Saturday, July 27, 2013

This Is What I'm Talking About

Or, I should say, this is the kind of message implicit in my humanist world view, and it's from the son of Warren Buffett, no less. In this NYTimes op-ed, here's James Buffett speaking of philanthropy:
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.
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.
And with more business-minded folks getting into the act, business principles are trumpeted as an important element to add to the philanthropic sector. I now hear people ask, “what’s the R.O.I.?” when it comes to alleviating human suffering, as if return on investment were the only measure of success. Microlending and financial literacy (now I’m going to upset people who are wonderful folks and a few dear friends) — what is this really about? People will certainly learn how to integrate into our system of debt and repayment with interest. People will rise above making $2 a day to enter our world of goods and services so they can buy more. But doesn’t all this just feed the beast?
I’m really not calling for an end to capitalism; I’m calling for humanism.
I'm all for humanism, as you might guess, but what James Buffett is really calling for is socialism, which for some is a dirty word. For me, it's just a social system, like in Denmark, for example, where citizens gladly exchange half their income for security, cradle to grave. Once citizens have enough stuff, they look for a guarantee that they'll have healthcare and don't have to worry that they'll find themselves broke at 70. It's a fair trade. (Most the top-ten happiest countries are in Europe, with all five Scandinavian countries making the list).

In fiercely individualistic America, a good deal of our citizenry will trade free-market opportunity -- with the chance of wildly outsized success -- for a world in which the loser class is larger than in other more advanced countries. I got mine, and then some, so, uh, screw you. Great.

That's not the world James Buffett wants, and I applaud him. He finishes up:
What we have is a crisis of imagination. Albert Einstein said that you cannot solve a problem with the same mind-set that created it. Foundation dollars should be the best “risk capital” out there.
There are people working hard at showing examples of other ways to live in a functioning society that truly creates greater prosperity for all (and I don’t mean more people getting to have more stuff). 
Money should be spent trying out concepts that shatter current structures and systems that have turned much of the world into one vast market. Is progress really Wi-Fi on every street corner? No. It’s when no 13-year-old girl on the planet gets sold for sex. But as long as most folks are patting themselves on the back for charitable acts, we’ve got a perpetual poverty machine.
It’s an old story; we really need a new one.
Boy, you've got that right, Mr. Buffett.

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