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April 26, 2004

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bmo

I guess the only question have is this:

Is the accumulation of money - wealth - necessarily based on the foundation of an open society, one where values are annealed or formed in open debate?

Phil

No. Freedom (of markets) and liberty (poliitcal) are two strands of liberal democracy but are not the same.

bmo

So the accumulatioin of wealth through the freedom of markets - a form of liberal democracy - means liberal democracy is not a form of open society ?

Phil

I believe liberal democracy, in thinkers like Mill, is based on two strands, open markets and free trade, and also political liberties, that is to say rights, that are guaranteed by law. Open and free exchange of ideas, debate, freedom of assembly, the right to be wrong, and the right to dissent from the tyranny of the majority. In an era of small shopkeepers, who have their own income and their own opinions, you can see how this would be an easy balance. But when free trade creates corporate hierarchies larger than many governments, and the free and indepedent press become just anothe subsidiary of media conglomerates, and when intellectual property laws restrict artistic freedom, and when government is so responsive to the lobbyists, then you begin to wonder about plutocarcy, oligarchy, crony capitalism, and the ability of "nobodies" to get their voices heard. Pooling our efforts to effect change, to create greater diversity, to see that new voices get heard, to me that is the appeal of the nonprofit, or voluntary sector, including the net. If among those who hold this view there are a few funders with greater financial means, they could have greater effect in their giving if they could find, within the self-organizing but slumbrous many, change agents to back.

"Leadership" sometimes means listening, hearing the voice of others and finding ways for them to be heard. That, I think, would be an interesting role for some progressives who might disdain the term elite-sounding term "philanthropist."

bmo

Odd. I heard that very line about leadership and listening yesterday at a seminar unrelated to gift planning.

But anyway...

I think that progressives - not being one I'm guessing - might find, instinctively, that an inherent problem with the philanthropist is not so much the elitism per se, but rather the role the philanthropist plays in underwriting the fundamental destruction of democratic principles, institutions and even the law.

How so?

Follow the money, as they say.

As capital goes global and mobile there is very little in the way of a countervailing force to check the excesses of its power as excercised by those who have obtained it, this wealth. I suppose this is the area of Emergent Democracy.

And so this wealth, springing from the loins of the liberal democratic tradition goes forth in the world seeking it owns kind. Like to like. Money, the Great Amoral Force.

But there it is. Money. The illgotten gains of the ungrateful few. Being handed out by some goodhearted souls, the philanthropist, the black sheep. Available for a good cause. As a gift.

Is the progressive in his hesitation not anticipating the moment when the rights of man are being doled out like food stamps?

Perhaps we need a new Bill of Obligations. A Charter of Human Duties.


Phil

Well, you win the lottery and keep your convictions - what then?

bmo

Me?

One, I'd found a retreat.

Where people like the guy profiled here http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/yulelog/2004/04/23#a1293 might go to recharge his batteries. I have no solutions to the front line social problems a man like this is involved with everyday, but I also realize that we are in desparate need of people who can do the good hands on work.

And that they need - apart from money - a buffer, a rest spot of some sort, a place of solitude and quiet. Here's a man who sees Christ's hands in the broken bloody hands of the beaten man. Our wealth is built on the foundation of beaten men.

But that's just me. As I say, I'm not a progressive.

If I were a progressive, and I won the lottery, I think I'd buy a radio station and make sure Howard Stern was on the air.

Phil Cubeta

Thanks, BMO, blogged it. The concerns you have about money are shared by some who have it. You might check out The Inheritance Project and More than Money, for example. Part of what makes the situation sub-optimal is that many good people, who are compassionate and care about justice and fairness, feel ashamed, or ill at ease, or at least misunderstood just because they have more money than most. Stigmatized. To get them into the game you have to approach them with the recognition that they (we all) are human beings first and foremost and that we all need to be judged not by what others have done, or failed to do, but by what we have done with our "talent that is death to hide."

Important to avoid stereotypes either way, not admiring people just because they have money, nor resenting them just because of it. Ideally, we all give what we can, in whatever way we can by our own lights - admittedly I fall short.

bmo

I never suspected the wealthy were anything but human.

The fear of humiliation is the great blocker of human action.

It's tough to stick your neck out. Especially if you believe there are those who'd like to cut it off.


Phil

Yes, meeting as citizens, rather than "Rich" and "Non-Rich" (as Bush fastidiously puts it) is difficult, there is fear on both sides.

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