It is easy to stereotype all opponents of socialism as selfish individualists but the reality, as usual, is much more complex. I wrote about my own uneasy relationship with socialism a number of times before (here, here, here, here and here) and will now try to collect the main ideas in one series of posts.
A few days ago I came across the list of the wealthiest Americans ever:
and realised that of the first six names five are known as very generous philanthropists.
John Rockefeller in 1913 started a foundation which still today supports a host of charitable projects. While Mr Rockefeller was a ruthless capitalist the core values of the foundation actually read like a socialist manifesto:
Leadership: We take steps to achieve our vision of a better world and inspire others to join us.
Equity: We enable broad and fair access to resources and networks that facilitate inclusion of diverse people and perspectives.
Effectiveness: We work to achieve impact by using efficient and creative processes in our work to accomplish short and long-term goals.
Innovation: We believe in the potential of ideas to transform the lives of people and build stronger social relationships. We invest in new work along a spectrum from discontinuous to incremental.
Integrity: We make decisions transparently, in line with our values and mission, acting with candor and courage.
The difference is that, unlike the leftist utopia, they have not led to the death of millions of people.
Cornelius Vanderbilt funded the Nashville’s Central University (now known as Vanderbilt University) and donated to many churches. Much of his estate was eventually spent on philanthropy by his descendants.
Stephen Girard, according to Wiki:
bequeathed nearly his entire fortune to charitable and municipal institutions of Philadelphia and New Orleans, including an endowment for establishing a boarding school for “poor, white, male” orphans in Philadelphia, primarily those who were the children of coal miners, which opened as the Girard College in 1848
Bill and Melinda Gates started a charitable foundation with an endowment of 33 billion (nine zeroes) US dollars.
Andrew Carnegie spent the last 18 years of his life spending his fortune on enormous number of philanthropic projects. At the time of his death, after Wiki:
He had already given away $350,695,653 (approximately $4.8 billion, adjusted to 2010 figures) of his wealth. After his death, his last $30,000,000 was given to foundations, charities, and to pensioners.
How is it that the most powerful exponents of this quintessentially selfish economic system – capitalism – have spent much of their fortunes on philanthropic projects? Why did we, as humanity, feel compelled to impose the taxes which then get spent by gangs of self-serving populists known as democratically elected governments? With chronic budget deficits and spiraling public debt do we really think we can spend money wiser than John Rockefeller whose foundation is still financially sound and helping people 78 years after his death?