National Underwriter, a life insurance industry publication, accepted an article of mine on, "How, When, and Why" an insurance agent might get involved in philanthropic planning for clients. The gist of the article is that helping others to give well and wisely is an extension, not just of the agent's professional role but also of the agent's role as a good citizen. Givers help other givers. An agent might start with simple gifts of life insurance, then move on to charitable remainder trusts, then begin to do overall estate planning with a philanthropic focus, but the state of the art is to begin with the client's vision of a better life in a better world for self, family, and fellow citizens. Such a plan, descending from life goals, might go well beyond money, to include volunteering, social connections, political activity, and partnership with leaders of other sectors to produce a desired "end in view."
As you rise to the highest level of planning for the kinds of figures who spoke at the recent Slate 60 philanthropy conference, where all the levers of power, influence, and wealth are being pulled - with or without "gifts" - in partnership or collusion with other powerful people you quickly see that almost all of today's "philanthropic professionals" are touching only a tiny fraction of the relevant materials. When a wealthy family funds AEI, Cato, Heritage, or Hudson to lobby for repeal of estate tax, or the rollback of regulations that protect consumers and reduce profits, or funds a political campaign to get their friend elected to high office, and that friend appoints judges who quash suits against the funder, or when the family sets up a private wealth management group that uses information gleaned from friends in high places to make extraordinary rates of return, or when the family and its firms use philanthropy to create a green image, even as the firm's factory spews toxic sludge into the nearest river, we begin to see that what professionals call "philanthropic planning" is always "tactical." The strategies, be they idealistic, or Machiavellian, are about changing the world you and I live in for "the better" by a definition of better constructed by PR types in our absence, without consulting us, or giving a damn what we might say or think. The better world, like the world we have, will work itself out over our heads, among the speakers at Slate, and in other such venues, most of which are in "safe places" closed to the public. Whether we are citizens or planners, or journalists, our role is to express admiration and gratitude - the prevailing sycophantic tone of essays on the Slate Conference. Thus, we might cozy our way into the big dollar game, in our role as Courtier.
Odd, isn't it, I started out talking about National Underwriter, a trade publication for life insurance agents. My impulse is to end with Aristotle's Ethics, on the obligations of wealth in a just society. I now very well that teaching Aristotle to either donors or financial professionals, much less politicians, lobbyists, and their enablers, is largely futile. We have people who are not very well educated outside their narrow disciplines, and whose experience is narrow, and whose ideals are cramped, who rise from selling this or that, to high places, and surrounded by Courtiers, and fawned on by the press, they don't become any wiser in the process, only more powerful, and the damage they do in their efforts to create their "vision of a better world" is all around us. We entrust giving and society and our world to this handful of wealthy and powerful people at our own risk. Thank God, there are a few teachers, like The Happy Tutor, who are willing even in Wealth Bondage, in our bondage to wealth and the market that we call Freedom, to teach the Slate 60 sorts, and their Courtiers, right from wrong. Personally, I find it more prudent to teach insurance sales. I think Tutor has about as much chance of living to old age as Jesus Christ or Socrates. A better world is coming, driven from wealth and power on down, and we had better stand clear. It is all good.