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November 2010

Bruce Sievers dodders on about public goods, overstaying his welcome as a visiting scholar at Stanford

Unassuming, highly educated, and with a wicked sense of humor, now a Visiting Scholar, at the Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society at Stanford, Bruce Sievers is a throwback to the age when a good liberal arts education was considered a suitable path to positions of public leadership and stewardship. You could liken him to Robert Paton, another neanderthal, who advocated for public goods, and still does. In "What Civil Society Needs," in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, (and in his new book, Civil Society, Philanthropy, and the Fate of the Commons) Bruce seems so far behind the times, lapped by the field, that he may emerge as a leader. We know that public goods are a figment of the liberal imagination, and that collective goods are a better name for them, since that phrase evokes collectivism, Bolshevism, and the communism of, say, a PBS, a local park, or small act of kindness. Bruce should know that what had been public goods, or a commons (communist concept) is now best analysed as a second or third or fourth or fifth bottom line in privately owned Social Ventures. The aggregate of these extra-bottomlines is the best of all possible worlds, and lucrative too. Likewise what had been civil society is now a market, if need be included within a wholly owned frame, like Facebook, or here on Gifthub inside the Frame of Wealth Bondage, America's Finest Expression of Personal Achievement.

Freedom means freedom of prices and contracts. More than that is European at best. Liberty includes poetic license, but who buys that? Bruce need only read the publication in which he is publshed or hang around Stanford and ask the rising stars. We do not need philanthropy or government to create and preserve public goods. These will be created by the Hidden Hand, aided by the enlightened self interest, and amore propre, of narrowly educated MBAs whose inchorent ideals find tacit expression in this high sounding nonsense. Bruce himelf penned the best satire yet of the social venture outlook, "If Pigs had Wings: The Appeals and Limits of Venture Philanthropy," 2001.

Public goods are not merely neglected. They are Un-American. Wealth Bondage, our Market-based way of life, and of self understanding, can only be safe once the discourse of public goods, and the ideal of service beyond self interest, in finally stamped out. As long as there is even one Dumpster filled with great books, read, or taught by one Denizen, the great promise of Wealth Bondage (to be a universal solution to the problem of goods, all goods) will reamain unfulfilled. Stanford did right to make Bruce a visting scholar. The sooner he moves on the better. I hope they can get a real public intellectual like Jed Emerson next time. What America needs is not good government, a vibrant culture, a commons of creative ferment, and a healthy civil society, but a balanced corporate scorecard. Then the CEO can make whatever adjustments are needed based on market forces co-extensive with God & Country. My boss does, yours can too. We should be grateful. Pigs do fly, Bruce, how else can we explain the quality of the rain?

Such words were my ruin

AKMA, citing Blessed John Henry Newman, The Idea of a University, Discourse 7 

'Some great men… insist that Education should be confined to some particular and narrow end, and should issue in some definite work, which can be weighed and measured. They argue as if every thing, as well as every person, had its price; and that where there has been a great outlay, they have a right to expect a return in kind. This they call making Education and Instruction “useful,” and “Utility” becomes their watchword. With a fundamental principle of this nature, they very naturally go on to ask, what there is to show for the expense of a University; what is the real worth in the market of the article called “a Liberal Education,” on the supposition that it does not teach us definitely how to advance our manufactures, or to improve our lands, or to better our civil economy; or again, if it does not at once make this man a lawyer, that an engineer, and that a surgeon; or at least if it does not lead to discoveries in chemistry, astronomy, geology, magnetism, and science of every kind.

The great men won this debate. The sons of John Henry Newman write Wealth Bondage and the Will of God in the humiliating hope of staying their termination.

Banks and Philanthropy Advice, Hidden Dangers to Assets under Management

Excellent article by Caroline Hartnell in Alliance Magazine, Banks and Philanthropy Advice: Are there Dangers? Speaking as the Senior Vice President of Philanthropic Advisory Services in the Private Client Services Group of the Bank of Wealth Bondage, I can see several immanent dangers:

  1. My job is to bring assets into the Bank of Wealth Bondage and to retain them. A very real risk is that by giving philanthropic advice I will inadvertently motivate clients to give money out of the Bank into the community, costing the bank assets under management and ultimately costing me my job.
  2. Because the conflict of interest is so egregious, another big risk is the imposition of an ethical code for philanthropic advisors. This would require the hassle of getting our people to sit through an annual ethics update and take some kind of objective test. This would run the risk of demotivating our sales reps and could impact sales.
  3. Given the conflicts of interest we might see regulation of philanthropic advisors. Given how tenuous is the business model supporting philanthropic planning at the Bank of Wealth Bondage, regulation would almost certainly tip the balance against offering Philanthropic Consulting at all. The net net is that I would once again be offering philanthropic consulting pro bono publico from the Dumpster out in the alley, where we as a Bank dump our client records, once shredded, the mortgage processing papers, and the toxic assets. 

On the other hand, we could offer Wealth Bondage and the Will of God Bible Study Groups, or Torah Classes, or a course in Wordsworth, and charge a fee for that. We could hire a defrocked priest and take confesssions. We could open a Day Care Center in which we would instill Family Values. We could offer Philanthropic Travel Vacations to money laundering destinations in the Caymans. We could provide historians to do multi-generational family histories as coffee table books. We could hire Dr. Chadwallah to head up a group of seminarians to do quick and dirty moral biographies. We could offer family systems counseling. We could do an annual masquerade ball as a charity fundraiser. We could always find some way to play this trend towards money and meaning. If the regulators can't force us to make honest loans, how likely are they to regulate our philanthropic services? The blinkered pols are responsive to our reins. Thank, God Almighty. We are too big to fail.

Cost Benefit of Martyrdom, Package Bombs, and Art

Useless Beauties, via AKMA.

“When Mary Maudlen fractured the alabaster of nard over the feet of the hero of the Christian cult, the Sir Modred at the dinner-party asked: To what purpose is this waste? But the cult-hero himself said: Let her alone. What she does is for a pre-signification of my death, and wherever my saga is sung in the whole universal world, this sign-making of hers shall be sung also, for a memorial of her. A totally inutile act, but a two-fold anamnesis (that is, a double and efffectual re-calling). First of the hero Himself and then of the mistress of all contemplatives and the tutelary figure of all that belongs to poiesis. The woman from Magdala in her golden hair, wasting her own time and the party funds: an embarrassment if not a scandal. But an act which is of the very essence of all poetry and, by the same token, of any religion worth consideration.”
       David Jones, “Use and Sign,” in The Dying Gaul and Other Writings, London: Faber & Faber, 1978, p. 183.

When Oscar Wilde wrote, All art is perfectly useless, the refutation came in the form of a jail sentence. Of course not all that is useless is art.

Building a Family Dynasty or a Better Dallas?

Given a choice, if you had the power, the money, influence, or magic wand, would you help the highest capacity people in your town build a family dynasty, or would you help them build a vital community for them, their family, and for all?

I ask this because I belong to a group of Professionals whose avowed purpose is to build family dynasties for their clients. The leader of the group - a revered man whose vocabulary has become the foundation of what amounts to a cult - says, incredulously, "In my 40 years of doing this only a few clients have wanted to build a dynasty."

So WTF! Maybe we should decouple from the family dynasty sales jive and begin talking to people about building a better Dallas, a better Tucson, or wherever.

That being said, if you do want to build a family dynasty, send the jet, please. I am here to Service you. Or, if you prefer a Clown with a serious mien, I can refer you to many.

Freedom is our Policy

Spartacus O'Neil,

Solidarity -- expressing support for liberation -- especially if those affinities are fighting US-backed regimes, is now a crime in the United States. Even solidarity in the form of support for the peaceful use of international law to further human rights is punishable by imprisonment when used against US policy. Any contribution toward the resolution of violent conflict through publishing, advocacy, or training on behalf of peoples seeking freedom from repressive regimes receiving US aid is now forbidden.

The logic gap here is in implying that the US supports repressive regimes. We support Freedom of prices and contracts.

What does Amazing look like, In your Dreams, Sir?

Serving professional in wealth bondage
Wendy Brown, 2003, Neo-Liberalism and the end of Liberal Democracy

The model neo-liberal citizen is one who strategizes for her/ himself among various social, political and economic options, not one who strives with others to alter or organize these options. A fully realized neo-liberal citizenry would be the opposite of public-minded, indeed it would barely exist as a public. The body politic ceases to be a body but is, rather, a group of individual entrepreneurs and consumers . . . which is, of course, exactly the way voters are addressed in most American campaign discourse.

I find this analysis helpful in understanding my position as a Serving Professional in Wealth Bondage, helping entrepreneurs become hyperagents projecting their market rationality into the public sector as "a double or triple bottom line." I do well by doing them good. The space of citizenship has become a market where social investors compete to create the world we want in the image of a well run business. Liberality, liberalism, freedom, liberty, in my particular case it all comes down to, "How may I serve you?" Original, Hotsie Totsie 4 piece Serving Professional Costume courtesy of Countess Apraxina's Upstairs Downstairs Consignment Shop.The philanthropy en vogue version is sold here, at a good price too. Three pieces, one size fits most. Pink feather duster, not included, doubles as a toilet brush. The right accessories are an excellent investment in our noble trade. For only $34.99 plus tax and shipping, you can earn the price back in three to five client engagements in the public square out behind the nearest dumpster. After that it is all profit. Times are hard. A girl has to look out for herself.