Paint Stripper

"Do you know the best way to remove layers of old paint from antique wood?," Tutor asked me portentously.  I suggested paint remover, turpentine, and sandpaper. "No," he said, "the best way is with a blowtorch playing gently across the surface, just short of scorching or setting it all on fire. The paint softens and blisters and can be removed easily with a putty knife." Since Tutor has never done an honest day's work in his life, I assume this is some kind of parable to justify his prose style. He might do better to just slap on another layer of paint like the rest of us and call it good enough.

Matt Wesley's Blog

May I recommend to readers of Gifthub, a site well worth reading, in fact studying? Matt Wesley's blog: Family Wealth: Catalyzing Success Across Generations. He is stunningly ahead of the rest of us, not only with his "ideas" on helping wealthy or fortunate families succeed across generations, and in his breadth of cultural literacy, but also in his urbane and supple  voice. Moral imagination, and moral sanity. Reading him, I ask myself if I am envious of his superior gifts. Upon reflection, I guess I am not, instead I am grateful. You may be as well.

In a recent post, on working effectively with families of wealth, drawing on the liberal arts to enhance life, and heal dysfunction, he makes the point of all points: "No profession’s business model supports this deep work." That is, advisors are paid to do legal docs, fund and manage investments, reduce taxes, sell insurance, manage trust structures, and litigate the messes made by their peers. All of which nets out in many cases to human misery, given (what Kant termed)  the crooked timber of humanity from which nothing straight can ever be made. The heirs just can't implement the plans or manage themselves, and all is for naught, for very human reasons. And no business model supports fixing this at scale. (That is, no army of priests, savants, and therapists would ever suffice. Jesus! The therapists themselves need therapy in our field, and the savants are often frauds, humbugs, bunko artists, or panders and charlatans, like me and my mentor, The Happy Tutor, Dungeon Master to the Stars in Wealth Bondage, America's Iconic Adult Theme Park and proud sponsor of Gifthub: Wealth Reimagined.)

If Matt were here, with his background in Divinity, I would ask him how the Holy Spirit, recognizing how fucked up our world is, and has been since the Fall of Man and will be until the Apocalypse, and how sadly even the richest as stewards of wealth fail themselves, their families, and their community, and fail whatever god or idols they worship, how, I would ask, would the Holy Spirit herself with the wonder-working powers of God Almighty fix this? Would the spirit create a new business model so Matt and others in this work could get paid more? Or, would it move us as advisors to follow the priests and nuns in taking vows of poverty? Or, would the spirit resurrect the old prep school traditions of public service? Or, would the spirit demand military service for wealth holders? Cold showers from age 9-15? Would the holy spirit inspire nonprofit 12 step programs to heal avarice and a sense of personal privilege?

If Matt and fellow professionals were to take these questions in the spirit of serious play, it might lead to a diagnosis that goes beyond the rich and their evident travails, and the crappy pay that family governance experts get, in comparison to the salespeople and traditional planners. A fish, as the Italians say, rots from the head down. A body politic cannot thrive when any part is sick unto death. What is needed for a healthy society with rich people successful within it, and many non-rich people doing ok too, is for the whole to thrive. That healthy body politic cannot be created or fostered by advisors operating at $500 an hour, or .5 in basis points, or on a project fee or on a retainer to help a very few, very privileged, families flourish. It is not that there is no business model. The problem is that we think a business model is the answer. We, worshipping markets and wealth, in precarious roles ourselves, think the solution to avarice, narrowness of sympathy, and other vices of the wealthy should drive a business model profitable to us. We hope to cure them of the very thing that drives us as well.  The healer goes house to house carrying the plague he seeks to cure. A fix for idolatry might take a Flood, and new Noah.  And we may be washed away for very good reason, to make room for a new humanity for whom Markets and Business Models, and devotion to the rich, are understood as but a partial parsing of Wealth and the Will of God.

Anyway, please do check out Matt. He is far better worth reading than I am. He is actually constructive, particularly if you are rich, and want to be wise, or if you are wise and want to be rich. Poor Fools, rally here.

Writing for Lionel

"You can't any more on the internet control who reads your posts, but you can sure as hell control who understands them," Tutor cautioned me. If you do understand a post, please let me know so I can fix it. I do not mean you, Lionel, you are ok. But if you are anyone other than Lionel (not his real name and she may be a woman), and you understand me, please let me know. Lionel, I am sorry for alluding to you so openly. I know how you treasure your privacy. I hope you will agree that I have done my best to protect it. We can't be too careful. Please treat my communications with equal discretion. 

Philanthropy as Private Self on a Public Stage

"Philanthropy is private action in a public space." - H. Peter Karoff

"All philanthropy is personal." - Tierney and Fleishman

Gifts, libations, communion around a hearth or altar, sacrifice (sometimes animal, sometimes human), propitiation, commemoration, expiation - all that preceded the invention of money. These traditions continue in our subterranean lives, or in the space outside the market, around the central square, where we meet to enact and pass on an identity deeper than that of owner, manager, investor, consumer.

Willy-nilly, we are part of a pluralistic society or economy, whose fellow citizens on average (as you can tell from the comments you see on Twitter, Facebook, Linked-in, or the trolls on blogs) are a mixed lot: some fanatics, some morally insane, many narcissistic, some ill-educated, many full of positive mental attitude as a defense against despair or self-awareness, many invincibly prejudiced, all opinioned, almost all with a hair trigger for whatever violates his or her sense of what is proper.

Teaching philanthropy (as a fool's errand and expiation for my own sins), I often, hear adult students all contorted because I am a) an Evangelical Christian (since one of the readings is by one), b) a social conservative (since several readings are by such), c) a pointy-headed, air- fairy, artsy-fartsy, liberal arts type (because I am one), c) a Marxist or Socialist (since I talk sometimes about community), d) a market-minded tax, finance and legal type (since I have studied it and teach some of it), e) a gay person (since one of the readings is by one), and so it goes. No one can tell whether they agree with a given position until they can label it, as taught on TV.

What we learn in our uncivil civil society is to keep our faith, or faithlessness, our personal philosophies, whatever we cherish as too precious to be besmirched, to ourselves for our private use, and for our families and for our little, nearly tribal communities of those like us. In the public square we learn to speak only in the received languages of the market, superficial politics (winners, losers, ideology), shallow news (mostly fires, weather, violence, scandals, sports, stock market updates, and reports on the overt side of right/left political issues, all well-bedecked with advertising).  

We may dream in poetry; we soon learn to speak publicly in prose. We may pray to God, read John Rawls, summon the world spirit, or use as many superstitious rituals as a major league batter, but we speak only of Mammon and metrics, lest we be shunned, scorned, or treated as having committed a boundary violation, bringing the private public.  

As a result, gift planning as more than money- in-motion is subtle. You cannot go by how the client or donor first "presents" himself or herself in your office.  What you see is the shell, the armored self, the man or woman in role, the face prepared to meet a face. And the language will be the bland public language. Yet until the language changes, and you hear the voice of a long-deceased mother, or the intonations of the donor's high school coach, or hear strains of a text (literary or scriptural or philosophical), or hear the private language - yes - of love and hate, the language of community understood as needing a scapegoat, enemy, or "other," until you hear the moral story of which the client is hoping to be the hero (even if that heroism is the paltry greatness of the market), you are not yet connected to the strongest motives for giving. It is from those motives that the moral hero or sinner or quest knight, or penitent, or whatever other "self" lurks within the armor, posits a gift in community, a social gesture, even if nothing more than that of a businesslike person, "getting results." 

To be clear: I am not saying that when the armor comes off you almost always find a human being, a citizen, a human soul. What you may find is no more than the idiosyncratic product of a civilization that has forgotten the narratives that keep love and community and body politic and commonweal, or grace and gift as offering, alive.  In that case, best to encourage the client to posit an end in view, however random, or arbitrary (the world is full of causes, pick one), and then quickly get invested in achieving measurable social impact thereby. When ends fail, the means and metrics can keep us from feeling as empty as we are.

Invoking Love and Money

Faith and money network, a ministry of The Church of the Saviour.

Within some such context, where the language of love and the language of money are woven, here are questions I would like to ask, in the presence of those with "more." Those with more wealth, and capable of more love.

“Are you at the table when the big dollars are planned?"

"Are you heard at the planning table when the big dollars are planned?”

“Are your highest aspirations brought to voice?”

“If you are heard, are you heeded?”

“Are you sure that we would find your highest aspirations in the documents you have signed?”

“Whose responsibility is it to make sure your highest aspirations are enacted in your plans?”

“If it is your non-delgatable responsibility, and advisors can only assist, what steps have you taken that you would recommend to peers?”

“If you visualize an ideal, stress-free, agenda-free, space in which you reach clarity and gain control, where are you sitting? With whom? Convened how?”

“Resort setting? Your vacation house? A monastery, retreat center, or church basement?”

“Would it help or make it harder to be in the presence of peers? (Confidentiality?”)

“Would it help or make it harder if a prayer were the opening, rather than an agenda?”

“Would you want content, or meditative silence?”

"An agenda or an open circle?"

“If such a space were convened as a gift, would you come?”

“Would you invite anyone else?”

“Do you have a reading you would suggest in this spirit?”

“Are you aware of others called to this conversation, whether professionals, or peers?”

“Do you think this is important? Where would you send me next to advance this?”

By way of reading, here is one, a study of the philanthropic conversation, done by TPI for US Trust, that shows (as many studies have) just how ill served is the language of love in the planning rooms across our fields. Even to frame it as "the language of love," would set off fire alarms in those high rise corporate offices. And the sin of selling holy things is simony. The languages of love and money with love reporting to money is not what this is about. The language of money, bending its knee to language of wealth is what this is about. A new weave, where the holy is not for sale, nor forgotten, nor marginal, nor dismissive of wealth, but its guide.

In what space would the spirit show up, if the topic were love and money, under the aspect of mortality?

To a Confused Reader of Gifthub

I received your email saying you have read every post on for ten years and have not understood a blessed one. That makes both of us. Things seem to be going as planned. But, just this once, because you asked and we are friends, now with assistance from Dr. Amrit Chadwallah, Chief Adjunct in Charge of Hidden Meaning, here in Wealth Bondage, proud Sponsor of Gifthb, I will do my best to explain the set up here.

Gifthub is intentionally obscure, the meanings are hidden so the wrong people cannot understand them and get saved as St Mark says they mustn't. (C.f. Robert Frost, "Directive.") Beyond the Parables of Jesus Christ on whom I have modeled my life of Wisdom and Virtue, the models for Gifthub are The Praise of Folly, Gargantua and Pantegruel, The Dunciad and The Dunciad Variorium, Tale of the Tub, The Beggars Opera, and The Importance of Being Earnest.  This is sometimes called The Carnivalesque tradition, or The World Turned Upside Down.  It involves the play of many voices, none reliable (unlike in real life).  A Vanity Fair. I, in the role of Phil, serve as the Omniscient Narrator, naturally. Since nothing escapes me.

As a courtesy to others and to protect myself against pushback, and payback, I try to set certain ground rules. Praise others by name, and satirize only types. Offer only one flesh and blood identity to be flayed or skewered, my own, the feckless Hack at Gifthub, who uses my name as if it were his own, but with my permission and forbearance, and with the gentle reader none the wiser.  

Praise Folly in the name of Dame Folly. Enter into every vice, knavery, and folly; embrace, praise and become one with moral deformity until it becomes visible to others as their own face in the mirror, distorted. How is this working? Not very well.  The only ones who read it write to say, as you did, that they don’t get it. One or two do get it and ask never to be mentioned on Gifthub, never to be quoted, never to be linked to from Gifthub, for me to never say they read it, much less say they are my friend. Never to be seen with them in public, unless at a Masquerade Ball.

The Dumpster at the Intersection of Wealth and Bondage, whose meaning you asked me to explain, is full of the classic texts discarded by the students coming home from school. The Classic Texts of Wisdom, Truth, Beauty and Virtue, are in the sacks of garbage on which Tutor and I repose. Tutor was drawn by Holbein the Younger in Erasmus's, The Praise of Folly, and is a role model for me as he is both a morals tutor and a fool, as you can tell if you look at his picture, teaching morals to a young heir, OTK. Tutor c'est moi, in my dreams. He is the man I wish I could be: Handsome, beloved, dashing, charismatic, a magnet to women, a hard drinker, a ferocious eater, a rogue, a successful charlatan, and Immortal. You could say he is my alter ego, or better self. You could say he is a figment of my imagination, or I of his.

The Dumpster, in any case, is the home of a Pariah, a Sacrificial Offering, a Conman, and wouldbe Wealth Advisor and Morals Consultant to Flourishing Families. He (the Dunce who goes by my name) has read all the right guides to working with wealth, gone to all the right conferences, and is morally insane. (Whether he was always mad, or driven mad by these conferences and deeper dives into the literature on wealth in families is an open question.)

He, the one who uses my name, "Phil,"  is a joke, a joke he himself will never get. He is a Worldclass Fool, who does not get that he is a Fool, or been made a fool of. How does that make him different, you might ask than many you and I might know? They would like to think he and they are very different. (Even I would like to think he and I are very different.) They are wise and virtuous and teach virtue and wisdom. Straight up. You can see it on their websites, or in their papers. He, that is to say, the "I" of Gifthub, is a pimp. So there are certainly differences. But at bottom we are all human, born of woman and will die, and the worms will eat us all, dynastic or not. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves. Fortune’s wheel is ever turning. 

I hope this helps. If you have other questions, please contact Customer Service. We appreciate your business.

What A Flourishing Dynastic Family is For beyond Supporting us as Loyal Retainers

The Happy Tutor, my friend and mentor, Dungeon Master to the Stars in Wealth Bondage, actually does serve as the moral mentor, and pander, to a dynastic family, who built their wealth disrupting among other things the trade in blood. While blood donations are still made charitably, the company founded by this family makes the market, and takes a percentage. They are helping promote the sharing economy. They are doing the most good. They have a spreadsheet to prove it.

I caught up with Tutor in the servant's quarters of the family's compound on an island off the coast of Canada. I asked him how he felt about devoting his life to promoting the well being of those who already have most. How did that square with his own lowly origins, and commitment to democracy, and the life of the street? His answer may be of interest to others who have gone down this route; I don't find it plausible, but it is consoling.

What Tutor said, with an inscrutable face, is that only great wealth in a few hands is conducive, through education, and leisure, and patronage, and careful breeding with other very smart and capable people, to the creation of High Culture, as in the days of the Medicis, or the Bourbon Kings. With Good Taste. And meals at High Table. And real Art, not just the crap you see in the mall. He said he would rather live as a Servant to Wealth, or as a Pimp, or Pander, or Butler, or Morals Tutor, Trusted Advisor, Concierge, Man of all Work, Dancing Master, Svengali, or Spiritual Guide to a Flourishing wealthy family, raising their level of culture, from whatever starting point, however low and crass and commercial to begin with, than to live in a world where everyone is like the riffraff (the actually existing 'demos,' as he called it) you see on Twitter, Facebook and Linked-In. "Phil," he said to me, "be honest; would you rather work with one crass, market demented family, the very epitome of Wealth Bondage, whose children or grandchildren might some day acquire culture and taste, or would you rather spend your life educating the empty, ordinary heads of those whose children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, will be left behind, a permanent middling class of morons, with a positive mental attitude? Do you really want to spend your best years sharing their selfies, links and motivational quotations? Earning their 'likes,' when you could be making bank tutoring the scions of wealth who own the platform on which the morons entertain each other? What is the highest hope of humanity if it is not the creation and preservation of a leisured cultivated ruling elite, in a paradise of their own? It is through such efforts that ours becomes a noble trade."

I think he is bullshitting me, but I am not sure. It is pretty much the same kind of bullshit I hear from the platform in many high end wealth planning conferences, but not so well expressed. It takes hundreds of years to create an Ancient, a man of Taste, like Tutor. We Moderns still have a long way to go.

In Gratitude for Women's Philanthropy

I love kids, and am happy in their world or with one on my knee. I can also write white papers, sales talks, and argumentative essays. What I can't do is to write the language of logic and of love at the same time. I can be surrounded by the murmur of loving voices, and that allows me to concentrate on logic, in other words to be totally absent. But to be present to the voices and the logic, at once, I just can't do. Women, certain women, many women, seem to have this gift of blending care and reason, and without it, what chance do our communities have?

In a recent meeting, the topic of women's philanthropy came up, and all present, men and women both, fell into a meditative silence. A wordy meeting with flipcharts and all, went silent, like the silence among friends, who communicate without words.

Women have learned how to do what I do better than I. I have not yet been able to do what women do weaving reason and love. When the frame shifts, and it is women who set the tone, a tone they may now reserve for women among women, there will be hope for something that will outlast our dead shells.

We came from the sea, pulled by the moon. The womb is a portable ocean. In that envelop the tiny creature swims, recapitulating evolution. No wonder when women's philanthropy came up we present had nothing to say, but a sigh.