Philanthropic Confusion, Hackers and Hedgers versus Ford – Part II

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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Anonymous Music – The Anonymous Occupation Alliance (AOA)

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Sean Parker & Mark Zuckerberg in Social Network

Sean Parker
Sean Parker

New Orleans I was totally fried after being on the road for 27 out of 31 days in Vietnam, India, and Canada.  I had shin splits and a pulled muscle on my right leg that made soft chairs and plane seats constantly painful.  I had nothing that could be called a sleep schedule anymore.  If I was a whiner, I would be wailing.  Then in a Sunday coup de gras Drew Brees threw 4 interceptions and the Cleveland Browns humiliated the Saints with a 3rd string quarterback who looked like he had just been released from class earlier in the day at some Texas high school.  So, it was off to the movies to salvage the day with Social Nework, the well touted film about the founding of Facebook.  The usher promised me the movie would be better than the Saints game, so I was down.

He was right.  This is an award winner and, what do I know, but a classic about the roles that ego, money, competition, friendship, sex, and a lot of other BIG themes play out in the founding of enterprises.  This is not creation myth, but creation reality, warts and all.  Oh, and yeah, it’s fiction.  Right?

Ostensibly this is the story of Mark Zuckerberg, the brilliant, driven, and ruthless primary creator of Facebook, the hugely popular and successful social networking site.  Turns out, according to the movie, he was brilliant, driven, and ruthless.  Quelle shock! Even the most casual reader of the papers over recent years knew he had been sued repeatedly for a rip-and-run on some of the ideas behind Facebook and had paid pretty pennies to settle with some Harvard students and an ex-partner.  The terms of the student settlement came out at $65 Million in a dispute between the lawyers over fees.  Eduardo Saverin, one of the co-founders, who was pushed out also settled for an undisclosed sum.  His ownership is now listed at 5% so he either settled in the 9 figures or had stock restored.  Zuckerberg owns about a quarter of the company, which would put his stake valuation between 8 and 10 billion.  There are 500,000,000 users.  He’s 26 years old.  In addition to all of his other attributes in the movie he also comes off as calculating, arrogant, and possibly manipulative.  Read Machiavelli or looks around, these are not uncommon byproducts of the founding – and governing – process of many large institutions, corporations, and organizations.  I know a little bit about this and even cringing when Zuckerberg was called an “asshole” in the movie, I would never say that many of the same epithets might not have been fair when hurled at me over 4 decades at ACORN.  The shoes often fit and they are made for walking and not as uncomfortable as you might think.  Zuckerberg off loaded $100 Million to the Newark public school system to offset the movie’s common attraction, but suspect he “is what he is” and, as I used to say, “comes with the shop.”

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