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May 2007

Bath Water at Bottled Water Prices?

Who owns the water supply? Is it right that a private company will own a public resource, like drinking water? What kinds of legal structures are appropriate to own, control, and manage res publica, or public goods? A battle is coming, I am afraid, as ordinary people realize that what they had assumed was being managed on their behalf by local governments are in fact being sold to and owned by global profit-maximizing companies.  Read about Nestle's efforts in this area, here at Alternet. Could social ventures, program related investments, or some new hyrid structure, help us keep and manage our water as a public trust? Who speaks for the poor who are thirsty?

The New American Aristocracy and its #1 Fool

As more wealth rises into fewer hands, we as a society, and each wealthy family, have a future-determining nest of choices.

  • Do we move towards an Aristocracy, in which wealthy families raise children to play key roles in business, philanthropy and public service, so that wealth in few hands works for the benefit if all, as we are ruled, in effect, by the Wealthy and Wise?
  • Do we move towards an Oligarchy or Plutocracy in which wealthy families throw their weight around through the funding of think tanks, lobbying, charitable donations, board seats, and business deals so that all of society is essentially rigged to their benefit, regardless of the family's ethics, brains, or vision? (Rule by the Wealthy, Powerful and Corrupt.)
  • Do we decide that, as in the game of Monopoly, the game ends with the wealth creator's and spouse's death, and the next generation starts over, virtually from scratch? (Democracy in which the Talented and Energetic rise to the top in each generation, unaided by parental winnings beyond a certain point.)
  • If the game starts over, is it the family who decides in their estate planning? (Disinherit kids in favor of charity, beyond a certain point, and so encourage the kids to be Energetic in service to their talents.)
  • Or, does society decide that wealth redistribution at death is mandatory, lest we cease to be a Democracy? (Heavy estate tax to prevent Aristocracy, Oligarchy, or Plutocracy.)

These are heady issues, and we as a nation, and wealth planners as a profession, are just barely beginning to discuss them.  I want to say that the first bullet is one that appeals to me, as a friend of Tracy Gary, herself a Dynastic Aristocratic inheritor, who represents the best in the tradition of noblesse oblige, as filtered through passionate commitment to democracy and social justice; and the first bullet also appeals to me as super-prep in my own right (by education, though not in terms of the disreputable life I now live naked on the streets of Dallas), and as the self-styled Morals Tutor to America's Wealthiest Families.  More and more wealth in the hands of a few highly educated, upright, idealistic, tasteful, well-informed, humble, urbane, good-looking, and courageous families would sure be an improvement over the Oligarchy we got now.  As a Fool, my job is to take the Oligarch and his spoiled kids and whip them into shape. Very difficult considering the state of American education.  But, as long as a few families will control our destiny as a nation, it becomes very important that we have enough Fools to go around.  Think what might yet be done if the White House and the corner office of every Fortune 500 CEO came staffed with a  Fool, chartered by me, with a certificate to prove it.

To see the current state of the discussion, you might start here.  Banal, yes, but I said it represented the current state of the discussion.  I could give you many more references, but none will address the issues of rising wealth disparity, Democracy, Oligarchy, Plutocracy and the role of the Fool, or  even of the liberal arts, or even of a good prep school education,  in a just society. That is my rich branded content and mine alone.  For few play the Fool on purpose.  Even I more often than not just luck into it when trying my hardest, as in this post, to be wise.  I should never have read Blake and Dickens, much less the Gospels. I might have amounted to something like the wealthy Barbarians I now serve. 

Essential Readings on Developing True Community

Larry James, a Baptist minister and PhD in history by training, on what he has learned in over a decade of working with the poor in inner city Dallas.

People Power:
People possess the power, the capacity and the desire to solve their own problems, if they are given the resources they need and the opportunity they crave. People don't need help nearly as much as they need a chance. I bump into this reality every day.

"Find serious partners or you won't be long for this world." Nothing could be truer in the city, especially if your mission is community development.

Taking people seriously--whether as powerful, asset-laden members of a community of interest or as partners aligned to affect needed change--is the essential first step in any blueprint for community development. Community development is all about people and how we regard them. Once we come to regard "the poor" as valued participants in the process, our overall perspective changes in a radical way. When we regard our own assets and resources as gifts placed at our disposal only to be shared and combined with the gifts and the wealth of others, our ability to act in a brand new and amazingly creative fashion kicks in, to the surprise of everyone involved.
To be most effective in bringing about change in a community or a neighborhood, it helps if you live there.
Compassion (Box 1)
And, we respond primarily with compassion. I mean, if you are passed out on my steps, your only responsibility is to keep breathing!
Opportunity Creation (Box 2)
We make it clear to everyone involved in this stage of our work that we believe in the God-given talent, purpose and potential of every person. The challenge we all face is to use what we have and to see it increase.
Advocacy (Box 3)
If in the opportunity creation phase of our work, we attempt to prepare people to play "the game of Dallas" by the current rules, in this part of our efforts we find ourselves questioning the rules of the game.
What we must come to grips with is the fact that some community problems, shaped by poverty, are of such a depth and scale that effective responses demand public involvement marshaled for deployment at an equally grand scale. 
Sustainable Community Development:
People are even more important than funding. To sustain organizational life, work and a culture of creativity; you have to locate bright young, mission-focused men and women who will carry on after those of us who are longer of tooth move on!

Brotherly Love for the Wealthy as for the Poor

One man slumps in a tenement doorway. Another rides uptown in a chauffered limousine.  Is wealth an essential fact about them, one that determines who they are and how we treat them; or, is wealth like clothing that can be doffed on or off; from rags to Armani, and back? What if we treated the two alike, seeing in both the workings of sin and grace in our fallen world? What if we gave both the same awed flattery, the same tough love? How would that change fundraising - to see the rich as poor bare forked creatures, no more and no less than the broken man in the doorway? To see the wealthy as addicted, very often, no less than is the man in the door to his bottle, though to different intoxicants, possibly? All have gifts; all are equal in the eyes of God. All struggle with temptation and sometimes fail. All have a chance of redemption until the moment of death. Lord, teach me to love the wealthy as my brothers and sisters, serving them as a Saint might serve the poor with compassion, hope, and forbearance.

A Contemporary Bildungsroman

Is choosing a charity more like choosing a printer, or choosing a spouse? Or, like choosing one's own moral compass? A religion? A sports team to root for? How did Holden choose his sensibility? And why did he choose the one he's got? From what list of options did he pick and why?  To be, and to be recognized as, a World Class Fool is the work of a lifetime.  Though you are  just setting out on that journey, Holden, and the way will be long and hard, you seem destined to succeed.

Former CEO of American Skandia Uses 75% of net worth to create 11,000-acre private vacation destination in Montana wilderness

Ameya Preserve - double bottom line luxury housing development? See press release below.  I wonder if the community could use a 24/7 Morals Tutor to the Families in Residence? They got Nature. They got High Culture.  They got Boundless Endeavors. They got $2 million homesites.  They got a sprinkling of Habitat for Humanity Homes.  They got Intellectual Amenities.  But do they have a World Class Fool?

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