International Man: Let’s start by defining our terms. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines philanthropist as “one who makes an active effort to promote human welfare.”
What do you make of this concept?
Doug Casey: Who can possibly be against philanthropy based on that definition?
The problem is that most philanthropists don’t actually care so much about their fellow man. They care about building their own reputation—their so-called legacy—and seeming like a good guy. They give money to organizations that, in turn, are supposed to “do good” with it. In fact, most philanthropy is irresponsible; some is outright destructive.
Everybody in the public eye wants to look like a philanthropist. However, I think the whole concept has been perverted and turned on its head. A little later in this interview I’d like to talk about what a real philanthropist should do.
Most people claiming to be philanthropists are just guilt-ridden. They’re unhappy with what they’ve done with their own lives, or done to other people, and are trying to make up for it by dispensing money.
I have no problem with somebody who wants to build a museum, a library, or a stadium with their name on it. Those things may or may not be the most productive use of capital, but they certainly do no harm. I know a number of wealthy philanthropists; I consider them decent human beings—otherwise I wouldn’t associate with them. That said, most are misguided in this regard.
The problem is that most philanthropy goes to charities that are supposed to help the poor. I don’t like them for several reasons. In brief, they’re often counterproductive toward those they’re supposed to help, they often help the wrong people, they send the wrong ethical message, and they’re shockingly wasteful.
First, and least important, they typically have giant overheads. They typically allocate anywhere from 10 to 50% or more of donations to fees—commissions—for raising money. Then they have huge administrative overheads on what’s left. Top executives are sometimes paid millions of dollars per year. They put themselves up in lavish office buildings.
Public charities are basically bureaucracies. When you look at their income statements and balance sheets, which are usually quite obfuscating, you find very little of the money actually goes to the supposed beneficiaries.
And even after some finally arrives “on the ground,” much of it is wasted. It’s disgusting to see the hotshot yuppies self-righteously driving around the African bush in new Land Rovers, pretending they’re eliminating poverty. In fact most of the money goes to showing off, virtue signaling, self-justification, writing worthless reports, high living, and more overhead.
Worse, some of these charities are actually destructive to the people they’re supposed to help.
When money is given away by NGOs, it’s almost as bad as government welfare. It makes it unnecessary for the recipient to produce and that tends to cement him to his current station in life. The very act of making an urgent situation non-urgent takes away the incentive, the urgency, to improve.
But it’s even worse than that. Even when people are starving through no fault of their own. Feeding the poor and clothing the naked may sound good in theory, but it’s usually a bad idea in practice.
Charities and NGOs tend to destroy the local economy when they give food to a starving region. I can understand the impulse if there’s a temporary disaster, like a flood or an earthquake. But most disasters are manufactured by a local government. Then outsiders come in and turn a temporary problem into a permanent condition.
How do they do that?
When free food hits the local market, it typically drives the price of food down so low that the local farmers can’t produce profitably.
What happens when you drive the local farmers out of business? They stop planting and move to the cities to take advantage of the handouts. Then there’s no crop the next year, and the shortage of food becomes even worse. And permanent. The very act of these charities trying to help people in famine-stricken areas prolongs the famine. And creates lots of social and political distortions in the bargain.
The same thing is true of clothing.
Backward countries all had clothing industries before the arrival of Western charities. Believe it or not, the natives weren’t all running around naked. But when you import shiploads of cheap used clothes, local artisans and manufacturers are bankrupted, and their workers unemployed. It’s tough to compete with free stuff. The recipients also look like beggars and street people from the US.
Charities corrupt the recipients. Giving money away usually puts it in the hands of people who don’t deserve it. That sends the wrong moral message. People should have, or get, things because they deserve them. And you deserve things because you earn them, by exchange of value for value. In other words, wealth should be a consequence of doing things that improve the state of the world. Endowing groups or individuals because they happen to have had some bad luck or are perpetual losers is actually immoral.
Charities and NGOs in Third World countries are like the US government putting people on welfare. And just as destructive. The givers feel like big shots and feel good about themselves. The recipients are degraded. They’re transformed from simply being poor into mooches and beggars. That makes charities largely counterproductive. The main beneficiaries of charitable giving aren’t the intended recipients, but the givers. They get some tax benefits, of course, but they mainly get the holy high of do-goodism. Frankly, the idea of charity itself is corrupting to both parties in the transaction.
International Man: We often hear the mainstream media use the term “philanthropist” to boost the images of certain people. It helps to brand them as “do-gooders” in the eyes of the public.
George Soros, Bill Gates, Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, Mark Zuckerberg, Michael Bloomberg, and many other rich and famous people are described as philanthropists.
What do you think is really going on here?
Doug Casey: As I said before, in most cases, philanthropy doesn’t arise from a love for one’s fellow man but from a need to assuage guilt, a need to show off, and a lack of imagination.
It seems these people feel they have to justify the fortunes they’ve made. They say that they like to “give back.” Which is a completely ridiculous and wrongheaded concept.
I’m not a fan of any of those people. Let’s look at Bill Gates. Although he apparently doesn’t understand it, he has no moral obligation to give back anything to society. Why? Because Microsoft, for all its numerous faults, created a gigantic amount of wealth that arguably wouldn’t have existed without it. He should use that capital to make the world even wealthier, not piss it away social engineering primitive countries.
Look at Bill Gates’ famous enterprise to wipe out malaria. He gave away millions of mosquito nets in Africa. Most Africans didn’t like them, didn’t use them, and sold them in the aftermarket to generate cash. It was a waste of capital on Gates’ part.
But let’s suppose he succeeds. And because of him, 100 million Africans who would have died from malaria survive.
How is keeping more people alive, who can’t support themselves, a benefit to anybody? They’re likely to become an additional drag upon the world at large—and their neighbors in particular. Africa doesn’t need more poor people. It needs more wealth and more rich people.
If he really wanted to help people, he would’ve tried to bring his businesses to Africa so that these people could support themselves and create new wealth, not just stay alive to be an additional burden.
Of course in today’s world there are a lot of “philanthropists,” mainly politicians and their cronies, who’ve become wealthy slopping at the public trough. They have a lot of money that has, in effect, been stolen. Simply because they’re rich, they’re often confused in the public’s mind with actual creators: legitimate industrialists, inventors, investors, and the like.
When the phrase “give back to society” is used—it’s become quite popular and sounds righteous—it implies that something is taken away from society when wealth is created. It’s perverse. It turns both economics and morality on their heads. When these idiots say they’re “giving back,” they make it seem creating wealth is a form of theft.
Dissipating capital by giving it to undeserving paupers isn’t laudable. To the contrary, it’s unethical. People who “need” money—who haven’t done anything to deserve it except have bad habits or bad luck— shouldn’t get it. Deserving people are a better choice. Of course that begs for a definition of “deserving,” but that’s a different subject.
In any event, the entire concept of charity is backwards.
International Man: Do you think that Gates and others write these large checks in part so they can be branded as philanthropists? That certainly gives them a PR boost.
Doug Casey: Without question. Guilt and PR, not a genuine desire to improve things, are the main motivators.
Let me clarify something. I don’t care if the things I’ve said outrage a lot of readers. But I do care if I’m misunderstood. I’m not opposed to the basic concept of philanthropy or charity. I simply believe it should be strictly individual and therefore responsible. And recipients should be chosen carefully based on their character and merits. Delegating somebody else to be charitable for you is irresponsible. Giving blindly to the benighted regardless of their lack of character and merit is idiotic and reprehensible.
What I do is find a person who seems deserving. Most charity recipients are not deserving. Most of them have character problems that only they can solve. Most of those who are down and out are that way because of either bad character or bad habits.
I prefer giving to people when I think it will help them elevate themselves. That’s only possible on an individual basis. Typically, I do this by making a loan, telling them I’d like the money back with interest. But I don’t necessarily expect it back, and I won’t try to get it back.
This has two effects.
Number one, it gives the person an opportunity to elevate themselves. It makes him feel he’s not being given a handout. He’s got to earn and improve his status to give it back. If it comes back to me, that money is then available so I can repeat the process for the next person.
So, what’s in it for me?
It’s a chance to make a worthwhile friend who’s of good character, which he demonstrates by paying the money back. It gives me an opportunity to find out what kind of person I’m dealing with. If the person never returns the money to me, I know that this is not a person that I ever want to deal with in the future.
It’s a win-win situation—as opposed to a situation where you get to play a big shot and actually make the recipient worse off, not better off.
International Man: Related to this concept are foundations that engage in supposed charitable and philanthropic activity. There is the infamous example of the Clinton Foundation.
How are philanthropy and foundations used to conceal unscrupulous activity?
Doug Casey: Charities are considered sacrosanct and almost above the law. You give money to a foundation, and you can maneuver where it goes in such a way that you can both disguise and tax deduct your activities.
The main good thing about charitable foundations is that they deny revenue to the state, because contributions are tax deductible to the donor.
There’s an immense amount of corruption that goes on under the aegis of “charity.” Charities tend not to be investigated, simply because they’re charities.
It’s one more argument for the abolition of the income tax—but that’s not going to happen in today’s world. We’re stuck with these foundations and charities and the type of people who inevitably wind up gravitating to them.
I urge readers who are interested in philanthropy not to give any money to professional charities or foundations, but to find something to do one on one. If you aren’t willing to do it on that basis, then examine why you’re interested in it at all.
Almost all charities promote the wrong values, no matter what their avowed purpose. It’s idiotic, at best, to distribute money to people just because they’re poor or “in need.” Maybe they deserve to be poor because they’re just lazy. Or prefer to watch TV or porn or play video games all day. Maybe they’re alcoholics or junkies. Maybe they’re beggars or criminals. The best way to help humanity is to make the able more able. It’s not by subsidizing losers.
Universities are among the worst offenders. They’re constantly raising money and looking for people to bequest their estates. Giving to higher education today is like buying the enemy a rope he’ll use to hang you—and not just you but Western civilization as well. Your money goes to hire more cultural Marxists at fat salaries so they can corrupt the youth.
Leaving money to an educational institution is absolutely one of the worst things that you can do, at least if you want to improve the state of mankind.
A lot of people wonder what they should do with their estates. They’re afraid that if they leave it their children, the unearned money will corrupt them. To me that’s just evidence that they’ve done a very bad job of bringing up their children. Instead they irresponsibly give it to some NGO so the corruption can be spread far and wide.
If you bring your children up properly, they should understand the value of money, what it’s used for, how to spend it—so they won’t be corrupted by it. The key is to give your kids a sound ethical foundation.
You should leave your money to your children. That capital will hopefully go on to improve the lives of your grandchildren as well.
I suspect most of the people who leave money to foundations, as opposed to their children, suspect that their children are basically worthless. They expect the money will therefore make their lives even worse. So, they give it to some idiotic foundation that will go off and ruin society as a whole.
I have little respect for people who leave their estate to a college, foundation, or charity.
International Man: Recently, top figures in the world of philanthropy have been linked to Jeffery Epstein.
In the past, Epstein himself had even been called a philanthropist for the money he gave to Harvard University and others.
What does Jeffrey Epstein tell us about how supposed philanthropy is used to scrub the reputations of some unsavory people? It seems like rich and powerful criminals use it as a PR gimmick.
Doug Casey: That’s exactly the case. Epstein is a perfect example of all this. Charities and NGOs are often camouflage for people like Epstein. Charities not only improve their standards of living and act as disguises for their crimes, but enhance their reputations as well. And do it all with tax-deductible dollars.
Again, these things are for the benefit of the donors and managers, not the supposed beneficiaries. Charities can reduce their sentences if they’re under criminal indictment, and increase their standard of living. The money opens doors for rich and powerful people and creates valuable political connections.
In my view, Epstein is a perfect example of a charitable giver.
Editor’s Note: As Doug Casey mentioned, there’s an immense amount of corruption that goes on under the aegis of “charity.” It’s all apart of the growing decadence in the US, which is contributing to the rise of misguided socialist ideas and politicians.