joyful and fulfilled life.’ (NYT)

It is, all in all, the sort of blithe, ignorant rant that can only come from someone who has been pushed into philanthropy rather than choosing it. If Mr Buffett wants to kick out at his father, he should do it privately rather than condemning the efforts of the committed and generous.

The right response

I was going to write a longer reply but instead I will refer you to Matthew Bishop and Michael Green’s response at They get it dead on:

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‘There are several different claims compressed together here, some valid others not. As we have argued many times, capitalism certainly needs to be reformed. Yet whilst it is certainly true that some of the problems philanthropists are trying to solve were caused by the business activities of other philanthropists, that is by no means always the case – or, we would argue, the norm.

‘Take Mr Buffett’s own father for example, one of those investment managers: what have any of his investments done to create the sort of problems philanthropists are trying to solve? (Okay – maybe his investing in CocaCola has contributed to the obesity epidemic.) Likewise, his partner in doing good, Bill Gates: it is hard to see how anything he has done, or indeed what any other philanthropist today has done, has contributed to, say, all those children dying from malaria that he is trying to save.’

Read more on philanthrocapitalism


‘Mr Buffett clearly wants change, though it is anyone’s guess what change he had in mind when penning these phrases: “I’m really not calling for an end to capitalism; I’m calling for humanism”; “Money should be spent trying out concepts that shatter current structures and systems that have turned much of the world into one vast market”; “It’s time for a new operating system. Not a 2.0 or a 3.0, but something built from the ground up. New code”; and “It’s an old story. We need a new one.”’

I recommend you read the whole blog and then some of our philanthropy coverage, to discover how the best philanthropists are going about sustainable and innovative giving.

Read more from Josh Spero

Read more from Wealth Wednesday


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