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February 2012

On The Ethics of the Rich

An apparently reputable study in a peer reviewed journal, says the rich on average are less ethical than the poor.  And it's difficult to say whether richer people get to the top because of their unethical behavior or whether wealth causes people to become this way. "It seems like a vicious cycle." concludes the researcherCounter examples given in the piece are philanthropists. So maybe we could say, "It is difficult to know whether good people become philanthropists or that they get good by doing good things."

Actually, though, it is much more complex than this. Yesterday, I heard a famous philanthropist, the son of a famous banker, cabinet member, and buyout artist turned philanthropist, talk about his parents' giving and his own. He described himself and his father as "heartless capitalists," spoke with contempt of Obama, and called him a socialist. At the same time, both he and his father took to heart the Catholic social doctrine of minstering to the poor. The father was a volunteer, serving the Eucharist to the dying in a hospice. The son takes his own children to build houses for the poor in Appalachia. The family has done much much more. How is one to parse the "heartless capitalist" who spends 40% of time serving the sick, the youthful offender, and the poor, with his money, his leadership on boards, and often with his own two hands, carrying cinder blocks, or delivering clothing? "We believe in a hand up, not a hand out," he says, then corrects himself, "though we do a lot of direct service as well." 

When working with the rich, I have learned to watch their hands and feet more than listen to the words. When I ask about what they do, I am often admiring. When I ask about their philosophy, it may be all Fox News, Adam Smith, or Ayn Rand.  Faith may close the heart, in righteousness but it may also open it. "I have what I have by the grace of God," so this rich man said.

Funded a Superpac? Get your Free Hyperagent Moral Biography Here

If you have funded a Superpac at $1 million or more, I would be happy to provide you with a free moral and/or spiritual biography at no cost to yourself, your complete satisfaction guaranteed. This book, a pricless heirloom, provided in an ermine trimmed velvet pouch, will be cherished for generations and will help you pass on your Family Values to your heirs. It can be read at your funeral, or passages from it, and can be provided to your legatees at the reading of the will. It can guide your Foundation in hewing to your Donor Intent, as your sucessors continue your Good Works in Perpetuity. It will help connect meaning and money, and will attest to your personal character, and the path you have taken through this dark wood on your Journey from Success to Omnipotence. Call now for your initial consultation, or as we call it here, your first confession. We suggest you bring your attorney to vet the rough draft. For a multi-volume moral biography, I can bring in any number of Sociologists, Theologians, and Doctors of Divinity to assist me in Discerning your Moral Compass and how it has guided you and our nation to Freedom. They, however, will charge you market rates. I merely broker the transaction for a modest fee. Typically, a good Doctor of Divinity runs about $45 an hour. Since we work from boilerplate, a typical book runs about 50 cents a page, or $100 a pound, not including the leather binding, which is extra. Note that these prices are per copy, since each is a handbound work of art, like a Guttenberg Bible. Typically, we sell these per tractor trailer load. We also provide long term storage, in air conditioned facilities, deep underground in bunkers that will surive nuclear war, and will keep your legacy alive until the Second Coming of Christ, when he comes to judge the living and the dead. Not that you have anything to worry about. Another judge another dollar.

A Lenten Letter to the Family and Business Morals Editor of GiftHub

A fundraiser friend who solicits hedge fund managers, and who asks to be anonyous, writes,

This is Lent. For several personal reasons I am reading the liturgy and observing this Lent more closely than usual. It’s pretty clear. No two ways about it. Either love the world and hate God or vice versa. My profession is to tell the elite wealthy the lie that we love you for your wealth and God loves you for your “generosity.” So they go to their “death bed” believing the lie, not knowing that their very wealth profoundly alienated them from the God they now need for the next part of the journey. We are all complicit, especially the pastors who like us in the nonprofit world always always always give the chair at the head of the banquet table to the wealthiest amongst us (despite the clear parables of Jesus that demand the opposite over and over again). We in philanthropy always honor the money and give short shrift to integrity of spirit. I am not telling you anything you do not know. Gift Hub has been proclaiming this for how many years?

So this is why I just don’t know if there is any gentle way to get at what you want to get at. Those willing to attend <an open space convening on social justice philanthropy> are in least need of your gathering. You’ll be “preaching to the choir.” In 2008 trillions of dollars disappeared. The US of A “bailed out” and rewarded the criminals who lost/stole this money. The recent bandaid foreclosure settlement gave the very burglars the $25 billion or whatever the money to dispense. The criminals own congress and the White House. The game is rigged and all we have are the crazy Occupiers speaking truth to power (with the conspicuous absence of the clergy).

The world loves its own and even those in bankruptcy and/or foreclosed upon admire the elite wealthy. Only the elite wealthy are invited to the new Cardinal being installed in a few hours at St. Patrick’s today. I could write the book on this, including being with the new Cardinal when he first came to NYC at a very small dinner party of the elite wealthy (one of the things major gift officers must endure) and watching everyone’s behavior, including the now Cardinal.

Jesus would have attended that dinner party with the whip he used in the marketplace 2,000+ years ago, but He trusted me with that assignment. I left it in the car and instead smiled and simply seethed inside and now spew my safe self-righteousness here.

Who, then, is the sickest in our extended family? The wealthy person we flatter, or we the flatterers? The parasite, the paid mourner at funerals, the rich man's retainer, were stock figures of Roman satire. If we would cure others, we must first cure ourselves. One way to live in truth is the way of the cross. If I get to that I will consider it an intellectual and  artisitic failure. Laughter, at oursevles first, is still the best cure, and laughter can be inclusive. I have told jokes into stony silence, and am occassionally whipped for my insolence, but no waterboarding, no special renditions, no being "suspected," and arrested by the military police, and here I am still working in Wealth Bondage as a morals tutor, and editing Moral Biographies, most recently of the Supreme Court Justices (we did it as a Professional Courtesy, to thank them for Citizens United). It is my good fortune to meet some of the best families in their best moments doing wonderful things in the world. If they don't laugh, I won't either. It can't be any more stupid than walking around with ashes on your forehead. 

The Agency Accelerator of Thrivable, Inc.

Jean Russell's new social venture, The Agency a Project of Thrivable, Inc. She has developed a unique voice:

The Agency at Thrivable offers a vigorous accelerator program. We’re here to catalyze innovative people creating the emerging transition to a more thrivable world. Shift is happening. We create it. We connect bridge builders to support them in bringing about transformation. We want our members to flourish so that their work can thrive during this time of tremendous flux and uncertainty.

"The Agency at Thrivable" sounds like an upscale community, maybe gated. A "vigorous accelerator" sounds like a venture capital incubator for entrepreneurs. But what is catalyzed and accelerated seems to be the members' own agency. "Thrivable" and "flourish" sound like Aristotle. "Transformation" is progressive philanthropic lingo. Jean is pioneering a new language for a new time, not all business, not all giving. Life coaching and venture consulting and community for a networked generation whose individual agency or identity is social; not mine and thine. Socap meets Tracy Gary. Thrivable, Inc. not org. Shift is happening, for the better.

TB Diagnosed in Wealth Bondage Superpac Scene Room

Father Simon Brennan, the defrocked Jesuit, temping in Wealth Bondage as a morals tutor, and I have been taking confession all day yesterday with our Superpac Clients. Today we wrote them up as moral biographies and ran them by the client's attorney. Tomorrow we are meeting our white collar clients on parole to give baptism in the prison courtyard. Born again. Saved, saved, saved. I asked Brennan if based on his Catholic training he believes that Jesus once said, "You can commit any sin and be forgiven, but the sin againt the holy spirit cannot be forgiven." Brennan coughed up a little blood (he has TB) and dabbed it away with a dirty tissue. Phil, he said, the Bible is like the Constitution, you can read anything you want into it. People way over our paygrade are paid to interpet it. Our job is to listen to our clients, hear them, see them, love them. We do not judge. Confession, baptism, moral biography, these are client services. Our moral obligation, as fiduciaries, is to serve our clients. If we do our jobs well, we may get hired full time as Senior Moral Tutors to the Stars. I need the money and without health insurance...., he broke off spitting bloodI see his point. Let the dead bury the dead, Brennan and I in that sense are doing God's work. My immediate supervisor says TB is not contagious. Even so, I would love to have health coverage.

A Mature Moral Advisory Practice: Case in Point

My Hyperagent client for whom I am The Trusted Advisor has a case pending before the Supreme Court, having to do with toxins his firm routinely releases into the water supply. At his behest I am giving each Supreme or a loved one a check for $1 million. He has attorneys, he says, but he believes in Free Speech, as the Supremes have defined it, as money. He says, "Just give them the money, and tell them I want my case heard." On balance not all accepted the bribe, but enough did that I can pretty well predict the outcome. I am just grateful that none asked me for sexual favors. I must be getting old. Back in the day, when I was young and good looking, it might have been otherwise. But now my practice in Wealth Bondage has matured. I am a Homme de Confiance, and proud of it.

Led by Psycho? Truckle

WHAT ARE THE IMPLICATIONS of realizing that our wealthy leaders may be more callous, self-absorbed, and self-justifying than the people they represent? So asks an article in the Boston Globe, apparently grounded in scientific research. Well, truckle. From my lived experience, mirror back to the rich their own self narrative, authenticate and validate it. You will do better that way. My Generous Patron, is not self absorbed, not callous. Thank God! With those boots on water she walks! The Goddess! Than kissing your boots, closer to God, have I never been.

Occupy Has a Point, says Harvard Business School

Professor Bower at Harvard Business School:

The market system cannot work if its consequences are seen to be unfair, because its benefits are not distributed widely. That is what our business leaders said—and that seems to be what the protesters are saying as well. Rather than dismiss them for not being able to understand or provide solutions for the problems they identify, we might do better to worry about what the consequences might be if the real concerns they identify become the basis for populist political legislation. Defenders of capitalism need to get busy solving the problems the Wall Street occupiers have spotlighted.

It never ceases to appall me how the educated business mind confronts issues of justice. "Unless we placate the masses there might be more legislation." I mean what does fairness demand, Professor? And should corporate compliance be voluntary? Corporate free riders, Dr, who will make them do their fair share, if they prefer not to?

Acts of Love are not Permitted On Company Time without Express Prior Permission of Senior Management

Chris Hedges, Acts of Love:

Love, the deepest human commitment, the force that defies empirical examination and yet is the defining and most glorious element in human life, the love between two people, between children and parents, between friends, between partners, reminds us of why we have been created for our brief sojourns on the planet. Those who cannot love—and I have seen these deformed human beings in the wars and conflicts I covered—are spiritually and emotionally dead. They affirm themselves through destruction, first of others and then, finally, of themselves.

I could see he was writing about barbarism, death camps, the heart grown cold through cupidity. I could see how it fit with Occupy, and with the Catacombs under Roman rule. I kept thinking, or hoping, he would tie his essay to philanthropy. But in the end I guess there is little or no connection. If there was you would read about it in the Stanford Social Enterprise Review, or Lucy Bernholz would add it to her buzzwords, or they would write about it at FSG, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, or Bridgespan. I did talk to a follower of philanthropic trends recently who helped me see that phlianthropy used to be about love, or solidarity, or social change, but now has gone beyond that. As Romans ruled Judea, or the British ruled India, so Wealth Bondage spreads its filaments into every social fabric. Not love, but measure, manage, and hold accountable to Rome, that the tribute might flow up to the managers and be dispensed down as rewards or largesse. We may be as dead as Gogols Dead Souls, but we are efficient, and yes, effective. Amen.

Social Conservatives ignoring God's Poor? No, only in DC?

Is Conservative Philanthropy Ignoring the Poor?, by Bill Schambra, in the Chronicle of Philanthropy. To second his points, in our local communities, people of goodwill, in religious organizations, and on our own, can and must do more for those who have least. Bill's own natural constituency, the small town business owners, often people of faith, are in my view among those most likely to step up. This is about politcs only as our commwealth and our common fate is about the body politic and its health.