Philanthropic Confusion, Hackers and Hedgers versus Ford – Part II

Ideas and Issues

photo_62847_landscape_650x433Missoula     We might as well concede that watching the rich spend their money is a fool’s errand. There’s just no figuring, and listening to what they say about it all just increases the confusion. Recently we talked about the argument for giving more money globally and philosopher Paul Singer’s argument that morally we need to step up the pace more to help the people in greatest need regardless of the fact that they live in worlds apart and to most Americans, worlds unknown.

How about some cases in point?

The Wall Street Journal recently gave over two pages of its paper to Sean Parker to expound, often unintelligibly and almost always naively, various pontifications about something he called “hacker philanthropy.” Parker is the billionaire techie who was a co-founder of Napster, the digital music stealing program, an early backer of Facebook, and other Silicon Valley projects. Perhaps surprisingly, I generally have positive feelings for Parker, probably because he seemed one of the few admirable characters in the movie called Facebook, but this article reminded me that, “hey, that was a movie, Wade!” Part of his argument is unassailable when he says that it is important to give “early” and give “quickly.” I’m even willing to give him some points for taking some swipes at the bureaucracies of big foundations, but after that it was hard to find “any there, there” in his arguments. He wants to measure. He wants to focus on problems that can be solved. He wants to pretend that philanthropy follows market logic. Dude, markets don’t even follow “market logic,” anymore! And, no, my friend, being wrong is NOT “as valuable as being right!” Peoples’ lives and communities may be at stake. It may be fine to “get political,” as he argues, but reading his remarks, one gets the frightening feeling that he really doesn’t see any difference between left, right, and center, Soros, the Kochs, or Bloomberg. He believes the problem for the “hacker elite,” which I assume just means the super-rich-techies he sees as his peers, rather than the hundreds of thousands of working stiffs in Silicon Valley is “scale,” because he thinks that’s what he and his fellows are used to though he quickly concedes they, like the robber barons of the past, are driven by wanting to “make a lasting contribution” and of course they also have to “find satisfaction in doing so.” Finding a clear path through this blah, blah, blah maze, he has announced that he is giving $600 million to the new Parker Foundation and is going to take on….big drum roll…malaria? How novel. Get in line.

One could almost read this hacker philanthropy thing as satire if it wasn’t so presumptuous and pompous, which made it even more delicious to read Michael Lewis, the bestselling author of books on everything from Wall Street excess to major league baseball and college football and his amazing, takedown piece of hedge fund hog, Stephen Schwartzman in the New York Times recently. Lewis pretended to be writing a letter from the Harvard University investment managers to the Harvard admissions department begging them to use different standards of admission for the self-proclaimed and self-entitled wannabes like Schwartzman, who famously gave a gazillion recently to Yale and poked Harvard in the eye while doing so because they had not accepted him in their school when he was living high school. Ouch, that was a philanthropy “shaming” if there ever was one and is sui generis in its rarity.

Meanwhile the Ford Foundation, once the largest foundation in the US and still one of those big boys scorned by Parker for its bureaucracy and probably its New York City address announced that it was turning over a new leaf and would rejigger all of its funding and programs to achieving economic equality given the crisis in our times between the 99% and the 1%. Few details are currently available nor is there a clear timeline for this sudden transition.

Hope springs eternal, but I wouldn’t hold my breath about any of this. I’m even afraid that Lewis may be right that the Harvard administrators are debating how they let a big fish get away, even while so many little fish are being swept out to sea.


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