It redirects public resources to support elite priorities over public ones.
The so-called charity of the wealthy is yet another exercise of power, commonly with the intention to shape public policy. Behind the guise of “philanthropy,” it allows private assets to nakedly flex their plutocratic muscles in democratic settings. A deeply inegalitarian tax mechanism allows the already wealthy to burnish their public image while also redirecting public assets to further the priorities of the rich. And they can capitalize on a convenient tax break at the same time.
Although soaring inequality has provided billionaires with unprecedented economic clout, and they can very easily afford to give away far more than any of the rest of us can without feeling the pinch, the poor actually give a higher proportion of their meagre incomes to charity than the wealthy do. As a share of income, the poorest 20% of us donate roughly two and a half times as much as the richest 20% do. There’s something about experiencing scarcity for yourself that builds empathy for others who also face trouble, and this seems to be the primary reason why the less you can afford to give, the more generous you are. At the same time, studies also show that the wealthier you become, the more your capacity for compassion becomes stunted.
Of course, when a 1%er donates a million dollars, it sounds like a big deal, because to most of us a million dollars is an impossibly large amount. I’m in my fifties and I haven’t earned a million dollars added together in my entire lifetime. But for Jeff Bezos, a million dollars is what he earns in only four minutes and 29 seconds. If someone earning the woefully inadequate US minimum wage of $7.25 an hour donates $0.55, it represents a bigger hit to their wallet. Actually, the disparity is even bigger than that, because the minimum wage earner only gets paid for the hours they are at work, while Bezos still amasses another $3,715 every second even while he’s asleep, on the toilet, or sipping single malt scotch at poolside on his half billion dollar megayacht.
But the problem isn’t primarily that the megarich are stingy sociopaths, although they are. The problem is that the whim of the billionaire decides what’s important to…